How can Philadelphia businesses support public safety?

Public safety is on the minds of most Philadelphians in 2022, a year when busy commercial corridors have been hit by violence and already more than 400 people have been killed by firearms.

According to data collected by the Pew Charitable Trusts earlier this year, 70% of Philadelphians think crime, drugs and public safety are the city’s most important issues. Only 44% of residents say they feel safe in their neighborhood at night.

Given these statistics, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum on “Securing a Safer City” last week to discuss public safety and what Philadelphia businesses and citizens can do to address concerns about violence.

“Both socially and economically, a more collaborative approach is needed to improve safety and lives, drive recovery and economic prosperity throughout Philadelphia,” said Ken Andersonthe House Vice President of Civic Affairs and the moderator of the panel.

The panel showed Erica D. Atwoodchief director of the City of Philadelphia Office of Criminal Justice and Public Safety Policy and Strategic Initiatives; Marc Collazzogeneral manager of the Fishtown Kensington Area Business Improvement District (BID), Jennifer GriffinVice President of Public Safety at Temple University; and Scott Sauerdirector of operations of SEPTA.

What public safety means

Solving the problem requires understanding it. As Atwood pointed out, public safety is about more than law enforcement — it’s also about prevention and response.

“We can’t stop to get out of this problem,” she said. “When we talk about the root causes of this deadly symptom of gun violence, we need to talk about economic mobility and what it means to not just have a job, but to have a good job, because that is driven by an objective, so that it has a trajectory for you.

Atwood gave the example of an apartment that now costs three times as much to rent as it did 20 years ago. His point of view: a person needs a job with an increasing salary in order to be able to continue to live in his neighborhood. This relates to the importance of social cohesion or living in a neighborhood where a person has connections and knows their neighbors, Atwood said. It’s lost when they have to move because they can no longer afford their house. This, along with access to physical and mental health resources, good schools and education, is important in promoting public safety.

How Philly Stakeholders are Working to Improve Public Safety

Each of these panelists’ organizations does their own work to help improve public safety in Philadelphia. Atwood said the city came up with a five-year plan in 2018 called the Roadmap for safer communities focused on supporting young people, more authentic community engagement and better coordinated municipal services.

“We spoke to all types of stakeholders,” Atwood said. “We talked to not only a kind of business community, but we also talked to people who have lived experience.”

On the university side, Griffin said some of the ways Temple keeps students safe include a public safety enforcement, foot escorts and a shuttle system. She also noted that Temple has partnerships with community institutions like local police and health centers.

(Left to right) Ken Anderson, Erica D. Atwood, Scott Sauer, Marc Collazzo and Jennifer Griffin. (Photo by Sarah Huffman)

Collazzo said his BID organization created a program called Fishtown Ambassadors, who are people trained in de-escalation — that is, strategies to diffuse a potentially violent situation — who frequently check on businesses in the high-risk area. traffic.

“One of the things you hear from all of us, which is really important, is collaboration,” Collazzo said. “None of this happens in a vacuum. We cannot do it ourselves, which means we work with the Homeless Services Officethe Crisis Response Team [through 911], [human services nonprofit] Lutheran Settlement House and law enforcement to make sure we maximize what these agencies are doing.

And on the region’s largest transit system, Sauer said SEPTA has introduced a program called the Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnership and Engagement (SCOPE) program in 2021. This is a collection of all the work he tries to do to keep transport and stations safe and clean, while helping people who are homeless, drug addicts, etc. He said he has seen outside organizations interested in getting involved in the program, giving the example of Drexel University offering its medical students “health navigators” who would ask vulnerable people at train stations or on transportation if they needed help and, if so, direct them to resources.

What can businesses do? Partners and de-escalation are key

Atwood said neighborhood businesses play two roles on the issue of public safety: they are the eyes and ears of what is happening in the community, as well as strong partners and supporters of organizations working on public safety.

“Some entrepreneurs and small businesses tend to be among our biggest employers of those with lived experience” of violence, she said. “They are the ones who will be ready to come forward when we need the support and ideas of the business community. On the other hand, they tend to be among the most vulnerable to some of the issues we see in public safety.

Businesses can call the Philly 211 hotline to find public safety resources.

Sauer said the business community and SEPTA should also be partners and resources for each other. SEPTA supports neighborhood businesses by providing means of transport, but also through surveillance cameras on its vehicles — “so that we can be a partner with you in terms of safety, security, just as much as we are a partner in transportation,” he said, “and just the fact that we’re there. Hope this helps you feel comfortable having someone watching because our cameras are still rolling.

Echoing Atwood’s description of the systemic causes of violence, Griffin said much of what she hears from business owners is that with any instance of violence or crime, it there is usually a quality of life issue behind it. That’s why it’s especially important to use de-escalation skills when talking to people in these situations, as they may be going through a crisis. De-escalation training was organized by both Fishtown BID and for SEPTA employees as well.

Basic de-escalation strategies include staying calm, actively and empathetically listening to the person in distress, and keeping the conversation away from public view. See more of the US Department of Homeland Security.

Atwood added that the past few years with the pandemic have exacerbated the circumstances that can lead to violence, making de-escalation even more valuable.

“We need to support organizations, those closest to the problem tend to be closest to the solutions, with the least privilege and power,” Atwood said. “And so, those of us who have power, how do we share it? How can we pass this on to those who have the ability to make the change and find the cure? »


Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member of Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-