For years, “block captains” have served as the unofficial liaisons between Temple and the surrounding community. With the Aug. 29 extension of the Temple Police patrol zone, these connections serve as a way for officers to stay in touch with the community now included in the university’s coverage.
After the Philadelphia More Beautiful Committee was established in 1965, it began a campaign for block cleanliness and beauty. The committee created a system of block police officers to oversee block captains. In turn, block captains serve as the leaders on their block to unite residents, communicate with city officials and pursue the goal of a cleaner block.
Citywide, there are an estimated 6,500 block captains, according to the PMBC website. The block officer overseeing the 22nd district, near Temple’s location, could not be reached for comment.
In the community near Temple, block captains’ responsibilities have grown to surpass these original goals, according to interviews with two block captains. They often serve as the voice of the community. Beyond keeping the streets clean, they aim to maintain a positive relationship between Temple students and local residents.
“The main goal is to try to keep peace and harmony,” said Estelle Wilson, a block captain on the 2000 block of North 15th Street.
The block captains have worked with the Temple Police to work toward this goal.
Every month, Captain Eileen Bradley, project director of Campus Safety and the main liaison between Temple police and the block captains, attends meetings with the local residents, Temple students and block captains, where they discuss current issues.
“This way they’ll have an avenue to express their concerns,” said Bradley. “[To] make sure that they know that there’s someone here that they can speak to.”
Wilson said the monthly meetings serve as a platform to explain what’s happening in their neighborhoods and hear about what Temple’s doing to address current issues.
Guadalupe Portillo, the block captain of the 1400 block of West Norris Street and part of Temple’s housekeeping staff, said the main topics this semester will include the noise level on the weekend and a trash overflow problem.
Captain Bradley and Monica Hankins, external relations coordinator of Campus Safety, host “Welcome Wagon” meetings at the beginning of the semester to address the trash issue. At these meetings they hand out recycling bins and discuss good neighbor practices.
“[It’s] to remind the students about when trash day is, how to have a safe party and various things of that nature,” Bradley said.
Since Bradley and Hankins started meeting with block captains, Bradley said they’ve made progress and have seen the issues decline. However, Portillo and Wilson said they were more uncertain about the progress so far.
“Year-to-year, it’s different,” Wilson said. “Sometimes it seems like it’s an improvement and sometimes it doesn’t and we’ve been having these meetings for years.”
Portillo said she believes it’s difficult because the students in the area are constantly changing.
“I think it’s just matter of education because every year it’s a new group of students, but the block captains don’t change,” Bradley said.
Portillo said a fellow block captain on Gratz Street said she was happy to see the Temple Police patrol zone extended due to the fact that there are many students living in that area.
Wilson argued that the extension should have gone farther north, toward York Street.
“I think splitting it right at Susquehanna [Street] was wrong,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of students up that way. They’re not protected.”
Wilson and Portillo cited the expansion of students living past the new boundaries of the police force.
“How far are they going to be able to go?” Portillo said. “Somewhere along the line they’re going to have to let the Philadelphia police take over more of that territory because [the Temple police] can only go so far.”
As for the relationship with the Temple police, Wilson said it’s improving.
“The line of communication is pretty good, sometimes it can get a little hairy,” Portillo said.
For block captains like Wilson and Portillo, having a strong connection with Captain Bradley and Hankins is vital when their message doesn’t go through the Temple Police, “whenever we have a problem we can call [Captain Bradley],” Portillo said.
“She’s always cared,” Wilson said. “Some of the others are getting better.”
Bradley said she hopes to forge a stronger relationship this year between the students and the community.
“Ninety percent of the Temple students want to do good and want to be good neighbors,” Bradley said. “We just have to offset that other percentage that wants to, in fact, cause some disruptions to the neighborhood.”
Mariam Dembele can be reached at Mariam.firstname.lastname@example.org