Cherelle Parker details public safety plans on 100th day in office

Parker held a press conference in Kensington Thursday to highlight the administration’s priorities

Parker held a press conference at Conwell Russell Middle School in Kensington, Philadelphia

Parker held a press conference at Conwell Russell Middle School in Kensington, Philadelphia Harrison Cann

Now 100 days into her first term as Philadelphia’s self-proclaimed “clean and green” mayor, Cherelle Parker is honing her focus on public safety and quality of life issues – particularly in the Kensington neighborhood. 

At a press conference at Conwell Russell Middle School in Kensington, Parker said Thursday that despite the history surrounding her mayorship and the ambitious goals she’s set for her administration, she’s often felt “vulnerable” in office. 

“The fact of the matter is that none of (her stated priorities can become) a reality just because the mayor says so,” Parker said. “Change is difficult. And whenever you’re trying to change culture, culture is difficult, because culture makes people uncomfortable when you’re trying to change it.”

Parker took office as the city’s first female mayor in January with plenty of priorities related to public safety – ranging from gun violence prevention and neighborhood cleanup to the open-air drug market in Kensington. 

Parker offered a glimpse of her strategy for the neighborhood Thursday, as administration officials said workers from a variety of city agencies continue meeting with people who are homeless or living in addiction along Kensington Avenue as part of a larger plan to crack down on the open-air drug market there. 

The press conference also comes less than a day after multiple people were injured and five were arrested after a shooting broke out at an Eid al-Fitr event in West Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon. 

Addressing the continuing spate of violent crimes, Parker said, “We know we just can’t police our way out of them,” adding that her public safety plans provide a “holistic approach” to crime prevention and enforcement. 

Much of Parker’s first budget proposal focused on addressing what she called the “lawlessness” that has gained a foothold in marginalized neighborhoods throughout the city, including Kensington. 

Kensington has made national headlines as the epicenter of the city’s drug overdose crisis, with drug use, crime and litter in the area contributing to the “Filthadelphia” moniker Parker has vowed to erase altogether. 

Seventh District City Councilmember Quetcy Lozada, who represents Kensington, said it has been a “long time coming” for a mayor to commit to neighborhood improvement. 

“People feel like they’re being heard,” Lozada said following Parker’s budget address in March. “We’re going to see different participation, different involvement by community members because they feel our energy.”

Parker set the tone early on in her administration, following up a fiery inauguration speech with the signing of three executive orders on her first day in office addressing civil service job requirements, business permits and public safety. The citywide public safety emergency she signed on her first day pushed police leadership to develop deployment strategies and training plans for “community policing.” 

In the ensuing months, Parker has continued to refine the administration’s strategy in Kensington and areas impacted by crime. 

Parker tapped Pedro Rosario as a new deputy commissioner for the Kensington initiative, making him the highest-ranking Latino in the history of the Philadelphia Police Department. Rosario, working under new Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, is now a key leader in the administration’s public safety approach in the neighborhood. 

Parker’s first budget proposal also included substantial funding to “restore a sense of order and safety” within the city, she said. That plan proposes $33 million in new public safety funding and $600 million in new investments over the next five years, including the hiring of at least 400 new officers every year, funding for more than 100 community policing officers, 150 new radio patrol cars, 75 new unmarked cars, and a $45 million capital investment in a new forensics lab. 

Without going into much detail Thursday, administration officials said plans are in motion to enhance law enforcement and violence reduction initiatives in the 10 most violent police districts — which make up for nearly 80% of the city’s shootings. 

City of Philadelphia Managing Director Adam Thiel said the administration is in the “detail planning” process for triage centers for Kensington and other crime-heavy areas. 

Part of the administration’s violence reduction plan is to redefine police activity, expand footbeats and deploy mobile surge teams to supplement patrol operations. The police, under Parker’s proposal, anticipate being able to assign 129 new officers from academy classes to footbeats by the end of June. 

“Those who are suffering from addiction, facing mental health and behavioral health challenges and/or are unhoused or homeless, we want you to know that,” Parker stressed on Thursday. “The status quo that’s been able to prevail here, in Kensington particular. (It’s) unacceptable, and change is on the way.”