Two years ago, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey asked his department to adopt a back-to-basics approach to crime-fighting. He divided the city's police districts into smaller sections, and assigned officers to report to the same places every day as a way of building trust.
Soon, Ramsey will expect more from his troops. As part of a crime plan to be released Wednesday, the administration will ask officers, lieutenants, and captains to develop localized crime plans for each neighborhood in each of the police districts.
Ramsey also will encourage officers to look for creative ways of preventing crime, such as asking the city to fix a broken streetlight that offers cover for drug deals, or arranging for the cleanup of an overgrown lot where people hide weapons.
"Law enforcement is a very small slice of what we do," Ramsey said Tuesday. "We're not here to feed the criminal-justice system; we ought to be here to starve it. You have got to be able to come up with ways to keep people out of the system and to keep people on the right side of law."
The department's five-year crime plan, to be released by Ramsey and Mayor Nutter at a news conference Wednesday, lists long-term and short-term goals, strategies, and progress updates on everything from traffic-safety programs to technology issues.
A major component of the revised community policing strategy involves getting officers to see that in many neighborhoods, the small problems and the big are interconnected.
Research has shown that things like a burned-out streetlight or an abandoned building contribute to crime, said Nola Joyce, Ramsey's chief administrative officer for the office of strategic initiatives. While it may not be an officer's responsibility to take care of those problems, many residents see police as the only people to whom they can go with complaints.
If an officer takes the time to try to have a minor problem addressed, it can make a big impact, Joyce said.
"You can begin to see that community change and take ownership," Joyce said. "And that's when you see other parts of the city start to look more like Center City."
Cooperation from city agencies will be key to the success of that policing strategy, said Ramsey, who said those agencies must be willing to prioritize.
"We all have to be on the same page," he said. "If public safety is a priority, public safety is a priority. And that person changing the streetlight has to know, 'I'm changing the streetlight because they've got drug dealing going on, we've had robberies and assaults. I'm contributing to public safety in this neighborhood.' There has to be that understanding."
Ramsey and Joyce acknowledged that residents and officers may be skeptical that any goodwill gestures could make a difference. Many community members are mistrustful of the police. Some officers may resent the idea of helping residents who complain about crime but have been unwilling to help identify suspects.
"It's going to feel very uncomfortable and very scary for officers and some community people to do what we're asking," Joyce said. "But it does have that payoff."
The report also illuminates who the city's homicide victims are, as well as who is arrested for those crimes. From 2007 to 2010, 79 percent of homicide victims were African American, and 88 percent were male. In most, the motive was described as "an argument."
As for those who were arrested for murder in that three-year period, 81 percent were African American, and 93 percent male. Eighty-eight percent of those arrested for homicide last year had a prior arrest history, 74 percent of which were arrests for a violent crime.
"Crime, over years, will make you cynical," Ramsey said. "I've been doing this 40 years. There's nothing I've seen in Philadelphia that I haven't seen elsewhere. . . . But you have to be optimistic. You have to believe that there's hope, and believe that you can have an impact. Things don't have to be that way. You don't have to accept it as a way of life."