Unpaid Patrols to Hit Philadelphia Streets In the face of rising homicide rates, Philadelphia's police chief has plans to recruit 10,000 volunteers to patrol city streets and be on the lookout for criminal activity. They would be unpaid and unarmed.
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Unpaid Patrols to Hit Philadelphia Streets

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Unpaid Patrols to Hit Philadelphia Streets

Unpaid Patrols to Hit Philadelphia Streets

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The police commissioner in Philadelphia is looking for a few good men. Facing a murder rate among the highest in the nation, Sylvester Johnson is calling for 10,000 volunteers to help bring it down. Johnson is forming a crew of part-time peacekeepers.

As WHYY's Joel Rose reports, some activists are worried that he's underestimated the dangers of the streets.

JOEL ROSE: Antiviolence rallies are almost a weekly occurrence in Philadelphia. This week, home health care workers marched in front of city hall after one of their own was shot. Protesters laid down paper tombstones bearing the names of the roughly 300 people killed in the city this year, most of them by guns.

Unidentified Female: Anthony Edwards(ph), age 49.

Unidentified Male: Tanya Lee(ph), age 20.

ROSE: Reverend Jesse Brown offered a prayer for the victims and their families.

Reverend JESSE BROWN (Founder and Executive Director, National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery): Show us the way to reduce violence in the neighborhoods and families.

ROSE: Brown supports the police commissioner's call for 10,000 volunteers to make the city's toughest neighborhood safer.

Rev. BROWN: This is something that can't be done on a one-time basis. It must become an action that we see is our responsibility in raising our families and caring for our spouses and other members within our household. We got to make it part of the culture that we do these things on a daily basis.

ROSE: The call to action officially starts next month. Its creators includes security consultant Dennis Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam. Commissioner Sylvester Johnson says the program is open to men of all races and religions, but he's urging African-American men in particular to step forward.

Mr. SYLVESTER JOHNSON (Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department): It's not going to be like a vigilante type of thing. There will be no weapons. They have no arrest power. There's no confrontations. This is not a program that has to come from the city government. It's coming from the ground up.

ROSE: The commissioner has been fiercely criticized along with Mayor John Street for not doing enough to stop violence. There were over 400 homicides in Philadelphia last year, and the city is on pace to top 400 again this year. Although the men in this program would not be paid or armed, Johnson says their mere presence will make the street safer. He's urging volunteers to pledge to work three hours a day for 90 days. But with that kind of commitment, some anticrime activists say 10,000 volunteers will be hard to find.

Ms. HEATHER DeRUSSY (Chapter Leader, Philadelphia Guardian Angels): This is dirty hypodermic needle. The caretaker says any given warning, he will find 10 to 15 needles.

Heather DeRussy is head of the Philadelphia Chapter of Guardian Angels. She's leading a crew of volunteers who are cleaning up dirty needles in North Philadelphia's McPherson Square, also known as Needle Park. DeRussy says 10,000 volunteers is a noble goal, but it's just not realistic.

Ms. DeRUSSY: If it was that easy to get volunteers, I'd have more than seven active members. People fear retaliation. People fear just being shot by a stray bullet or, you know, being involved in something they didn't have anything to do with, but a fight breaks out and now they're involved. And those are all very legitimate fears.

ROSE: DeRussy says she believes in the goal of community involvement. But she said she won't support this program unless women participate on an equal footing with men. She's not the only one with doubts. Stephen Andrews(ph) works out at a city recreation center in North Philadelphia where a 17-year-old spectator was shot and killed at a basketball game earlier this summer.

Mr. STEPHEN ANDREWS: It's cool to talk to the youth that's doing okay. You know, they're going to school at nighttime. But when I see them guys out there in the corner, if we could jump out and mentor them without being scared of them, you know, it would make a difference.

ROSE: Do you think the commissioner's going to get 10,000 men?

Mr. ANDREWS: No. There's not even 10,000 men in the city, real men. So, that's just my opinion.

ROSE: When I asked if he's going to sign up for the program, Andrews says he's thinking about it. He says he still needs to be convinced it's more than just talk.

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.

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