When Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson announced with fanfare last week that state police would be patrolling high-crime neighborhoods to help control growing gun violence, officials declined - citing strategic reasons - to say how many troopers would be involved.
Yesterday, Mayor Street let it slip. The number, he said, is five.
Street, in unsolicited comments, mentioned the number of troopers working with city police while he was attending a city-sponsored job fair that drew 2,000 people to the Liacouras Center in North Philadelphia yesterday morning.
He complained that the news media do not cover such events, but gave significant coverage to news that troopers - "Five," he said, holding up the fingers on his right hand, "five" - would be working with the 6,680-strong Philadelphia police force. That represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent.
"It says something about the priorities of the [news] industry," he said of the story's play.
The media's treatment of the story, however, was driven in part by how the department presented the move. Johnson's news conference was held the day after a SEPTA bus was sprayed by gunfire and a passenger and driver were wounded. A top state police commander and a representative from Gov. Rendell's office attended the announcement, and Johnson maintained the action was a significant step in fighting crime in the city.
"We have a gun problem here in the city of Philadelphia," Johnson said at the news conference. "We're attacked every day by the news media about the violence in the city. We're not so arrogant to say [to the state]: 'We don't need your help.' "
The announcement appeared on the front page of The Inquirer and topped the day's newscasts on local TV.
Yesterday, Johnson did not respond to a request for comment.
State Police Maj. Lenny Bandy, commander of Area Five, which includes Philadelphia, would not discuss the number of troopers assigned to the city, saying that figure could be adjusted "up or down" as needed.
"We shy away from fixing any number," he said.
As a matter of strategy, police do not always disclose the number of officers involved in a special operation. And news of a beefed-up police presence in an area can be enough to make some criminals think twice about operating there or carrying weapons, criminologists say.
There is no way to establish a direct link to the operation, but there was only one homicide in the city over the weekend.
Bruce A. Edwards, president of the state troopers union, had indicated on Friday that the number of troopers involved was small and that they probably would have little impact on overall crime in Philadelphia.
"It's not like we are coming in there in force," he said.
Bilal Qayyum, cochair of Men United for a Better Philadelphia, a group that aims to reduce violence in the city, acknowledged that five troopers is "a small number," but added: "I'm supportive of any effort that is going to assist police in areas where there is an increased or high number of shootings."
Whatever the number of troopers involved, said Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter, "the public should have been told."
"It is an important piece of information, and public information," Nutter said. "We need to remove the shroud of mystery about policing and how we are coming to grips in this city with violence and homicide."
State police officials have said Rendell initially proposed that they look at ways to help Philadelphia, and the program came together last week with funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
Michael Kane, executive director of the commission, said the money - $257,000 - was what remained from a $10 million statewide program to hire police officers.
It is to be used for overtime for troopers from Philadelphia-based Troop K to take part in the program.
The operation calls for the troopers to ride in their state police cars with a Philadelphia Police Highway Patrol officer on the 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift, seeking people carrying illegal weapons in high-crime neighborhoods.
Sixteen other municipalities in Pennsylvania, including Chester and Allentown, already use state troopers to augment their forces in fighting street crime.
Earlier this summer, Johnson ordered all officers the rank of captain and above, including himself, to patrol duty for four hours one night a week.