Philadelphia’s Operation Safe Streets and other police initiatives really did make a difference in the quality of life in some neighborhoods, says Philadelphia Inquirer deputy editorial page editor Harold Jackson. Putting more officers in those neighborhoods for longer hours got rid of the dealers. Citizen watch groups have helped keep them away in some neighborhoods after police patrols were reduced.
Yet the murder total is up. Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson complains that his department has 610 fewer officers than it had in July 2003. His budget has been slashed as outside funding has diminished. Federal block grants for Philadelphia police have dropped from $5.6 million in 2000 to $1.3 million in 2004. More police officers might not help much, however. Mostly, murders occur in Philadelphia when people who know each other have a falling out and one of them or both decides the other must die. Of the 336 murders this year, only 38 could be definitely attributed to drugs, 50 to robbery, 10 to domestic disputes, five to child abuse; 188 fell under the nebulous category of “arguments.” Meanwhile, many legally permitted weapons wind up in the hands of criminals. The city confiscates more than 5,000 guns a year; that has made barely a dent in the overall number.