Responding to chronic complaints about crime in public housing, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) will almost triple its police force in the year ahead, adding up to 50 new officers.
The move reverses an approach to policing that had been implemented by former executive director Carl R. Greene. During his tenure from 1998 to 2010, Greene reduced the number of officers from 300 to 30, while increasing the ranks of security guards employed by private firms.
At the time, Greene was demolishing high-rise projects and replacing them with low-rise developments laid out on street grids. Those types of developments, he argued, would become part of the policing duties of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Currently, there are 28 police officers at the housing authority.
Kelvin Jeremiah, interim PHA executive director, said the new hires would cost about $5 million. He said PHA would pay for them by shifting money away from private contractors. He said three security firms now have three-year contracts worth $30 million.
"This was another example of outsourcing at PHA," Jeremiah said. "What we're doing is rebuilding our internal capacity to handle some of the issues ourselves."
Residents, he said, have consistently complained about safety and security, particularly in high-rise projects.
"Part of our mission is to provide safe and secure homes," Jeremiah said. "This addresses the realities and perceptions that public housing is a haven for crimes and not a particularly good neighbor."
Angela Rice-Warthen, a PHA detective and officer with the Fraternal Order of Housing Police, hailed the move. She said private security guards were unable to provide the same level of protection as police officers because they cannot make arrests and were not always armed.
"Residents were pleading that they wanted police at their sites," she said.
The additional officers, who have the same level of training as Philadelphia police, will be added over the next 12 months and will be paid $44,000 to $50,000 a year. Most will be assigned to the agency's older, conventional public housing developments, including the Norman Blumberg, Raymond Rosen, and Abbotsford apartments in North Philadelphia; Westpark in West Philadelphia; Wilson Park in South Philadelphia; and Hill Creek Apartments in the Northeast.