I was probably a sophomore in college that time I called the FBI and requested a federal agent application.
Maybe I was watching too much TV, but I got this idea in my head that it would be cool to get a job conducting undercover investigations. When I told my mother what I was thinking, she barely looked up from cooking dinner and quickly disabused me of the idea, pointing out, “You’d stand out too much.” The application was long and I never finished filling it out. I stayed in school as my parents wanted and wound up in the newspaper business, instead.
But my curiosity about law enforcement never really left me, which is why when I heard about a new podcast started by a Philadelphia police officer, my ears perked up.
Police Capt. Matthew Gillespie of the 18th District decided to create it after becoming frustrated hearing people complain that nothing is being done to stem the city’s out-of-control violence epidemic. Homicides are up 46% this year and the city, tragically, is on track to surpass last year’s high of 499. Incidents like what happened at the Olney Transportation Center on Feb. 17 when eight people were wounded by gunfire — one critically — make me wonder the same thing.
“The idea for this came from the naysayers,” Gillespie told me. “There are people saying there is nothing being done. Not only are we legitimately working 20 hours a day, but I see what the officers do.”
“There are people that are really out there trying, and I want that experience to be brought to light,” he added.
I like the fact that the podcast was created by a police captain.
“I think that’s a good vehicle for information if it’s not biased. If it’s solely to try to do PR for the Police Department, then no,” said Jamal Johnson, an activist who last week ended a 26-day hunger strike to try to force Mayor Jim Kenney to declare gun violence a citywide emergency.
Johnson, of Stop Killing Us, added, “If they’re truly trying to see how we and them can work together to solve this problem and bring the reality to the people who are listening to that, I think it could be a good vehicle for that because we are not getting it from City Hall.”
Gillespie, who has been on the force for 18 years, asked me not to reveal who his upcoming guests will be in coming weeks, but he has a few recognizable names lined up. He took an online course about creating a podcast. His studio is usually his office at work or the basement of his home, where the editing gets done. A few fellow officers assist.
The first episode of Aftermath Philadelphia: A podcast examining the impact of gun violence was released earlier this month on Apple and Spotify.
The second episode is scheduled to be released Feb. 22 and will include a conversation with Inspector Derrick Wood of the Southwest Police Division, whose 22-year-old nephew was killed over the summer, and Capt. Scott Drissel Jr. of the 12th District.
“Sometimes I’ll hear people say, ‘You should be doing this’ or ‘You shouldn’t be doing that to fight crime,’ and we’re already doing it, but they are not aware of what we are doing,” said Wood. “It’s important to let people know that even though crime is higher than we want it to be, we are doing our part to reduce it and a lot of people are out here on the front lines.”
The potential is there. Done well, the podcast could turn into an important vehicle for doing just that kind of thing. For someone like me who isn’t getting around as much because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the podcast will be a useful window to help get to know more officers and what they’re talking about.
And, hey, it beats having to go through police public affairs.