Last November, Temple senior Samuel Collington was fatally wounded during a robbery, several blocks from campus. A few weeks earlier, Amir Jones, 18, was killed during a robbery while walking with his girlfriend early one morning, also not far from campus.
Last year, Philadelphia reached an all-time record in homicides and is on its way to doing the same again. Homicides are up 9% over where the city was this time last year.
It’s no wonder that some parents of students at Temple University, based in an area in North Philly where violence is not uncommon, are nervous about their children’s safety.
So I have nothing but respect for Jennifer Glassman Hedberg of Massachusetts for hiring a private security firm to keep watch over the off-campus neighborhood where her son lives while finishing up his undergraduate degree at Temple. She’s doing what she needs to do to keep her child safe. After her son called two weeks ago and told her about an armed robbery that had taken place in broad daylight outside his off-campus residence, Hedberg had an epiphany.
“I thought to myself, ‘What if I hire someone to patrol the area?’” she recalled.
The rich and famous have been hiring private security for their kids since forever. Former President Barack Obama last year joked about how his daughters Malia and Sasha have PTSD from having Secret Service agents accompany them on dates. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard of middle-class parents doing it. Hedberg works as a teacher; her husband is a field technician for T-Mobile in suburban Massachusetts.
Anti-violence activist Jamal Johnson likes the idea. “Why can’t we have people being paid to [patrol the streets] and spread that throughout the city,” said Johnson. Johnson has been advocating for Mayor Jim Kenney to bring in the National Guard to help push back against gun violence. “My whole thing is we are not protecting the streets,” he told me.
Hedberg reached out to several security firms before deciding to go with JNS Protection Services. Together, she and JNS owner Jasmine Jackson, who was born and raised in North Philadelphia, came up with a plan to patrol the perimeter of the neighborhood where her son lives.
These days, a marked black JNS Ford Taurus patrols the neighborhood from Diamond Street to Berks Street and from 15th to 19th Streets during designated hours. Initially, the plan was to do it three days a week, but after others in a Temple parents group on Facebook heard about it, they chipped in to expand the service to five days a week. Hedberg plans to keep funding the private security service until her son’s graduation this spring.
Granted, private security guards aren’t a substitute for adequately trained and engaged law enforcement. But they can be a deterrent and keep watch over a specific vicinity and contact campus security or the Philadelphia Police Department if they notice someone getting robbed or worse.
Meanwhile, Temple this month announced the formation of a violence reduction task force, which aims to assess the school’s security efforts. Earlier this year, the university hired former Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey to conduct an audit of campus safety services. The school also recently introduced a one-touch personal safety mobile app called RAVE to help students contact Temple University Police and allow them to monitor their trips across campus.
Temple University officials also have been in touch with JNS Protection, which I hope means that they’ll work together instead of being territorial. JNS guards have been instructed to contact Temple Police or the Philadelphia Police Department when they witness criminal activity.
“These parents need to be able to be millions of miles away from their child and know that they are going to be able to get home safe,” Jackson said. “We ride around that perimeter, all throughout the blocks, take pictures and make reports, and just be a deterrent.”
Unfortunately, there’s only so much that JNS can do.
“They’re just a town watch,” pointed out David Fisher, a retired Philadelphia police officer and president of the National Black Police Association, Greater Philadelphia chapter. “They are more eyes and ears on the streets that they’re patrolling. It’s good. But will it be effective? I’m not sure.”
Nothing is 100%. But if it gives Hedberg and other parents the peace of mind that comes with knowing that they are doing all they can to try and protect their students while they are away from home, that will make the effort worthwhile.