As teen thefts rise in Center City, police commander suggests new approach

Kristen Johanson
February 17, 2020 - 4:55 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Police Inspector Walt Smith was patrolling the new Fashion District one day when he came across a group of rowdy teens. He asked one boy, who he sees in his district regularly, why they hang out in the city after school.

“I asked about juveniles in Center City, and he told me Center City was a safe space,” Smith said.

He talked to other kids, and they expressed similar sentiments.

“A lot of times when they go back into their communities, there are drug sales, violence and other things going on, and they felt this was a safe place for them to be,” he added.

They come or stay in Center City to escape the uncertainty of home, but in recent weeks, Philadelphia police have reported an uptick in retail theft and crime — much of which, they say, has been committed by teenagers after school. 

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But Smith is attempting to take a different approach to beefed up patrol units. He wants to bring city businesses and community leaders together in the hopes of creating after-school events for the kids, like dance parties or speaking events with athletes, within Center City.

“We have community events and we talk to parents about their sons and daughters growing up and the future that they have, but we are also sympathetic to a lot of the issues these kids are facing,” Smith said.

“A lot of these kids are being raised by grandparents. A lot of these kids are on the street. Going to school is their safe space; coming to Center City is their safe space. So that’s why I think we should be engaging these kids, getting them involved in the right path, giving them alternate solutions to poor behavior.”

So far, some business leaders have committed to helping Smith out with his concept, though nothing is concrete yet as plans are still forthcoming.