Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Are You Next?

Nation's Ten Largest Cities (In Order of Safety)

1. New York: one crime per 37.38 residents

2. San Jose, Calif.: one crime per 34.46 residents

3. Los Angeles: one crime per 25.97 residents

4. San Diego: one crime per 24.09 residents

5. Chicago: one crime per 21.9 residents

6. Philadelphia: one crime per 17.96 residents

7. Houston: one crime per 14.17 residents

8. San Antonio: one crime per 14.12 residents

9. Phoenix: one crime per 14.10 residents

10. Dallas: one crime per 11.79 residents

Inquirer: As Bad As It Sounds

Philadelphia Inquirer records violence statistics.

When it comes to violent crime among America's largest cities, Philadelphia is the worst, the FBI reported this week.

In Philadelphia last year, violent crime was up 3.4 percent, including a 15 percent increase in homicides. Other violent crimes include forcible rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.

Daily News: Rendell, Street Obviously Disagree

Philadelphia Daily News describes “crisis” management.

Philadelphia received nearly $5 million from the state yesterday to put 100 more police on the street to grapple with a soaring murder rate and an influx of illegal guns.

Gov. Rendell announced the state funding through the Police on Patrol Grant program, saying, "The drug trafficking and gun running business has risen to a crisis level," not only in Philadelphia but statewide.

Mayor Street, Blame Yourself

From the Philadelphia Daily News:

I just drove through Lower Merion, and, boy, there were bodies everywhere. I was in Bradford County, and you couldn't count the bodies fast enough. Lancaster was the worst. Amish boys with their Mac-10s firing away at each other.

So now I know from these people and Dwight Evans that the gun violence is not just a Philly problem.

Maybe if someone offered Mayor Street some extra money, he would put more heart into cleaning up this mess. But don't blame the rest of the state.

Jim West, Norristown Catch & Restore Integrity narrates immigration crackdown.

Federal agents swept through Pennsylvania and Delaware over the past several days and arrested 115 illegal immigrants as part of nationwide crackdown on those living here in defiance of court orders, authorities said Wednesday.

The arrests were part of a four-month-old national operation to restore integrity to the country's immigration laws...

Inquirer: Environmental Crisis

Philadelphia Inquirer pronounces mercury threat.

For years, wildlife scientists thought mercury was a problem only in fish. But a study released yesterday reported elevated mercury levels in 40 species, including polar bears, frogs, bats and forest songbirds.

A National Wildlife Federation study said mercury was being found in more and more wildlife and at levels high enough to threaten reproduction, compromise their immune systems, and impair their behavior, which endangers their offspring and makes them easier targets for predators.

"The People Are Not With the Leadership on This"

Northeast Times reports Mayor’s malaise.

Much of the public sees a rise in shootings and murders and argues for more police officers.

Mayor John Street, though, said the police department is sufficiently staffed.

"The number we have is more than adequate," he said.

Last week, Street invited reporters from the city’s weekly newspapers to City Hall for a roundtable discussion on crime.

In his opening remarks, the mayor corrected what he believes is a widespread misconception.

"Crime is not up," he said.

Sitting in on the session were Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, Managing Director Pedro Ramos and Cheryl Ransom-Garner, commissioner of the Department of Human Services.

While acknowledging the increase in shootings and homicides, Street said other parts of the nation are experiencing the same trend. He added that overall crime has dropped in recent years.

Philadelphia is on pace for almost 400 homicides this year, an alarming rate on the surface.

"One is too many," Johnson said.

Street, though, noted that there were 400 or more murders in nine of the 11 years before he took office in 2000. In 2002, the city saw a 17-year low of 288 homicides.

This decade, the city has averaged about 6,800 police officers. The number was about 8,100 in the 1970s when Frank L. Rizzo — a former police commissioner — was mayor.

Philadelphia averaged about 390 murders in the 1970s, a number that has been cut to about 329 since 2000.

"Less police, fewer homicides," Street said, though he did not take into account that the city was more heavily populated 30 years ago.

A look at the motives for the 380 murders last year indicates that 97 percent of victims were targeted by their killers — they were not random killings. Many homicides took place indoors and followed arguments.

There’s little chance, the mayor argues, that police officers can stop those types of killings.

Besides, he said, hiring new officers is costly and would lead to higher taxes and service cuts and bust the city’s five-year plan.

Johnson has put more officers on the street and created a tactical unit that works nights, though he acknowledges that there aren’t enough patrol cars to answer the 3 million-plus annual calls to the 911 emergency system.

Street anticipates that candidates running next year to succeed him will call for the hiring of 500 police officers.

"You ought to ask them where the money comes from," he said.

The city will not bring in the National Guard or declare a state of emergency, Street said, because that would lead to negative stories in out-of-town newspapers and on cable TV broadcasts, hurting Philadelphia’s image and economy. Such measures are not necessary, he added.

Instead, the city has short- and long-term plans to combat crime.

"It has to be a holistic type of approach," Johnson said.

The city is working with its agencies, community groups and federal officials on a variety of programs. The proposed and existing initiatives include anger management and parenting classes, job training and recruitment of block captains and Town Watch members.

Soon, Street will announce what he describes as an aggressive anti-truancy campaign. Up to 32,000 public school students — about one-seventh of the citywide enrollment — are absent on any given day.

"If a child doesn’t go to school," the mayor said, "only bad things can happen."

Ransom-Garner, the DHS head, explained that police forward the names of minors who violate curfew. The agency has an array of services to deal with curfew violators, truants, delinquents and others.

Curfew for anyone age 17 and under is 10:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s no reason for teenagers to be out past that time, according to Ransom-Garner.

"That’s when they get in trouble," she said.

Street opposes some proposed solutions. For instance, he’s against armed police officers in schools.

And, he is wary of a call by City Controller Alan Butkovitz for the state legislature to enact a measure making it easier for police to stop and search parolees who have committed violent crimes with weapons. He labels that a "dangerous proposition," though Johnson appeared with the controller when he announced his idea.

The mayor does think state legislators can help the city in another way, by passing laws that permit individuals to purchase only one gun per month, make possession of an illegal firearm a felony and require gun owners to maintain weapons in a secure lock box and immediately report lost, stolen or missing firearms to police.

On Sept. 26, he is urging citizens to ride city-sponsored buses to Harrisburg, where state lawmakers are dedicating a day to a discussion of crime. There will be a rally at the Capitol, a news conference and visits to the offices of legislators.

The city will likely want to engage House Speaker John Perzel and state Rep. Dennis O’Brien, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Street believes the National Rifle Association is intimidating lawmakers into inaction on gun laws, but public opinion is going the other way.

"The people are not with the leadership on this," he said.

Action is needed, according to Street, because guns have become the weapon of first resort — not last resort — to settle disputes over drugs and other issues.

Northeast Times: Memorial Controversy

From the Northeast Times:

Northwood Civic Association president Joe Menkevich had much respect for 15th District Police Officer Gary Skerski, who was shot to death while responding to a robbery in the neighborhood on May 8.

But Menkevich does not believe that the best way to honor Skerski and his heroism is with a petition drive to rename Castor Avenue after him.

"The petition will never be Gary," Menkevich said.

According to retired city police officer Ailis Rogan, the street renaming is a fitting way to honor the former 15th district community relations officer. Skerski, 46, was gunned down during an armed robbery at Pat’s Café, at the corner of Castor Avenue and Arrott Street.

"There’s already a program for plaques," Rogan said, referring to a program that dedicates memorials to Philadelphia police officers who have died in the line of duty. "I don’t think that’s enough."

Rogan, a former Wissinoming resident who lives in New Jersey, started the online petition to rename Castor Avenue in June. She has obtained more than 7,000 signatures, including 1,000 paper submissions during an early-summer benefit for Skerski’s family at Cannstatter’s on Academy Road. The petition can be viewed at

Rogan, 54, plans to bring the petition before City Council, though she has not set a date.

Menkevich also plans to send correspondence to Council — a letter of opposition to the renaming. His major issues with the petition are Rogan’s out-of-state residency, the fact that Castor Avenue bears the name of a local historical figure, and the estimated high cost to rename the street.

The avenue is named for George Castor, who emigrated from Switzerland in the 1700s and founded the Frankford Presbyterian Church. He is related to Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, who has said in previous reports that he prefers another street be selected for a name change in Skerski’s honor.

In a letter to Rogan, Menkevich, who is involved with the Historical Society of Frankford, states he will not let the petition campaign be "at the expense of the Castor family legacy." Menkevich thinks the cost of renaming the avenue would be better spent on violence-prevention efforts in the city.

"Your petition exhibits an arrogant disregard toward the financial consequences imposed upon the city of Philadelphia’s resources," the letter said.

Anthony Radwanski, director of communications for City Council president Anna Verna, said renaming Castor Avenue probably would cost "tens of thousands of dollars."

"It’s quite an arduous process," he said.

The renaming would require property address and city map changes, Radwanski said. The manpower also would strain city resources, he added.

"The legal process is easy. It’s the physical process that’s not easy," Radwanski said.

Keisha McCarty Skelton, a city Department of Streets spokeswoman, said confusion that can result for the public from changing street names is often abated by listing the previous name under the new one on street signs.

Radwanski said that, in other renaming situations, the proposals were backed by the councilperson in the district. Most of Castor Avenue lies in the 7th Councilmanic District of former Councilman Richard Mariano, now serving a prison term for his conviction on political corruption charges.

The next largest portion of the avenue is in territory represented by City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski (D-6th dist.). A representative from her office said she has not announced her opinion on the issue, explaining that Skerski’s death, as well as his wife Anne’s loss of her parents in an auto accident two months later, remains too fresh for the family.

Anne Skerski’s father, William Schwartz, died in the upstate Pennsylvania crash. Her mother, Anna, succumbed to her injuries two weeks later, on Aug. 4. Anne Skerski has two children, Robert, 13, and Nicole, 10.

In a statement released Friday through the Philadelphia Police Department’s public affairs office, Anne thanked those who have offered support during the family’s difficult time.

"Gary was a truly good man, a friend to many, and one who gave so much to so many — to the very end. He will be remembered forever as the hero he was," she said in the statement.

Rogan says that’s the point of her effort to rename Castor Avenue — to ensure that Gary Skerski is never forgotten.

"The whole aim of the petition is to have recognition for the sacrifice that Skerski made," said the former city policewoman. "I really wouldn’t want the family to be subjected (to controversy). I would withdraw it if it upset them."

Rogan is upset that her petition caused any controversy in the first place.

"I just don’t understand all this," she said. "With all the violence going on in the city, this would give people an opportunity to show that they support the police department."

According to Krawjewski’s office, Bridesburg residents have proposed renaming part of the Bridesburg Recreation Center after Skerski, though an employee there said no official decision has been rendered.

Next spring, the Tacony Civic Association and Tacony Town Watch will plant a tree in Skerski’s honor at the Christa Lewis Memorial Arboretum.

Rogan, meanwhile, plans to circulate more paper submissions to area businesses to gather additional support for her Castor Avenue endeavor.

"I’m still interested in putting this through," she said.

Northeast Times: In the Footsteps of A Hero

Northeast Times depicts soldier’s return.

Back in late 2002, Tony Fusetti remembers visiting the U.S. Army recruiting office at Roosevelt Mall.

Brian Long, a neighbor and friend who had already enlisted in the Army, accompanied him. The recruiting pitch worked.

"I came out with a six-year contract," he said.

The 23-year-old soldier grew up on Anchor Street in Wissinoming, the third of four children of Luke and Debbie Fusetti.

It’s really no surprise he joined the military. As a kid, he played with toy guns and those little green army guys. He was a member of the Junior ROTC at Frankford High School (Class of 2002). And, his dad, grandfathers and uncles are veterans.

"It’s a family tradition," he said.

Fusetti completed basic training in the spring of 2003 and was stationed at several locations in Europe.

Today, he is a specialist first class in the Army’s active corps, stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga.

The year 2005 was a memorable one for him. On Jan. 3, his wife Lina gave birth to their daughter Trinity in Germany. Two days later, he was deployed to Iraq, an assignment that lasted until Christmas Day.

Three weeks ago, he finally had the chance to return to Philadelphia. He received a hero’s welcome from family and friends.

In his hometown, he walked the malls and checked out the new high-rise construction in Center City. He took notice of the new-look Frankford Transportation Center, saw Torresdale Avenue without its familiar trolley tracks and lamented the demise of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

He spent one day traveling around the city to personally thank all 12 members of the board of directors of Partners for Civic Pride, an organization that provided him with an official Philadelphia flag while he was stationed in Iraq.

The group arranged a limousine ride and police escort, lunch at Tony Luke’s and even a good deal on a 1997 GMC Jimmy from Kensington’s Active Auto Sales.

City Councilman Juan Ramos also presented him with a citation.

"If every soldier got the welcome home I did, morale would never be an issue," said Fusetti, who asked the board members to sign his flag.

In the Army, Fusetti works in the communications field. That was his main mission in Iraq. He handled telephone and Internet service, along with performing guard duty and taking part in convoy escorts.

"Basically, the phone company of the Army is my job," he said.

Fusetti’s base was in the town of Samara, in Central Iraq, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

In his view, things along the northern and southern borders of Iraq are relatively calm. The central part of the nation sees more hostility.

"It would be quiet for weeks, then we would be mortared on a daily basis," he said.

As a communications specialist, Fusetti was able to contact his family by telephone, Internet and even on a video cam.

Debbie Fusetti kept her computer’s instant message function on all the time. Whenever her son sent a note, a horn sounded.

"That’s one of the perks of my job," he said of the ability to communicate.
During his service, he was secure in the knowledge that his fellow soldiers had the proper training and experience to complete their mission.

Typically, a work shift lasted for 12 hours. The rest of the day, soldiers slept, ate, worked out at the gym or enjoyed personal time.

For Fusetti, he treasured care packages of Tastykakes and Herr’s chips, a photo collage of scenes from home (Sullivan School, Moss Playground, Frankford High, the Anchor Street sign) and letters from loved ones and Junior ROTC students.

"That was the main thing," he said. "I looked forward to mail."

Fusetti’s base was near a hospital. He saw more than enough injuries, deaths and body bags.

As for American media coverage of the war, he thinks they should show more respect rather than just reporting that "soldiers died."

"Those soldiers have names," he said.

Fusetti has respect and praise for Iraqi soldiers fighting side by side with America and its allies against insurgents.

"Most of them are unbelievably brave," he said. "When you join the Iraqi Army, it’s a death sentence."

Fusetti thinks the United States is wise to fight the terrorists who don’t want peace in Iraq, America and elsewhere. The mission must continue, in his opinion.

"I believe we should be there. We shouldn’t cut and run. Twenty-six hundred people (U.S. soldiers) have died. We can’t leave," he said.

For now, Fusetti, his wife, daughter and two boxers are in Fort Gordon. He won’t be there for long. Next month, he’s scheduled to return to Iraq for a one-year assignment.

That means he’ll miss holidays, his daughter’s birthday and her first words, but he understands he has a job to do. His previous mission will serve him well, he believes.

"I’ll be a lot more comfortable," he said. "I know the process and what to expect."

After his six-year commitment is up, Fusetti plans to re-enlist for another four years. He’s uncertain whether he’ll spend his whole career in the Army.

No matter his decision, his family will support him.

"We’re very proud of him," his mom said. "We’ll worry until he gets back home again, but he’s well trained and it’s what he wants to do."

Northeast Times: Family Tradition

Northeast Times highlights four eagles.

At the start of football preseason last month, Eagles fans began preparing for the associated sport traditions, such as chanting "Fly Eagles, fly," the first words to the team’s fight song.

At the same time in Fox Chase, the Sender family watched their youngest son become a different type of Eagle — and the fourth in his family.

John Sender, 18, has followed in the footsteps of his three older brothers — Peter, 25, Daniel, 23, and Matthew, 20 — who are all Eagle Scouts. Becoming an Eagle at all is rare — only 5 percent of Boy Scouts nationwide have received the honor.

But the Senders give 100 percent. And troops throughout the state know it.

"They say, ‘They’re the Sender family,’" John said in a mock tone of intimidation.

While collectively a local legend within Troop 251, based at the Fox Chase United Methodist Church, each Sender son had individual reasons for sticking with scouting.

"We’re a group of friends," Peter said of his troop. "If you don’t have that core group around, you might not stay involved."

"You get back as much as you give," Dan said.

"It’s worth it. It’s something that you look back on and cherish," Matt said.

"It gives kids the opportunity to succeed," John said of his lifelong hobby. "Some drop out because they don’t like doing the work."

The Sender sons became involved in scouting upon entering grade school. When a Boy Scout aspires to Eagle, he must pass specific tests related to merit badges. He must also organize and lead service projects, to be completed within a set amount of time.

The Senders’ projects included repairing a church in Bristol, cleaning up Burholme Park, entertaining at the Philadelphia Protestant Home in Lawncrest and installing smoke detectors for local senior citizens.

Matt completed his project first and earned the most merit badges.

"Summer camp merit badges were fun," Matt said. "We just had a blast."

Family Life and Personal Management badges were harder, he said. They require Scouts to create and adhere to a budget, among other "grown-up" responsibilities.

Peter said he uses much of the knowledge he learned from scouting.

"There are everyday things that are useful. Even tying knots," he said.

There also is the knowledge they pass to younger Scouts — and the mistakes they learned not to repeat.

"On a camping trip with Dan, I left the tent flap open," Matt recalled. "When we came back, there were spiders and ticks everywhere. I didn’t sleep all night because I was scared of tick bites."

The Senders have remained active in scouting. Dan and John belong to the Order of the Arrow, a national scouting honor society, and Venturing posts, which highlight areas of nature, sports and arts. The two have particularly enjoyed learning about Native American dance through that program.

"It’s good, because it keeps the kids involved until they’re twenty-one," said mom Donna Sender.

Scouting wasn’t the Senders’ only hobby, however. All the brothers, who attended Central High School in North Philadelphia, are athletes and play musical instruments. They also are strong Christians who stayed involved in religious activities.

Asked if they ever wavered in their commitment, the brothers said "no" — for the most part.

"I made fun of it in middle school, and in high school I was proud of it," Matt said. "I’ve been ever since."

"The older Scouts have to be good leaders. It’s almost impossible to do (scouting activities) by yourself," John said.

"They were really self-motivated," mom added. "There was no nagging. They were really blessed with incredible Scout leaders."

Additionally, the Sender parents gleaned positives from their 17-year involvement with the Boy Scouts. They were never troop leaders, but helped their children with projects when needed. Dad Stephen had been involved with the association, but only as a Cub Scout.

"We had fun. We made friends," the boys’ mother said.

The Sender men seem to have bright futures in store. All but John are married. The youngest Sender just began classes at Pennsylvania State University, Abington Campus. He plans to eventually major in civil engineering.

Matthew is a biochemistry and chemistry double major at Ursinus College, and Dan is working toward a master’s in violin performance at the University of Maryland. Peter works for State Farm Insurance in Lawncrest.

"I’m so proud," said their mother. "We’re so thankful that they were young men willing to become leaders."

The brothers also want to give back to the Boy Scouts, whether as future troop leaders or in other capacities.

"All the adults that give to you, you want to give back," Peter said. "I think we all plan on doing that."

After all, once an Eagle, always an Eagle.

"It’s something you can share with people for the rest of your life. When you’re seventy years old, you can still say you’re an Eagle," Dan said.

Northeast Times: Keep the Faith

From the Northeast Times:

Is Frankford a lost cause? Is it no longer worth fighting for? Is it a community way beyond stagnant that has no hope of getting new blood and no future? Is it time to pack it in and write Frankford off as a ghetto lost forever?

Or should Frankford’s boosters, its movers and shakers and true-blue believers keep fighting with all the tenacity they can muster to bring the community back from the dying?

If you live or do business in this city of neighborhoods and parochial interests —or even if you just like to visit — the answer is obvious.

Of course it’s worth fighting for. Despite its crime, grit, and for some people, its sense of hopelessness, Frankford has history and majesty and potential.

The reason to believe is clear in our cover story today, the first in a series that will take a look at the stunning decline of a once-great neighborhood and efforts to turn it around.

Some short-term solutions could include town meetings of the minds involving local, state and federal officials, neighborhood activists, police brass, average citizens — schedule as many town meetings as it takes to make believers out of everybody — and borrowing some of the 10,000 new cops that state House Speaker John Perzel wants to bring to Pennsylvania. In fact, saturate Frankford’s residential neighborhoods and business strip with uniformed police officers, and watch the crime rate plummet. That’s a giant first step toward salvation.

Everything starts with hope. Frankford still has lots of it, and lots of good people. The population is changing — it’s changing fast — but the community will not slip away if the folks insist that good prevails over evil. And that can only happen if those with a vested interest in Frankford’s future open their eyes and face the music:

This community is indeed worth preserving. Reports of Frankford’s death are wildly premature.