Bobby Williams of 25th and York streets hesitated before finally putting out his hand for me to shake.
“Sweetheart, let me tell you something,” he said between puffs of his cigar, lowering his head underneath the hood of the SUV he was tending to. “Mostly everybody got guns, not just in this neighborhood.
“All bars is a nuisance, not only that one,” he added, motioning to the Caddi Lounge, a bar just feet from his garage.
On April 10, the Philadelphia Police Department and 16 other law enforcement and criminal justice organizations launched Operation Pressure Point, the city’s newest crime-reduction initiative. The Caddi Lounge, one of five bars raided that night, was shut down.
Police said in addition to several arrests made at the 22nd District bar, Pressure Point’s efforts confiscated two automatic handguns, a shotgun, two revolvers, an AK-47, ammunition and large amounts of drugs, including powder and crack cocaine.
“Why would they close a bar down when all the killers still on the outside?” Williams said.
The window of the SUV rolled down, and Williams’ friend, James Hightower of 30th and York streets, chimed in.
“Pressure Point? The pressure [should be on] helping us get these buildings up,” Hightower said. “Why spend money on the ‘pressure’ when these buildings – our neighborhood – needs rebuilt?”
But what Williams and Hightower aren’t aware of are the statistics. Since Pressure Point’s launch, a total of 344 arrests have been made, 31 guns have been confiscated, 31 bars have been closed, and $211,507 worth of narcotics has been recovered.
The plan will run through Nov. 1, injecting personnel in high-crime areas Friday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., the period when 68 percent of homicides occurred in April 2008. While Pressure Point targets the 12 districts with the highest concentration of violence, including the 22nd and 23rd districts that encompass Temple, the plan is not restricted to those and will apply itself accordingly, Public Affairs Lt. Frank Vanore said.
“We identified what was driving crime in Philly,” Vanore said. “[Pressure Point is] coming out in force and targeting [high-crime areas].”
Philadelphia Police’s intentions are commendable, but an initiative that relies on constituent compliance will not last when those constituents don’t respect the police’s motives. The familiarity of the routine could cause gun and drug traffic to just be displaced rather than eradicated.
A possible outcome of the program can be foreseen in a 1988 report by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, in which a plan similar to Pressure Point was evaluated.
According to the New York Times, the report “showed that when the officers assigned to Pressure Point were removed, robbery statistics […] climbed to virtually the same level they had been before the campaign began.”
Judging from the reactions of Williams, Hightower and their neighbors, Philly’s Pressure Point could result much like that of New York.
By targeting areas sporadically in times of need rather than routinely – and predictably – bogging down specific neighborhoods, the police might be able to gain the community trust needed for programs, like Pressure Point.
“Everybody knows what goes down around here,” Williams said, scanning West York Street, “but it goes down all around here, not just this neighborhood. It’s all over the city, all the time. Let’s not short-step nothin’.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.