Volunteers, even horses to rescue of city parks

You may soon see nonuniformed town watch volunteers on motorcycles, bikes and horseback patrolling Philadelphia’s nearly 10,000 acres of parks and rec centers, especially in the evening hours when recreational activities cease and tend to give way to illicit ones.

“Violence is having an impact in such a way that organizing more town watch groups and reaching out to motorcycle groups and equestrian groups make sense,” director of Town Watch Integrated Services Anthony Murphy testified before a summer City Council hearing convened Thursday to discuss the rising tide of crime in supposed safe havens. “We have trails that are traveled particularly by people who ride horses. You want to get them involved because they become another set of eyes and ears in the time they spend there.”

That was only one of the unconventional solutions discussed after a summer crime wave resulted in several disturbing incidents throughout the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation facilities. A man injured three people when he opened fire from the bleachers of the Wister Recreation Center in Germantown during one of three shootings that erupted at that location last week. A 12-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in mid-July in the stairwell of the Francis Myers Recreation Center in southwest Philadelphia.

“I frequent Myers for meetings because it’s in my neighborhood, and when I use the bathroom, I’m scared as an adult because it’s a scary place,” Tracy Gordon of Concern Citizens of Southwest Philadelphia testified.

Communication breakdowns

First Deputy Commissioner Susan Slawson showed a copy of a letter was mailed out to residents about police coverage of parks and rec centers and apologized for any who may not have received it.

But Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said he’s been asking the police department since 2009 for the necessary crime statistics to examine the effect of disbanding the 92nd District, which previously patrolled Fairmount Park.

“I was only able to get 2011 crime statistics for those locations in my district — and I

requested the information for all districts as chair of the Committee on Public Safety,” he said. Deputy Mayor Mike Resnick said that all crimes are entered into the city’s crime-mapping database.

Where’s the technology?

One suggestion for enhanced safety is a swipe-card entry system for park facilities or partnering with the local tech community to make a smartphone app that equips cameras to alert officials of unusual motion patterns.

Deputy Mayor Mike DiBerardinis said that cameras — sans apps — have already been purchased for 30 of the city’s more than 160 facilities and installation will begin in the fall.

But with a price tag of $375,000 from the department, combined with additional funds from District Council members to outfit less than 20 percent of rec centers with surveillance, limited resources continue to pose a challenge — hence some of the more creative suggestions.

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