Safe communities are on everyone’s minds right now. Back in April, I wrote about how 70% of Philadelphia residents believe community safety is the primary issue affecting their lives right now. This evening, we will be recognizing National Night Out, with the police and community organizations of the 15th, 24th, and 26th police districts. People studying the rising violence, especially among our young people, cite the fact that many of the institutions that brought community together were damaged severely during the Covid-19 pandemic. National Night Out, a unique, free event that brings police, business, and community neighbors together, is one of those institutions that we missed during the pandemic. I encourage everyone to get to one of the events close to you, get to know the police who walk your streets, your neighbors running organizations that set the standards for what we expect from each other, and take the opportunity to get involved yourself.
Some groups that are part of NNO are organized specifically for your kids, giving them messages about community in a way that makes sense and is real for them. Other groups are focused on helping anyone take action to make their block, their neighborhood, our city, a better place to be. These are places where everyone across generations can gather, and we can take care of each other. If we are going to repair the damage done during the pandemic, and recognize the harm that was already plaguing us, we must take advantage of every opportunity to gather together. Gatherings and events give us a chance to say out loud what our communities should look like; what government, law enforcement, and we ourselves can do to make everyone feel safer.
Coming together is great, but events like NNO only work if they translate to year-round action. The organization in Philly that puts NNO together and does the work of connecting residents, businesses, and law enforcement is called the Police District Advisory Council (PDAC). Each police district in Philadelphia has a PDAC, and its membership is made up of law enforcement officers who work in the district, community leaders, business owners, and other stakeholders. I believe that our PDACs provide neighbors with the best chance to have direct communication with the individual police officers who are responsible for protecting and serving them.
To be clear, I am not saying that PDACs and other community organizations are, alone, the way out of our current crisis of gun violence and increased crime rates; but they are an important tool in the toolbox. The key for groups like the PDAC is that they create circles of accountability. They are the place where neighbors bring an issue to the local police district, who can ask questions and start resolving that issue. The police are both empowered and accountable, because they know they are focusing their energy where the community needs it. The community is empowered and interested neighbors are always ready to follow up to get the results we all want – a safer place for our families. At the next meeting, those issues are reviewed again with reports on successes or continued efforts that are needed. Groups that talk about respect for law enforcement and those that talk about changing policing can all come together in a space like the PDAC because it is exactly what both sides want – a place where communication about what the community needs from its police (and vice versa) can happen with respect and dignity for everyone involved.
My staff is active in the local PDACs throughout the 177th Legislative District. We are regular attendees at their meetings. When they work the way they are supposed to, weekly PDAC meetings serve as hotlines to get attention paid to big issues like reducing gun violence and to quality of life issues like abandoned vehicles. Frankly, they are one of the best places to make your voice heard about the things that concern you. If you need information about how to get involved in a PDAC, or if you are looking for a different way to get involved, call my office and we will try to connect you with a group that matches what you need.