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The Frankford Story II: Crime & Drugs

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By Mike Newall

 

Philadelphia police Capt. Francis Bachmayer has worked some busy districts in his career. He was a Lieutenant in the North Philly Badlands in the late 90's, when it was averaging nearly 50 bodies a year. Three years ago, he took command of the 15th District in the Lower Northeast, which includes Frankford and other neighborhoods straddling Frankford Avenue as it winds its way north. Sounds like an easier gig, right?

Wrong.

The 15th is the busiest police district in the city by a margin of 1,000 crimes. 

Police statistics show that from 1999 to 2008 major crime dropped 21 percent citywide and has gone down in 24 of the city's 25 police districts. The lone exception? The 15th, where it rose seven percent.

In the 15th, robberies doubled. Rapes and aggravated assaults nearly doubled. There are still other districts where it's easier to get killed - like the Badlands -- but gunplay drastically increased in the 15th. In 1999, there were 17 shootings. Last year, the number leapt to 112.

What's going on in Frankford?

"Crime is moving north," said Bachmayer, at his desk on a recent morning.

The reasons why vary, but most of it is linked to Frankford's deterioration as a stable neighborhood.

Backmayer said successful policing initiatives in North Philadelphia, such as Operation Safe Streets and Operation Sunshine, might have resulted in some criminals and criminal activity moving north, said the Captain. The "Wet Sponge Effect," is how some people say it. You smack a sponge down on a wet floor and water shoots out all over. Except here, the water is crime.

 

Reality test

The many unlicensed drug recovery and boarding houses that have followed the drug game up Frankford Avenue and flooded his district with transients are another factor, said the Captain. But he prefers to deal with the reality of crime, not theories on why it has risen so much.

"You're asking me to put my Temple sociology hat on," he said. "That's for a study that's way over my head."

The Captain's in the trenches. His job is to figure out where the crime is happening and attack it. The maps he hangs on the wall tell the story.

"This one represents armed robberies in the last week," he said, pointing to a map of his district with 20 red push pins fanned across it. Thirteen of those line the El Corridor in Lower Frankford. The rest inch-up past the Frankford Transportation Center into Mayfair and even Holmesburg. This is a trend, said the Captain.

Lower Frankford drug corners -- Frankford and Foulkrod, Fillmore and Tackawanna and the 5000 block of Griscom, to name a few - have worsened in recent years. That battle is constant. Troops are deployed, arrests are made, and crime scatters north.

"Five years ago, we wouldn't have as many robberies in the middle and upper parts of the district," he said.

It's a juggling act. Fight the rise of crime in Frankford and try to stem the spread.

"I know if I don't lay my troops down in the lower end, I'm really going to have problems," said the Captain. "Then, I have to look for the displacement of crime into the middle and upper parts of the district. I can't abandon those areas where crime is shifting."

Displacement. A Wet Sponge. Whatever, you want to call it, it's real.

 

Quality of life calls

Experiencing their first waves of decay, other neighborhoods flood the district with quality of life calls. Kids on the corner. Vandalism. Loud neighbors. The 15th had the most calls for service in the city last year, with 130,000

As part of his crime plan, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey deployed more foot beats to the 15th. Bachmayer also utilized tactical patrol teams to target specific trouble areas along the Frankford El corridor.

The efforts are paying off. This year, violent crime is down seven percent in the 15th. But that's exactly what it was up last year.

Tactical Officers Craig Perry and Dennis Johnson have patrolled Lower Frankford -- or "The Bottom" as they call it -- since 1998, just as the district started to really jump. Then, the fight was against the dealers in the Whitehall projects in East Frankford, they said. A federal bust brought down Whitehall's biggest dealers but a new crop of dealers quickly began to shoot each other over the remaining turf. The shootings quieted, but the corners haven't. In recent years, Perry and Johnson say they're arresting more and more people in Frankford who aren't from Frankford. Dealers are going where their opportunities and connections bring them, said the officers.

"They driver's licenses say West or North Philly, but they're coming to Frankford to do their business," said Perry, as he cruised under the EL. "They're coming up north."

 

The Frankford Story III: The New Flophouses

                

 

              

                       

             

             

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