Updated 10/31 at 1:27 p.m.
After multiple incidents near Main Campus, Temple’s Department of Public Safety is receiving concerns from the university community about crime and police retention.
At the same time, DPS handles a higher crime rate in the Philadelphia Police Department’s 22nd District, which encompasses Main Campus and the surrounding neighborhood.
However, the department utilizes a policing strategy based on its available resources and the reality of crime on campus.
“It’s about how you’re using those officers,” said Jennifer Griffin, vice president of public safety. “There’s a lot of agencies with a lot smaller numbers than we have, that are doing amazing. They have great strategy. That’s what we are moving forward with, not just looking at the number of people we have, but how are we using them effectively?”
THE VOLUME OF CALLS
The amount of calls the Temple University Police Department receives is an indicator of the policing strategy and number of officers needed to respond to crime on campus.
More than half of the complaints TUPD responds to are unrelated to the university, either because they’re in PPD’s jurisdiction or because they are thefts located in retail businesses that aren’t Temple-owned, but are within the patrol zone, Griffin said.
TUPD responds to these calls because factors like call volume, the number of Temple police officers called to each complaint, the length of time spent with a complaint and the overall size of the department’s force give DPS a reason to believe they are currently adequately handling calls for their service, Griffin said.
This strategy is subject to change as data evolves, but there is currently no administrative concern regarding TUPD’s ability to handle calls.
“That’s the one thing I love about policing is no matter what you’re given, or what you have to handle, we find a way,” Griffin said. “If it got to the point where we had so many calls that we weren’t able to handle them, we would prioritize the type of complaints we’re going to go to.”
The amount of calls TUPD receives also informs the department on how many officers are needed to address crime across the three campuses, during a time where police recruitment and retention is a national and citywide problem.
During the summer, the department also made the structural shift from working eight-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts.
The change made it possible to double the numbers of police officers on patrol than they would have had with eight-hour shifts, and increased department morale, Griffin said.
Officers now work 15 days a month compared to 21, get an additional 72 vacation days for the year and have a three-day weekend every other weekend, instead of having a weekend off every 13 weeks.
OTHER METHODS FOR POLICING
While hiring and retaining officers is a focus for DPS, there is more than one method to consider in policing.
The department considers past data to determine when more walking escorts are needed at certain times. For additional hands, it places PPD officers in supplemental shifts on campus during evenings and weekends. These strategies all use university resources in addition to TUPD to increase campus safety.
The department is also aiming to recognize the issue of over-policing in their recruitment process, as they face calls from the public to hire more police officers.
The hiring of officers isn’t based solely on increasing numbers, but the quality of the hires. DPS looks for those who are articulate, professional and have a strong background, Griffin said.
“Adding a lot of cops without a strategy, without engagement with the community, without a plan, is not a best practice,” Griffin added.
Though TUPD is taking these concerns into account, it can often be difficult to define what over-policing is and how to prevent it.
The meaning of over-policing varies person to person because the number of officers or patrols that make someone feel safe is subjective, making it important for the university to be involved with and responsive to the community, said Jason Gravel, a criminal justice professor.
Because of this, officers have been encouraged to have more personal interactions while on patrols. By having officers patrol by bike and on foot, they are able to better engage with students, faculty and the surrounding North Philadelphia community, Griffin said.
LOCAL MEDIA’S CRIME COVERAGE
Local news coverage of crime and the relationship between community and crime are connected. Crime and safety were the most mentioned issues in Philadelphia media, with a 33 percent average of articles per outlet being on the topics, according to a March 2023 media engagement study conducted by The Lenfest Institute. In turn, crime and safety were mentioned by 70 percent of the survey’s respondents as the most important issues in their neighborhood.
Public perception of crime on campus and misunderstandings about crime are affected by social media and news coverage, especially for those who aren’t on campus, like parents, Gravel said.
The 22nd District experiences the second highest number of violent crimes in Philadelphia’s police districts, according to an April 2023 study by the Pew Foundation. Violent crimes have remained at the same level in the last decade citywide, but property crime increased by 47 percent in 2020, and keeps rising.
However, the crime rate on Temple’s campus is far less than the surrounding neighborhood, according to a March investigation from 6ABC, which follows national trends when analyzing citywide and campus-wide crime. Beyond Main Campus, TUPD’s patrol zone extends from West Susquehanna and 18th Street to Girard Ave and 9th Street.
It’s easier for the news to associate violent crime to North Philadelphia, and Temple by association, because the perception of a dangerous space is already there, said Linn Washington, a journalism professor.
“There is a distinction [which] has been long lasting, that Temple sits in the middle of this sea of chaos and poverty in North-Central Philadelphia,” Washington said. “And so the way the media coverage is framed exacerbates this. I’ve seen so many instances of crimes that physically take place in other sections of the cities, some contiguous in North Philadelphia, some a little bit further from it, and the reporters say it’s North Philly.”
Thirty-nine percent of North Philadelphia residents said coverage of the area is too negative, according to The Lenfest Institute’s study.
When crime is represented as taking place “around Temple,” stories link together and establish a pattern, Gravel said. Even if it doesn’t properly address what crime looks like at Temple, when people start feeling unsafe is when the facts don’t necessarily matter.
Officer retention and recruitment ailments have been seen as a concern to members of the Temple community with the area’s higher crime rate.
However, police are not a preventive solution to public safety issues, Gravel said. While police serving as a visible authority figure are a deterrent for property crimes, they don’t typically have the same effect for violent crimes, which can often be unplanned and highly motivated.
Police provide a reactive response to violent crime. The deterrence theory in criminology states that criminals will weigh the costs and benefits of committing the crime, and that increasing the certainty they will be caught may deter people from doing so.
“It seems odd to want to blame Temple for the violence that has occurred and it continues to occur right outside of Temple,” Gravel said. “Now, there is keeping Temple honest about this. Maybe Temple, as an institution in the city of Philadelphia, should look at what’s going on in our own backyard. Maybe there should be a bit more investment from the university outside these communities beyond the policing aspect of it.”
In the conversation around Temple’s policing strategy, the root causes of crime and preventative measures for it can sometimes be left out of the conversation when it comes to policing and protecting students.
“Problems that contribute to public safety, like poverty, are not being addressed,” Washington said. “It’s not the sole responsibility of the university to address, say, poverty and income inequalities and discrimination, but it’s something that should be acknowledged in the public safety conundrum.”