Safeguarding Hometown Security Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson explains what led to the creation of the city's innovative patrol program, called "10,000 Men Called to Action: It's a New Day." He says traditional policing is not the solution to Philadelphia's crime problem and believes "hometown security" should be considered equally important as homeland security.

Safeguarding Hometown Security

Safeguarding Hometown Security

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Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson explains what led to the creation of the city's innovative patrol program, called "10,000 Men Called to Action: It's a New Day." He says traditional policing is not the solution to Philadelphia's crime problem and believes "hometown security" should be considered equally important as homeland security.


And for more, we've got Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. Commissioner, welcome.

Commissioner SYLVESTER JOHNSON (Philadelphia Police Department): I'm glad to be here. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So where did this idea come from?

Commissioner JOHNSON: It came from the streets of Philadelphia. It came from the person by the name of Charlie Mack, David Muhammad, Bishop Robinson who had this idea of putting 10,000 men on the streets of Philadelphia to assist in the violence. They, in turn, went to Kenny Gamble. Kenny Gamble is a person the size(ph) of Philadelphia who has done a whole lot for our community and we started meeting. After meeting, we decided to make Mr. Kenny Gamble the chairman of what's going on here with the 10,000 men. And we came up with the name 10000 Men Call to Action - It's a New Day.

Ten thousand men can be any color - Caucasians, Latinos, Afro-Americans, but the facts are that 85 percent of our homicides in the city of Philadelphia are Afro-Americans. And I think in the Afro-American community, the men have a bigger obligation because they see more crime and more murders in their community than any other person to stand up and be counted. I think we're at the point right now that people, especially in our communities, are saying enough is enough.

CHIDEYA: You, yourself, of course, are an African-American man and in this very key position in Philadelphia. Do you ever feel like you're cutting against the grain of what your colleagues in other cities would do? Would they, as police commissioners - or have you heard of anyone else - embracing this kind of approach?

Commissioner JOHNSON: Well, I'm not sure what they're going to do. And, I mean, we're not concerned about what they do. My concern is make sure that here in the city of Philadelphia is that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. I said four or five years ago, traditional policing is not working. Traditional police is only locking the people up. That is not the answer. It doesn't matter what our statistics are if people can't sit on their step and kids can't come out and play.

I will be retiring on January the 5th of next year. On January the 6th and the 7th, I'll be out there walking along with the other men because it's important to me. The only thing that will change will be my title. But my dedication and my commitment to my community will still be the same.

CHIDEYA: Describe to me what you think these men will do and what you, yourself, will do once you retired. What are we really talking about in terms of walking the streets, in terms of communicating with the police department?

Commissioner JOHNSON: We're not asking them to do anything that the police are not already doing. What's going to happen is that on October the 21st, there's going to be a meeting at the Liacouras Center in the city of Philadelphia. We're encouraging men to attend - all men especially Afro-American men. If Latinos want to join us, they're welcome. If Caucasians want to join us, they're welcome.

The facts are that we would go over what the rules and regulation are, and the fact is that cannot they carry a weapon, there is no confrontations, we're not going out there to arrest anybody. And we'll talk about the things and how important it is for them to be involved.

On the 22nd of October, the men will report to different schools throughout the city of Philadelphia. At that time, they will receive training. Training in the form of conflict resolution, training in the form of a lot other mental thing -there's no physical training involved. There would be assigned squads with squad leaders. They will go out there with a minimum of 15 to 20 guys at one time, and there's maybe three or four block area.

When they go out there, there will be a police car assigned to that particular group - that particular squad. That police car would just be in the ear in case something happens. There will be communications there. They're just to go out there. They're called peacekeepers. They're out to solve the peace. It's hard for any criminal to do anything when there's 15, 20 - 15 men standing there right in front of them.

So we're encouraging all police officers to be involved in this. This is bigger than policing. Police didn't solve - I mean, create this problem, the police are not going to solve this problem. We're not going to do it alone anyhow.

You know, homeland security is very, very important. But hometown security is just as important. And a lot of our major cities are being neglected. They're being neglected because a lot of the funds that used to come to the city of Philadelphia are no longer coming here. Not just policing - for policing, for jobs, for education, for health. We have been neglected. And I say, again, traditional policing is not working. We will just never arrest our way out of this problem. It has to be holistic type of approach. We're losing people every state and overseas.

Finally, we're saying enough, enough. We have an officer who's an army sergeant, who has been in Afghanistan, came here, maybe about four or five months ago - a little longer than that - who's mother was murdered here. And he made this statement, which just kind of, you know, hit home. Am I fighting the wrong war? Am I in the wrong place? Should I be fighting here in Philadelphia where my mother was killed instead of fighting overseas for somebody else?

CHIDEYA: What was the moment that you felt most needed as a police officer or commissioner? And what was one of the moments were you felt a sense of discouragement or despair because of the limitations on what the police force can do alone?

Commissioner JOHNSON: Well, I'll say it again, I've been a policeman for 43 years. I've spent seven years in homicide. I've been in every unit of base in the city. I've been in every rank in the city. So the idea is that - and I grew up in north Philadelphia. It was a big town. It was a very black neighborhood. And I see the devastations every single day.

I see that 9-year-old boy that was shot in Philadelphia. I was at the hospital when they were trying to work on him, brain matter coming out of his ear. I see the 4-year-old girl shot. I see the things that's happening every single day right there on the frontline. So these things are very discouraging to me, so you try to do everything you can to help.

My concern is not to go out there and make a lot of arrest. My concern is to make sure that people have a good quality of life no matter what color you are, no matter what religion you are, no matter what part of the city you live in. But, again, it has to be that holistic type approach and everyone has to get involve in this.

CHIDEYA: What's your hope for how this will affect not only crime but the other prospects, prosperity and hope of African-American men in Philadelphia?

Commissioner JOHNSON: Well, (unintelligible) told me we have 52 percent Afro-American men are unemployed. Anytime we have, maybe 51, 52 percent in the ninth grade did not graduate to 12th grade. What I would like to see (unintelligible), I mean, people who are working are not committing crime. People who are educated are not committing crime.

Ninety-four percent of civilians committing crime or not committing crime were being killed not being killed are high school dropout. These things the law enforcement can't solve. You came here for law enforcement to solve our problem that we did not create. We didn't create the social ills in the city for them. We didn't create the poor education. We didn't create the lack of jobs. We didn't create poverty. We're law enforcement people. We can only do what law enforcement can do.

So, again, when 85 percent of our community are being killed or, you know -seem like almost on a continuing basis, then we have to do something to stop. So whether there's 10,000 men or 4,000 men, or 60 men, whatever the numbers are, we will be out there.

CHIDEYA: Commissioner, thank you so much.

Commissioner JOHNSON: All right, thank you.

CHIDEYA: Sylvester Johnson is police commissioner for the city of Philadelphia. And he spoke with us from the studios of Audio Post in Philadelphia.

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