In South Philly, community policing helps cut shootings in half

Posted: December 27, 2013

WHEN CAPT. LOU Campione drives down the streets of South Philly, people stop. They jump at that chance to say hi to "Lou," to ask him how everything's going, to swap information.

On a recent snowy afternoon, Campione chatted up the staff of Rosica Pharmacy on Snyder Avenue near 21st Street, speculating on how deep the falling snow would pile. This wasn't police work - although Campione did visit the business to sign off on one of his district's 84 community police logs - just conversation.

"If we're asking these people to trust us, to contact us if anything goes wrong, they need to know who we are," he said. "We can't just be a face they see in a police car."

This emphasis on community policing and building relationships, as intuitive as it may seem, has worked wonders for Campione and South Philadelphia's 1st District: The number of shootings in the district has been cut in half this year over last - from 31 shootings to 15 through Dec. 17 - the highest decrease among the city's 21 police districts in the same time frame.

To reach that milestone, Campione and his officers mixed the new with the old, combining social media with good old-fashioned community policing.

"It's all about assertive policing; pounding the pavement, talking to people, forming relationships," he said. "We tell people we're not an army of occupation. We're working hard to keep the area safe, and that's something we all can reap the benefits from."

Through programs from supporting blood drives to mediating child exchanges for divorced couples, Campione's officers in the 1st District, headquartered at 24th and Wolf streets, have become fixtures in the community. Part of that is the logs placed in businesses and restaurants around the district, which beat officers are required to sign daily.

The constant interaction is something Caryn Robinson appreciates tremendously.

"You get to see them, to know what their lives are like. It's almost like having a friend watch your back," said Robinson, a pharmacist at Rosica.

That rapport came in handy when the store was held up at gunpoint in April, she said.

"We knew who to call, and they knew exactly what we were dealing with," Robinson said. "It wasn't like we were dealing with a stranger with a badge. We felt more comfortable with the whole situation knowing we had access to the people who'd be helping us."

That kind of attitude is what Campione, who also employed community policing when he led the 26th District covering Fishtown and lower North Philadelphia to double-digit decreases in shootings in the '90s, aims for.

Although Campione's past success has led to his current approach in the 1st District, there's a new twist to his work in South Philly.

"You have to go to where the current generation is," he said. "For too long, we ignored technology. Now we're teaming our old, experienced guys with the eager, younger guys to fix that."

A major portion of the intel Campione and his officers receive from their neighborhood sources comes in through social media, overseen by Officer Jeff Ryan.

Ryan, 32, said extending the conversation with residents to the Internet has been easy.

"It eliminates the tension some people have of actually coming down the district and talking to someone," Ryan said. "It's all about convenience. If people are more comfortable using a certain method, they're going to be more willing to share resources with you."

No one knows that better than Carol Lanni, the force behind the Facebook page and website "Taking our South Philadelphia Streets Back."

"People in South Philly tend to have big mouths, but don't get much done," she said. "I think people wanted this to happen for a long time, but didn't know how to go about it."

Lanni started the website in August after her 11-year-old son was mugged blocks from her home on Oregon Avenue. She and four administrators put together crime data from community sources and post it on the website to inform the neighborhood.

In its short existence, the website, at tospsb.webs.com, and its Facebook page have amassed nearly 7,000 supporters. Lanni said Campione is one of her biggest fans.

"You can tell he's someone who really cares, who really wants to get involved," she said.

"He's a hands-on leader; he's out there in the streets, meeting people, getting involved. He's the kind of leader we needed in South Philly."


Twitter: @Vellastrations

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