In South Philly, community policing helps cut shootings in half
When Captain Lou Campione drives down the streets of South Philly, people stop. They jump at that chance to say hi to "Lou," to ask him how everything's going, to swap information.
On a recent snowy afternoon, Campione chatted up the staff of Rosica Pharmacy on Snyder Avenue near 21st Street, speculating on how deep the falling snow would pile. This wasn't police work - although Campione did visit the business to sign off on one of his district's 84 community police logs - just conversation.
"If we're asking these people to trust us, to contact us if anything goes wrong, they need to know who we are," he said. "We can't just be a face they see in a police car."
This emphasis on community policing and building relationships, as intuitive as it may seem, has worked wonders for Campione and South Philadelphia's 1st District: The number of shootings in the district has been cut in half this year over last - from 31 shootings to 15 through Dec. 17 - the highest decrease among the city's 21 police districts in the same time frame.
To reach that milestone, Campione and his officers mixed the new with the old, combining social media with good old-fashioned community policing.
"It's all about assertive policing; pounding the pavement, talking to people, forming relationships," he said. "We tell people we're not an army of occupation. We're working hard to keep the area safe, and that's something we all can reap the benefits from."
Through programs from supporting blood drives to mediating child exchanges for divorced couples, Campione's officers in the 1st District, headquartered at 24th and Wolf streets, have become fixtures in the community. Part of that is the logs placed in businesses and restaurants around the district, which beat officers are required to sign daily.
The constant interaction is something Caryn Robinson appreciates tremendously.
"You get to see them, to know what their lives are like. It's almost like having a friend watch your back," said Robinson, a pharmacist at Rosica.
That rapport came in handy when the store was held up at gunpoint in April, she said.
"We knew who to call, and they knew exactly what we were dealing with," Robinson said. "It wasn't like we were dealing with a stranger with a badge. We felt more comfortable with the whole situation knowing we had access to the people who'd be helping us."
That kind of attitude is what Campione, who also employed community policing when he led the 26th District covering Fishtown and lower North Philadelphia to double-digit decreases in shootings in the '90s, aims for.
Although Campione's past success has led to his current approach in the 1st District, there's a new twist to his work in South Philly.
"You have to go to where the current generation is," he said. "For too long, we ignored technology. Now we're teaming our old, experienced guys with the eager, younger guys to fix that."
A major portion of the intel Campione and his officers receive from their neighborhood sources comes in through social media, overseen by Officer Jeff Ryan.
Ryan, 32, said extending the conversation with residents to the Internet has been easy.
"It eliminates the tension some people have of actually coming down the district and talking to someone," Ryan said. "It's all about convenience. If people are more comfortable using a certain method, they're going to be more willing to share resources with you."
No one knows that better than Carol Lanni, the force behind the Facebook page and website "Taking our South Philadelphia Streets Back."
"People in South Philly tend to have big mouths, but don't get much done," she said. "I think people wanted this to happen for a long time, but didn't know how to go about it."
Lanni started the website in August after her 11-year-old son was mugged blocks from her home on Oregon Avenue. She and four administrators put together crime data from community sources and post it on the website to inform the neighborhood.
In its short existence, the website, at tospsb.webs.com, and its Facebook page have amassed nearly 7,000 supporters. Lanni said Campione is one of her biggest fans.
"You can tell he's someone who really cares, who really wants to get involved," she said.
"He's a hands-on leader; he's out there in the streets, meeting people, getting involved. He's the kind of leader we needed in South Philly."
N.J. bill would ban release of mug shots
by JESSICA MASULLI REYES
For some local police departments, releasing mug shots of recently arrested people on Facebook and to the media is just part of good “community policing,” according to Sparta Police Sgt. John-Paul Beebe.
Beebe said he has seen time and again how providing the community with both the name and face of those arrested helps bring in additional police tips and acts as a deterrent.
But for those arrested, it can have an embarrassing and even damaging result in the short and long term.
In response, proposed state legislation — opposed by Sussex County's lawmakers and some local law enforcement officers — would ban the release of arrest mug shots until a person is convicted, no matter how serious the alleged crime.
The bill (A3906) passed the state Assembly 69-11 on Dec. 19, but could die if the state Senate version (S3046) does not make it to the floor in the next two weeks. Assemblyman Parker Space and Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose, both R-24th Dist., were two of the handful that voted against the bill.
“We should tread cautiously on legislation that appear to restrict transparency,” the two local legislators wrote in a joint statement.
The bill's supporters argue that the legislation would protect the reputation of those arrested who have not been found guilty of crimes.
“The harm these people face may also be compounded by exploitative websites which indiscriminately post mug shots and charge exorbitant fees for their removal,” a statement from the bill's sponsors says. “This bill would help restore the presumption of innocence to which people who are not convicted of wrongdoing are entitled.”
McHose and Space responded: “But what is the next step under that argument? Do we prevent the publication of the police columns that appear in newspapers? Do we as a whole restrict the reporting of criminal trial cases until a guilty verdict is rendered? All those actions would seem to ‘protect the innocent' but yet restrict both the public's right to know and the right of the press to cover newsworthy items.”
Beebe also said he opposes the bill and that it could be a detriment to public safety.
“I don't see how keeping mug shots out of the papers somehow increases public safety. If anything it diminishes it,” Beebe said.
He explained that Sparta police seek to release as much public information about crimes as possible without compromising ongoing investigations. He said that mug shots serve two purposes — to clear up possible cases of mistaken identity and to promote community involvement in fighting crime.
For example, if a person is arrested for a sex offense, releasing a mug shot can often lead other victims or witnesses to come forward with additional information about the individual, he said.
“The way I look at mug shots and public information is that it a major part of community policing,” Beebe said. “If you want feedback from the public, you have to give them as much information as possible.”
The New Jersey Press Association — the state's largest press association, which includes about 20 daily newspapers — has taken a similar stance against the bill.
The association's executive director, George White, wrote to the Assembly that the bill is “contrary to New Jersey's long-standing, strong public policy of open government.” He said the bill conceals critical information and hinders accurate reporting on matters of public concern.
“A mug shot photo is but a form of a person's identification. And isn't the person's name and address more identifying than the photo itself? So should the public not expect that complete closure of arrest records will logically follow next, unless and until there is conviction?” White said.
The Senate version of the bill is currently in front of the Law and Public Safety Committee. If the committee moves the bill to a full Senate vote, it would have to do so before Jan. 13, which is the last day of the Legislature's session.
If passed by the Senate, it would then also have to be signed by Gov. Chris Christie, who has not publicly stated his stance on it.
State Sen. Steven Oroho, R-24th Dist., said he does not expect the bill to get to the Senate during this session. On initial review, he said he agreed with his fellow Sussex County legislators that it would be important to weigh the need for transparency first and foremost.
“I haven't heard a really big issue about why there should be a change,” Oroho said. “If it is not broke, why fix it?”
Sandy Hook Documents To Be Relased Friday Afternoon
by Angelica Spanos
State police plan to release investigative documents related to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Friday, according to sources and one family member of a victim.
The release of the documents comes more than 12 months after Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 first-graders and six women at the Newtown school. Lanza shot and killed his mother before driving to the school. He killed himself after police arrived.
The release also comes about a month after a summary report based on the documents was released, concluding that Lanza acted alone in planning and carrying out the massacre. The 11-month investigation could not determine a motive in the second-deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Danbury State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III's 44-page summary portrayed Lanza as an isolated, socially inept 20-year-old with a fascination for a dance video game and mass killers that seems to have been developed as far back as the fifth grade.
Sedensky also released a detailed time line of the events on the morning of Dec. 14 that shows Newtown police officers were outside the school for more than five minutes before entering. He concluded that police believed there might have been more than one shooter and “acted accordingly.”
The report indicates that the first arriving officers parked away from the school and waited to approach. The report stated that Lanza probably killed himself within a minute of the first officer's arrival at the school.
The investigation was hindered by the fact that Lanza destroyed his computer's hard drive before heading to the elementary school that he had attended as a child. Police believe that he destroyed it after killing Nancy Lanza.
FBI agents in Washington, D.C., have been working on pulling information from the hard drive but have been unsuccessful. Sources have told The Courant that Lanza removed the disc from its shell and scratched a giant “W” through it before smashing it with a barbell. Police are interested in the hard drive because Lanza communicated with a number of individuals online.
The report provided few details of what happened inside the classrooms where the students and four adults were killed. Lanza, who weighed 112 pounds and was carrying nearly 31 pounds of ammunition, used a Bushmaster .223 to fire eight shots through the glass window at the front entrance.
Lanza then fired 16 rounds in the hallway, killing his first two victims — Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Scherlach, and injuring two teachers. Hochsprung and Scherlach left a meeting after hearing the shots. The principal told attendees to “stay put” before moving into the hall, the report states.
Lanza then walked into the front office but did not see any of the office personnel hiding there.
The report states that Lanza apparently killed himself about 9:40 a.m., based on the sound of a gunshot heard on a 911 call from inside the school. The first 911 call came at 9:35:39. The report states that dispatch records show that Newtown police arrived within four minutes, indicating that Lanza killed himself a minute after their arrival.
Sedensky reported that Lanza never used his cellphone and that he didn't seem to have any friends, other than anonymous ones with whom he played online video games. He concluded that “there was no evidence to suggest that anyone other than the shooter was aware of or involved in the planning and execution of the crimes.”
GPS data show that Lanza was in the vicinity of the Sandy Hook Elementary School for 23 minutes the day before the massacre. The portable GPS was found in his room. The data did not indicate that he actually went to the school the day before the massacre, however.
The GPS data showed that Lanza often played the dance video game Dance Dance Revolution. GPS data showed that Lanza went to a local theater where a commercial version of the game was located. Others who played with Lanza said that he could play the game for 10 hours straight.
Investigators found other evidence in his room, including a computer game titled “School Shooter,” in which a player controls a character who enters a school and shoots students. There were also separate images of Lanza holding a pistol and a rifle to his head.
In Lanza's room, investigators discovered his infatuation with mass shootings, especially the Columbine school massacre of 1999. They found photocopied newspaper articles on mass shootings dating to 1891.
They found a spreadsheet listing mass murders through the years, with information about each shooting, such as weapons used and numbers killed.
The interviews also showed the strange relationship with his mother. Although they lived in the same house, they communicated only by email.
Lanza showed severe signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder, refusing to touch a doorknob, changing clothes several times a day, and being afraid to be touched and afraid of loud sounds.
Nancy Lanza was not allowed in his bedroom, where he had taped garbage bags over the windows to keep it dark.
He disliked holidays and birthdays, and he refused to let his mother put up a Christmas tree.
It was shooting guns that bonded mother and son. All of the guns and ammunition used in the massacre were legally purchased by Nancy Lanza, the report states. The two often went target shooting together.
Investigators found a check that she had written to him to purchase a CZ 83 pistol.