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Police will form unit for casinos

It will handle increased traffic on the riverfront as well as crimes related to the slots parlors.

Philadelphia police will create a special casino unit for the city's two proposed riverfront projects to handle increased car and pedestrian traffic, as well as crimes, Deputy Commissioner Patricia Giorgio Fox told a community meeting Tuesday.

Lt. Frank Vanore, a department spokesman, said in a follow-up interview yesterday the department was still working out the details. But he added that the plan could be similar to the way the department polices special districts for Center City, South Street and the stadium area.

He said the city had not determined the number of officers for the unit.

"There would be dedicated people to that area, but it's all in the planning stages at this point," Vanore said.

At a casino-sponsored meeting, Fox met with leaders of two community groups - Fishtown Action and the New Kensington Community Development Corp.

The meeting was the second in a series to examine problems that could arise from the proposed project that straddles the border of Northern Liberties and Fishtown.

Also attending were City Solicitor Romulo L. Diaz Jr. and a representative of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Richard Levins, president of the New Kensington group, called the meeting "productive." He said the neighbors also talked to the company about job and business opportunities.

Levins said the SugarHouse Casino would give neighbors notice of jobs, hold job fairs, and provide them with job counseling.

The casino will eventually employ 1,100 permanent workers, said Leigh Whitaker, a SugarHouse spokeswoman.

Though two neighborhood groups met with SugarHouse officials to begin working out a "community benefits agreement," two others - the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association and Fishtown Neighbors Association - refused to participate in the process.

Both of those groups want to see the project moved to another site.

Herb Shallcross, president of Fishtown Neighbors, said his group would join discussions once it secures funding for an independent attorney. SugarHouse has offered to cover legal costs - but not fees for any discussions of moving the project.

"We're working to find a way to get to the table, but we haven't reached that point yet," Shallcross said.

As further evidence of how the casino debate is straining relations in Fishtown, a longtime member of Fishtown Neighbors, A.J. Thomson, has resigned from the group, citing differences with a few anti-casino activists.

He said, however, "I did not resign because we didn't go to these meetings. It's more an overall frustration."

Thomson said: "I have to take a step back and focus on positive things and not argue with my neighbors on how to muddle through these fairly filthy waters."

Thomson said he still wanted to see the project moved to another site. But he added, "I don't know how far we're going to get with it. The government would have to induce it and that's the fundamental problem with the process."