With numerous bars and restaurants, a vibrant nightlife has emerged in Old City, but an increase in crime caused concern among patrons.
As home of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, the Old City district serves as the most historic area in Philadelphia during the day, and doubles as a rowdy drinking town at night. But in light of recent acts of violence within its cobblestone streets, the city is stepping in to take back the safety of the neighborhood.
So far this year, the homicide rate in Philadelphia has reached a total of 31 victims, up 5 percent from last year. This jump in crime is forcing police to alter their patrols in various neighborhoods that were once perceived as relatively safe. Old City has made it to the top of their list following the recent fatal beating of alumnus Kevin Kless in the heart of the neighborhood.
“My initial reaction is that it is getting worse, much worse,” senior geography major Emily Caron said, who has been employed at various restaurants in Old City for the past five years.
When asked about the violence she has seen during her time spent in the neighborhood, Caron offhandedly listed several events.
“The shooting at Cebu, there was a shooting at the liquor store across the street on Second [Street], the shooting at Q [BBQ & Tequilla],” Caron said. “And fights – bad fights outside of the Plough [& the Stars].”
The employees of the neighborhood establishments aren’t the only people who have come face-to-face with violence. Senior Alex Findley, who ventures into Old City for a night out every few months, found herself in the middle of a scuffle last February when two intoxicated men were yelling obscenities at her and a friend.
When her boyfriend attempted to defend them, he was attacked and beaten.
“Police didn’t show up until at least five minutes after everything happened,” Findley said.
During the day, Old City’s historic monuments, museums, locally ran boutiques and medley of restaurants draw in tourists equipped with cameras and creased maps. But come night fall, when school lets out and work is finished for the weekend, the area east of Fifth Street from Arch to South streets flood with crowds of women in revealing dresses, and men in button-down shirts.
The history of the neighborhood becomes obsolete amongst the belligerent yelling and visual displays of intoxication.
Many late night Old City visitors, including senior risk management major Jen Lamb, blame the violence on those who go out in the neighborhood. Lamb, who’s boyfriend lives in Old City at Second and Market streets said she visits Old City often, usually once or twice a week.
“A lot of people around that area are so drunk, hot headed and ready to [fight],” Lamb said. “When bars let out at 2 a.m., there are people running recklessly in the streets.”
Although Caron agrees that some violence stems from the common Old City bar-goer, she also said she believes that some stems from the presence of surrounding neighborhood residents who see the intoxicated college student as prey.
The Philadelphia City Council and Police Department are trying to find ways to regulate the lawless acts of Old City after the sun goes down.
City Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the first district, said he does not wish to stop those who go out to the local bars “to have a few drinks and have a good time.” But he is attempting to put a stop to “those looking to cause trouble.”
With an understanding that the majority of violence occurs after the bars close their doors at 2 a.m., Squilla said that as of the first of the year, four more policemen were added to the 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. patrolling shift to provide a heavier police presence, with hopes to rapidly move people off the streets and on their way home.
Findley said she believes that crowd control should be a main focus of patrol.
This was seen in the fatal Jan. 14 beating of Kless, 23, which occurred around 2:30 a.m. as he was attempting to hail a cab out of Old City. Kless’s argument with the cab driver was mistaken by a group of three young men as a direct insult to which they responded by beating him to death in front of the Second National Bank of the United States near Fourth and Chesnut streets.
Following this incident, Squilla said that Philadelphia City Council and police are working to start a taxi stand somewhere between the 300 and 500 blocks of Market Street heading west. Squilla said the main focus of the taxi stand would be to direct people out of the neighborhood in a “timely fashion,” and to clear the streets of large groups before violence can occur.
The institutions operating within the neighborhood would be informed about the taxi stand, and advised to direct their patrons in that direction so they can safely get into a cab and on their way home. Squilla said he strongly believes that it is important for those who go out to Old City for a good time to “respect the security we provide” to aid in the safety of themselves and others.
Lamb said she doesn’t believe this plan will change much, and that there should be more of a police presence in the neighborhood “trying to structure that part of the city.”
After being a victim of the violence of Old City, Findley said that increasing the police presence around the area when the bars are letting out would be a huge help in controlling the crowds.
Old City offers college students, as well as other city residents, the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of city life – and nightlife. And although they are considered some of the nicer areas of Philadelphia, it is still necessary to control one’s actions and be aware of surroundings.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, you need to watch your back,” Caron said.
Jenine Pilla can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am not blaming bar owners or bartenders for all the problems that stem from allowing “drunks or troublemakers” into the establishments they own or work in, nor am I claiming that the owners and bartenders are at fault by serving someone who is over the legal limit, we all know how slick someone can be and how determined they are to get that “last drink” in them when out and about having a good time. I’m sure most owners and bar workers in each and every establishment do their best to do what’s legally ask of them and that’s “flag” a person who is over the limit or in question.
They, the bar owners, bartenders and bouncers are most certainly aware of the troubles caused by too much alcohol being consumed. If an establishment fails to adhere to the laws in place about serving someone over the legal limit, this before ones actions lead to any crime or tragedy of any kind that take place after the accused are to be found to have left the establishment over the legal limit, the establishment is fined, which I believe to be clearly the correct thing to do, but maybe just not enough. They, the owners, bartenders and bouncers should be held at the most highest accountability when it comes to this matter of alcohol related crimes.
With that being said, maybe all establishments serving alcohol should be equipped with breathalizers in time, and the staff be trained on how to use them. This way, any person in that particular place under question would be opted to do what is legally asked of them, which is to not drink and drive while over the legal limit, start troublsome actions through public intoxication, commit crimes and so on. If we really want to crack down of this never ending endeavor in making everyday citizens safer on the streets. This proposal should be greatly considered one day, just my opinion and my thoughts..
Also, they, the owners, bartenders and bouncers are the judge of all actions within the four walls of any particular establishment, maybe the city of Philadelphia/City Hall/local police departments should be the jury. I say it should be mandatory that all establishments that serve alcohol be equipped with working recordable video surveillance systems that are streamed and viewed by every person of higher power on duty in law enforcement, this means, in precincts, in patrol cars and in City Hall itself. This would be like watching over everyones safety at all times where alcohol is served and it also could be used as a defense mechanism to keep it in the minds of the people that do abuse alcohol and commit troublesome acts and/or commit crimes after they get their fill. It may help even them knowing that they are indeed being watched and they better think about what they do before even considering starting problems, getting into their vehichles and/or other such things that have to do with the safety of alcohol consumption. Everyones best interest would be protected at all times when it came to public safety where alcohol is in use under these terms. Another proposal that I think should be greatly considered, and again, just my opinion and my thoughts..
If we haven’t learned the game of the bar business yet, it’s our own fault what’s to come with tragic and troubled events in the future. It’s like that old saying, if we keep on doing what we did, we’ll keep on getting what we got. The way I see it, the city needs change for the better these days and something like this could only help when it comes to crime and disturbences related to alcohol.
If in fact we all want a safer community to live in when pertaining to alcohol use, regardless of the measures one has to take geting it there, a proposal of the above, should be viewed as a positive one.
I’m a little biased towards this subject I just mentioned above because I was assaulted with a beer bottle to the temple area and blacked out four times in the time it took the ambulance to show up, which was about 10 minutes or so. It took place in a bar and was done by a very drunk person where the bar shouldn’t have been serving the person because he was over the legal limit. There was no working recordable surveillance video to bring the assaulter to justice, so I had to endure the pain and suffering with no insurance. A real nightmare everyday for me since in every aspect of the word. I got it stuck to me real good, my egg scrambled real hard, and three years later, I still am recovering from it, but I’ll digress, for I am very thankful that I survived and have now found the grace of God in my life and the forgiveness in my heart to move forward.
Side note – I’ve stopped drinking alcohol by choice and I’m now recovering and attending A A and N A meetings on a regular basis and I feel wonderful, thank God! Strictly because, at times in my past I was one of those “drunks and troublemakers” I spoke of above. I’ve found my higher power to do right and be right and now want to live a clean and sober existence helping others with this disease of alcoholism and drug abuse, with hopes of a better future for everyone. Thanks for listening…