The reason: community policing.
Bruce and scores of other people in Francisville came together at New Welcome Baptist Church to break bread with and honor the two men they credit with bolstering the relationship between police and residents: Capt. James
Tiano, the Ninth District's commanding officer, and the Rev. James B. Moore, a former
gang leader who heads the church and a street ministry.
"I feel very comfortable in this neighborhood," Tiano said before distributing handouts on safety and a list of top officers under his command, among other things. "You got my support as long as I stay here. I hope I stay here."
That was welcome news to the congregation. Bruce said there has been a revolving door of commanders during the last decade. While Tiano has been on the job for 3 1/2 years, Bruce and Mr. Moore said the other captains came and
went before the residents could get to know them and put a face to their names.
"We've had some in there two months," said Bruce, a member of the district's police advisory board and the financial secretary at New Welcome, at North 20th Street and Parrish Avenue. The constant changes in commanders made it difficult to make any progress on community policing, Bruce and Mr. Moore said.
Under the watch of Tiano and the district's community relations officer, Wyatt Colquitt, improvements have come to Francisville: A single neighborhood town watch group has blossomed into 20 block groups. Police and community leaders meet monthly. Residents carry whistles that they use to alert police or ward off attackers. The officers sponsor a Christmas party for needy children. And the officers doubled the number of holiday baskets to families, Bruce said.
Tiano said he and two officers who work in the district's mini-station will visit the White House May 2 to receive accolades from Vice President Gore on the station's community relations program.
The captain acknowledged that it is easier to build relationships with people who are in churches than on street corners.
That's where Mr. Moore comes in.
Still called "Junebug" by many, the 34-year-old minister said he was once a leader of the Morrocco's gang, one of the notorious gangs that terrorized Philadelphia in the 1970s. Mr. Moore said he changed after a stint in jail, where he lost both his dignity and freedom.
Now, he attends Ninth District roll calls and rides in squad cars with officers to try to save souls and ensure people, including his former gang members, that police "are just average people trying to do a job, and all they need is a little help."
While Mr. Moore and his followers welcomed Tiano and Colquitt at the church, several of the minister's childhood buddies stood across the street. Like Mr. Moore, they are now family men and have different attitudes toward the once-dreaded police.
"We don't have too much of a problem with them," said a 37-year-old man, who like the others would not give his name. "In some neighborhoods, it seems like they (residents and police ) are battling. But here, they (police) keep to themselves. From the past, they really have mellowed out. They don't act like the Lone Ranger anymore."