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May 18, 2024 3:55 pm

Local News

Philadelphia Mayor Parker’s ‘enhanced’ safety plan for schools relies heavily on police

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Carly Sitrin, Chalkbeat Philadelphia

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for Chalkbeat Philadelphia’s free newsletter to keep up with the city’s public school system.

Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker marked her first 100 days in office by unveiling a public safety plan that includes increasing police presence in and around schools and social media surveillance.

Speaking at Russell Conwell Middle School in Kensington on Thursday, Parker released her 53-page plan which focuses on strategies to reduce gun violence citywide. Those strategies include hiring more police officers, expanding and deepening community partnerships between police and residents, and modernizing police technology.

She said her plan is an effort to “make good on the promise” that she made to Philadelphians during her campaign: to “deliver a government that they can see, touch, and feel in the neighborhoods where they live where they can see their tax dollars at work.”

Parker’s focus on addressing gun violence comes in the wake of two shootings last month that killed one Philadelphia student and injured ten others near their schools. Two groups of young people were also responsible for a shooting in a West Philly park this week.

“It is our mission to stop gun violence in Philadelphia once and for all,” said Adam Geer, Parker’s chief public safety director. “I will not rest until that work is done.”

Here’s what’s in Parker’s so-called “enhanced school safety plan”:

  • It adds more police in and around schools. The plan says these officers will be “additional specialized unit personnel” that will be paired with existing officers assigned to schools to “enhance deployment and visibility” during dismissal times at “high priority schools across the city in 13 police districts.” Those schools were not named in the plan.
  • Those 13 police districts are expected to get “upwards of two to three officers and supervisors” from specialized units at each school from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily through June 2024.
  • Noting that “gun violence in our schools …. often begins online,” Parker’s plan says the Philadelphia Police Department will be increasing its social media monitoring efforts to “possibly preempt shootings before they occur.”

Parker also reiterated her calls for “year-round school,” which she and her Chief Education Officer Debora Carerra said has the potential to reduce crime. Young people are less likely to get in trouble if they are engaged in positive activities in school, Carerra said.

Though gun violence in Philadelphia declined last year overall, shootings involving young people have been rising steadily since 2015, according to police data released Thursday. The percentage of people arrested who are 18 or younger has risen from 7% in 2015 to 11% so far this year.

Every year since 2020, 80% of young shooting victims in the city have been students, according to a gun violence data analysis by the school district included in Parker’s plan.

That analysis also shows students are more likely to be shot during weekdays between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. And the majority of student gunshot victims were shot in five of Philadelphia’s 48 ZIP codes — all in North and West Philadelphia. The district also found students are more likely to be shot closer to school than to their homes.

Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who was formerly chief of school safety at the school district, said at Thursday’s event that part of his expanded community policing initiative will include closer partnerships with schools to divert young people from ever entering the juvenile justice system.

Dale Mezzacappa contributed to this report.

Carly Sitrin is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Contact Carly at csitrin@chalkbeat.org.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization covering public education.