The university needs its private cops to help protect its mission: Growth.
Susquehanna Avenue doesn’t seem so menacing in the daytime. Running east to west through North Philadelphia just north of Temple University, the street feels calm at 11 a.m. The blocks are lined with Halal meat shops, ice-cold-beer joints, some run-down rowhouses and vacant lots filled with tires and mattresses. The sidewalks are nearly empty, and few cars drive by.
But make no mistake, tranquility isn’t the norm in this neighborhood. Bad shit goes down too. The Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) Crime Map shows a homicide, a rape, seven robberies, 12 aggravated assaults, 19 burglaries and three stolen vehicles for the month of June within a three-block radius of 17th and Susquehanna.
Even so, the area is getting safer, thanks to the widening reach of Temple and its private police force. As enrollment at the university increases and more students move into the neighborhoods around campus, Temple feels the impetus to use its considerable resources to protect them.
The increased security is good for business. Temple enrollment is up 20 percent in the last decade. And increased safety for students means better neighborhood security in general, paving the way for new businesses to come in and prosper.
“We feel very good about what Temple’s been able to do in that we feel that our students are safe,” says Anthony Wagner, Temple’s executive vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer. “The single biggest indicator of our success is that incredibly strong student demand we’ve seen over the last decade.”
University safety departments are part of a national trend of security privatization that has been growing for the last 40 years. Private security forces, ranging from unarmed guards to full-fledged police squads, have been created to fill voids left by municipal police.
Here in Philadelphia, budget concerns have put the PPD under the knife of Mayor Nutter, who has proposed eliminating two incoming police classes to vacate 230 positions. The move would reduce the force from about 6,600 officers to nearly 6,400, making the private police forces more important than ever. With a security budget of $18 million, Temple is striving to create a safer environment, deploying a 121-officer police force, plus 73 in-house security guards and 225 others contracted from AlliedBarton.
“Part of my street isn’t that bad, the other part is really bad,” says Leon Bruce, an accounting major at Temple, who lives half a block away on North Colorado. Despite pervasive crime, Bruce says he generally feels safe.
Authorities keep their eyes on the block. Bruce, who lives on the fringe of Temple’s area of influence, says, “there’s always a Temple cop in the neighborhood.”
As its influence continues to expand outward into the neighborhoods, Temple is treading down a path the University of Pennsylvania has already blazed. In the last decade, University City has undergone a complete makeover, unrecognizable in commercial complexion and neighborhood safety. The changes were brought about largely through security supplied directly or indirectly by Penn (116 private cops) and, to a lesser extent, Drexel, which just unveiled its own police force last year. Combined with the PPD, that makes three police forces and four major security-guard forces in University City including teams of AlliedBarton guards employed by the University of the Sciences and the University City District (UCD) development corporation. The eyes, ears, night sticks and guns on the street have made an impact. “I have personally witnessed tremendous changes in the neighborhood for the positive,” says Lori Klein Brennan, who has lived in University City for seven years. “It’s cleaner, safer, more amenities, restaurants, attractions, more young families have moved into the neighborhood.”
Brennan is the director of marketing and communications for the UCD, a business improvement organization founded in 1997 to increase security and market the neighborhood to businesses.
The UCD spends $1.2 million for the security officers annually, employing 42 AlliedBarton security guards as “ambassadors,” who patrol as far west as 50th Street seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., on foot or bicycle wearing green and yellow vests.
“Seven years ago people were not willing to go west of 43rd Street,” says Brennan.
“I think public safety has a tremendous amount to do with it,” she says of the neighborhood revitalization and UCD’s efforts to create a visible security force. “Safety is the foundation of what neighborhoods are built on.”
West and North Philly each contain some of the most dangerous areas in the city, but with the resources to deploy their own security, the large universities are making inroads into crime-fighting where city police haven’t made an impact. They're transforming entire neighborhoods in the process. Like University City, the Jefferson Manor and Yorktown neighborhoods east of Temple feel the effects of extra security, here in the form of Temple police.
“This is one neighborhood where people still have their lawn chairs and sit outside,” says Roberta Faison, who has lived in Jefferson Manor since the 1960s.
An estimated 6,000 students live in the neighborhoods immediately surrounding Temple’s campus. Temple police can patrol up to 500 yards off campus, says Carl Bittenbender, executive director of campus safety services, though they usually stay a bit closer to home. “Generally, our patrol area is a block to two off campus,” he says. The patrols don’t and can’t cover everywhere students live in the neighborhoods, though “as Temple expands that area keeps getting bigger and bigger,” Bittenbender adds.
James Baraldi, who graduated last year and who lived on Bouvier Street, a few blocks west of Broad between 17th and 18th, says he didn’t see much of the Temple police on his block. “There were people on the corner selling drugs in the open. There was an open space next to our house, which was basically the neighborhood trash can and toilet.”
In 2008, the last year data is available, 1,064 Part I and Part II crimes (which range from disorderly conduct to murder) were reported on and around campus. “If you were a victim of a crime on campus, that counts; Not just students,” Bittenbender says. A glance down the school’s daily crime log shows a mixture of underage alcohol consumption and public intoxication mixed with assaults, thefts, stolen cars and burglary.