Fifty new officers are being added to the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s police force, officials announced Thursday — more than doubling the size of the force over the next year.
The expanded force is part of a shift in the agency’s policing — a move to community policing.
“This is an initiative that we believe is responsive to the many complaints and issues that have been raised by our residents over the last few months regarding safety and security,” said the agency’s interim director, Kelvin Jeremiah. “One of the things I’ve been hearing since I came to PHA is: ‘We need more police officers. Crime is on the increase. We’re concerned about our safety.’”
With the additional officers, the total number of full-time police officers on the force will rise from 28 to 78. New officers could appear in just a few weeks.
Jeremiah said the agency expected the larger force to cost between $5 million and $6 million a year. He said that by ending contracts with three private security firms, contracted with the agency to the tune of $30 million, the agency will be able to cover those costs. In addition to expanding its police force, PHA plans to spend $8.5 million to add security cameras and access controls at its properties.
The decision to expand the force came after PHA conducted a resident survey “that was alarming to us,” Jeremiah said.
“Most folks who responded are concerned about their safety,” he said. “We have a fundamental obligation to provide for the safety and security of our residents.”
Complaints ranged from robbery, assault, and drugs to gun violence.
According to PHA Police Department Chief Ben Walton, the authority will change the way it deploys new officers.
PHA is adopting a community policing model, meaning that police officers will patrol the same areas in an effort to get to know residents — and the patterns and habits of the area they patrol — in an effort to curtail crime.
Officers will patrol all PHA developments — but with a special emphasis on Norman Blumberg Apartments, Hill Creek Apartments, Raymond Rosen Manor, Wilson Park, Westpark Plaza and Abbottsford Homes.
“We picked the five developments that have the most problems. They’ll be there every day,” he said. “That’s where the trust factor comes into play.”
Walton lauded the change, noting that PHA police officers have the same powers that city police officers do, something that private security guards lack.
“These officers will have the powers of arrest,” he said, adding that they also have greater powers when it comes to investigations.
This will also strengthen the relationship with local city police, Walton said, “We want a relationship with the residents - and the Philly PD.”
All of the new officers will be members of the housing authority’s police union. The union and the authority have been at odds for years. In April, the police union signed a new contract after years of confrontation.
The additional officers pleased union officials.
“The union is very excited about this move,” said Angela Rice-Warthen, president of the Fraternal Order of Housing Police. “We’re here to serve our residents. Our morale is up, too.”
News of the hiring was the latest of several changes announced since Jeremiah took the helm in June after former director Michael Kelly resigned in the wake of the news that he was having an affair with a subordinate.
He had followed long-time director Carl Greene, who was forced out in 2010 amid charges of financial misconduct and serial sexual harassment.