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Philly to get 100 new officers

By Andrew Maykuth
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Gov. Rendell announced yesterday that he would ask lawmakers to put 200 more police officers on the street statewide — half of them in Philadelphia — by doubling the funding for patrol grants to $20 million a year.

At a news conference in City Hall, Rendell said he would include the new funding in the budget proposal he is to release today. "It's not the sole answer to the crime problem by any means, but it's an enormous help," he said.

The 100 new Philadelphia officers, if approved by the legislature, would increase the 6,624-member department by 1.5 percent. The additional $5 million in state funding would increase the department's $500 million budget by 1 percent.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who shared the podium along with Mayor Nutter, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, and several Democratic legislators, said he welcomed the support.

"We have serious crime problems here in Philadelphia, and it's going to take all the resources we can muster to get a handle on it," the new commissioner said.

Ramsey and Nutter last week announced a crime-fighting strategy that calls for shifting 200 officers to patrol duty in nine police districts. Nutter said the 100 new patrol officers "will be a tremendous additional component to the crime-fighting strategy."

If the legislature approves, the 100 officers would not be immediately available. It takes nine months to train recruits in the Police Academy.

While the city awaits the new hires, Nutter and Ramsey are trying to persuade the 24 officers who leave the department each month to rethink their retirements. "There are a number of ways to slow down the attrition, to hold on to officers," said Nutter.

Rendell's proposal drew immediate criticism from a key Republican opponent. Rep. John Perzel (R., Phila.) called it inadequate and said the plan "ignores the rest of the state."

Perzel has proposed state matching grants to allow municipalities across the state to add 10,000 police officers over the next four years. Perzel's proposal, which has not passed the legislature, would cost $56 million the first year and more than $250 million over four years. Democratic legislators dismiss it as too costly.

Rendell's proposal would double the $10 million "Police on Patrol" grants he announced more than year ago. That program, which paid for 100 new Philadelphia officers, channeled $50,000 a year for three years to communities that promised to hire new officers above budgeted planned hires.

The communities that accepted the funds committed to continue to pay for the positions fully after state funds expired. Rendell said yesterday he would consider making the state funding permanent.

In addition to the direct hires financed by Harrisburg, State Police Commissioner Col. Jeffrey Miller noted that his agency had taken over patrols on interstate highways inside the city, freeing up 63 city police officers to focus on urban crime.

Miller also said that six state troopers have been working since September with Philadelphia police on joint patrols three nights a week in high-crime areas. Since then, the city's homicide rate has fallen dramatically, Miller said.

"We're not taking credit for that in any way, shape or form," Miller said. "But I do think in some small way this pairing up . . . has helped make the city safer in some of these districts."

Perzel, who did not attend yesterday's announcement, cast doubt on the contribution of the state police's "supposed" deployment to Philadelphia highways.

"I've only seen two state troopers in the last year," he said.

In addition to Philadelphia, Rendell said, 16 other municipalities received state money to hire new police under the first year of the Police on Patrol program: Pittsburgh received 40 officers; Allentown, Bensalem, Chester, Harrisburg, Reading, Erie, Wilkes-Barre and Altoona each got five hires; Pottstown received four; and Bethlehem, Chester Township, Darby, Hazleton, New Castle and Shamokin divided up the remainder.

Copyright 2008 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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