By Barbara Boyer
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Read the P1 News Report: Philly's goal: 100 fewer murders a year
PHILADELPHIA — Officers and commanders in some of the city's high-crime areas were enthusiastic yesterday about Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey's crime-fighting strategy to put a heavy emphasis on strengthened district patrol.
They also gave the boss big points for inviting the entire department to the Wachovia Center, where hundreds heard about it directly from him and Mayor Nutter.
"It was a good start," said 35th District Officer Vincenzo LaSpina, who patrols parts of Olney, Germantown and Mount Airy. On a busy weekend night, he said, he might respond to 25 calls.
Many who attended the presentation said they had confidence the mayor would make sure the commissioner had the resources he needed. Others noted Ramsey said the right things but questioned whether financial support would follow to actually make significant changes.
LaSpina said that if the commissioner assigned more officers to the 35th District, more time could be spent on foot or bike to allow officers to know the community better, a goal Ramsey has set across the city.
"Whatever they want us to do, I'm ready to do. If he wants foot patrols, I'll do foot patrols," LaSpina said, adding that it would be possible only with more officers.
Others said Ramsey's plan boosted morale for the department of 6,624, a force that shrank during much of the Street administration while violent crime increased.
Last year, several hundred new officers modestly replenished the force. The number of arrests increased, violent crime dropped an average of 8 percent citywide, and some of the high-crime areas Ramsey is targeting saw double-digit drops.
Commanders predict more drops if Ramsey gets his way.
"I've got an aggressive squad that wants to do the job — there's just not enough of them," said Lt. Joe Spera of the 39th District in North Philadelphia and East Falls. "As soon as he said we're not going to call anything an operation, I was happy. He wants people in patrol, which we need, and he plans to keep them here."
Capt. Daniel MacDonald of the 12th District in Southwest Philadelphia saw violent crime go down 12 percent last year in his area and was pleased to learn he would be getting more resources.
"It's the stuff we wanted to hear," MacDonald said.
Violent crime has fallen 29 percent this month compared with January 2007, MacDonald said.
"My guys are out there doing the job and working hard," MacDonald said, adding that crime would continue to go down under the new plan.
Others said street officers were upbeat that Ramsey had recognized the importance of their jobs as the first ones to respond to a scene and communicate with the public.
"We have to reestablish that relationship with people," said 12th District Officer Tonetta Dawson. "I think this will work as long as everyone works together."
Northwest Inspector Joseph Sullivan, who oversees three of the high-crime districts identified in the plans, said Ramsey's presentation "invigorated" veteran commanders who met with the commissioner as he penned the new strategy.
"He listened to the suggestions and incorporated them into the plan," Sullivan said. "It's the police officers and lower-level commanders who will make this a success."
Copyright 2008 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philly patrol officers applaud new tactics