On PHA Police: Who Do They Protect? Who Do They Serve?

July 26, 2020

Amidst the revolutionary fight for housing in Philadelphia, we must recognize that the nation-wide call to defund, disarm, and disband the police is a key component here in this struggle.

In their beginning, back in 1971, Phila. Housing Authority police were a force of over 200 officers charged with serving Philadelphia’s public housing community when it “consisted of largely high-rise, crime-ridden developments”. Historically, it’s apparent that private police forces don’t contribute to the lowering of crime. They instead seem to increase the severity of the conditions that contribute to high levels of crime. This excuse of level of crime, amongst other bogus claims, is used worldwide to justify a harsh occupation of violent, gun toting forces in areas they’re never wanted nor needed in. What remains cosistent with these scenarios is that no matter what lies are given to the people, the truth of the oppressor’s presence always lies within the actions of their opressive forces. In the case of PHAPD in Philadelphia, according to PHA’s website, their purpose is to manage “all security-related issues pertaining to protection of life and property at PHA developments, offices and warehouses”.  Before PHA began selling its converted property from public to private through RAD in 2012, PHAPD would regularly police PHA’s properties. But after PHA began converting its properties, integrating them back into the city’s street grid, Philadelphia Police would then police those neighborhoods. 

Despite the property conversions, is PHAPD still necessary even by PHA’s own phony reasoning? One could argue, the level of gun violence in Philadelphia may warrant the need for PHA police, especially considering the tragedies that frequent PHA properties like Raymond Rosen and Spring Gardens housing projects. One would be correct in this arguement if only PHAPD– and the police in general– actually proved to be useful during these situations in practice. The reality is that they are not. If one were to effectively tackle high levels of crime, one would have to first recognize the conditions that lead people to commit crimes in the first place.

Most crimes are committed in order to make ends meet because the legal means to do so either produce too little to elevate them out of their situation or are virtually non-existant for some. In predominantly black and brown communities where the nearest grocery store is purposefully over-priced, provided they have no means of transportation (and therefore would be subject to the less stable sanitary conditions of public transportation under covid-19), folks are either going to eat the fast food around them and develop all types of health issues, or find a quick way to make enough for the over-priced grocery bill. With a great lack of oppourtunity, largely caused by their respective city’s austerity, the same black and brown community’s people turn to the black market for some sort of income, because there are no jobs to be had within reach, none that’ll truly make ends meet. Property taxes increase when nearby real-estate becomes more valuable in black and brown communities, even if said real-estate happens to be a multi-million dollar headquarters of a housing authority that deliberately disenfranchises those same black and brown communities. Such is the case in the neighborhood of Sharswood, where Phila. Housing Authority erected a $45 million dollar office, almost poetically, across the street form where the once beloved Traveler’s Motorcycle Club once stood before it was seized and knocked down through eminent domain by PHA.

Trump and his dogs like to spew incorrect rhetoric stating that high levels of crime and gun related tragedies are due to Democratic leadership of the states and cities that experience such, claiming they are too soft. This claim is mainly meant to jab at the Democratic Party and– while they do deserve criticism on leadership, among many other things– they also suggests that there hasn’t been enough policing in the areas in question. This is absolutely false. Phila. police department loves to boast about how they’re “the nations fourth largest police department” with well over 6000 officers, surely enough to hold jurisdiction over all of Philadelphia county, including all PHA properties. With already such a massive force and with PHA steadily privatizing and selling its public housing, why on earth do we need PHAPD? They don’t address the crimes within their jurisdiction, so what do they do?

Who do they protect?

Contrary to their “mission”, they clearly don’t protect life on PHA properties but they certainly protect PHA property, offices and warehouses. After a large number of the housing authority’s property conversions were integrated into the city’s grid, as mentioned above, PHAPD’s so-called responsibilities became “more specialized” according to PHA. One of these special responsibilities required a Housing Choice Voucher Program Investigations Unit to be put in place. This completely unnecessary waste of tax payers money is essentially a glorified snitching operation where these pigs “investigate complaints against tenants who violate the provisions of their contract”. Perhaps the complaints made against tenants who don’t violate the provisions of their contract are less of a priority, whatever those complaints may be. Either way, it seems that this is something most people would take up with a manager about, not a private police force.

The Special Investigations Unit is another useless addition to PHAPD. PHAPD states it’s SIU “investigates allegations of criminal conduct based on complaints from residents, employees and others regarding PHA matters”. These programs do nothing to prevent the tragedies that take place on PHA properties. They’re merely suveillance and investigation units to an entity that displaces and harms the people rather than serves it, as they claim. PHAPD makes it very clear who and what they protect when in action. People die on PHA properties every other week or 2. Those lives were not protected by PHAPD. But in 2019, when people built a protest encampment near PHA HQ to raise awareness about PHA seizing land through eminent domain and selling previously public homes that were switched to private through RAD, PHAPD was once again seen fulfilling their true purpose– to protect PHA property and assets with no regard to the people:

 “One year ago today PHA, the city, and PPD, deployed over 60 law enforcement officers including SWAT and Counter Terrorism to “evict” peaceful protestors who had been camping on a public sidewalk in front of the Phila. Housing Authority Headquarters as an act of protest to bring awareness to PHA’s use of a rogue private police force and their role in gentrifying N. Philly while failing to maintain their own properties and waiting lists. They claimed they were doing construction, they have not yet done any construction other than putting in those random flowerpots. This occurred 3 days after one peaceful protestor was jumped by PHA Police officers and maintenance men, choked and beaten with batons, and another 50 year old female who had come to bring dinner was handcuffed then tripped by PHAPD which caused her to fall face first into a puddle of water. Protestors continued to camp across the street and later at a park on the corner for a total of 7 months pleading with the city to at least hear us out and engaging with our community. Peaceful protest does not always work, actually it rarely works. Systems will not give up power and control willingly, and peaceful protestors are often brutalized by police as many of us know too well.”

A reflection on last year’s experience from #OccupyPHA’s Facebook (June 3)

This does not protect lives. Especially when these tactics are applied during the current climate of the pandemic. CDC guidelines state, “if individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” Further, it states that “clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.” ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Despite the CDC guidelines, Philadelphia has used their police force to violently disperse homeless encampments. And, both PPD and PHAPD are threatening to destroy two more anti-PHA protest encampments. Beyond that, the sometimes everlasting physical and mental effects of police brutality plague far too many communities just like Philadelphia’s. The strike of their batons leave us bruised and bloodied. The effects of their chemical weapons leave us unexplainably harmed even after its washed away. The constant paranoia of becoming the next statistic, developes the anxiety and depression of entire populations of people. Again, this does not protect lives.

We could perhaps give PHAPD a little credit for the one life they do seem to care to protect, CEO of Phila. Housing Authority, Kelvin Jeremiah. A few teens could get shot in N. Philly PHA properties and PHAPD would never move an inch in that direction. A pregnant woman can get murdered in N. Philly PHA properties and PHAPD just shrugs it off like nothing. A baby gets hit with a bullet in N. Philly PHA properties, still no PHAPD in sight. But gather a few unarmed, nonviolent, unhoused community members at Mr. Jeremiah’s house to have a discussion about housing, as OccupyPHA has, and PHAPD will be the first ones on the scene, far outside of their jurisdiction in the CEO’s suburban neighborhood. Do not be fooled by the lame rhetoric that says the solution to issues like gun violence, are solved with over-policing. The pigs are there to protect capital, not lives, and definitely not black lives.  Last year, PHAPD spent thousands of dollars to stake out and arrest a whopping total of 2 illegal dumpers. That same week 3 people were murdered in PHA housing projects in N. Philadelphia, including a grandmother going to get chinese food for her granddaughter and PHA did nothing to respond to or investigate these murders.

Who do they serve?

It is quite obvious that PHAPD exists mainly to evict, and when they do, it is usually carried out illegally. This was the case on July 9th when PHA officials along with PHAPD arrived at a home, housing a family with children, and tried to unlawfully remove them without a court order. This is a common occurance with PHA and it further enables their public-to-private housing agenda. Therefore they do not serve anyone but PHA. Another obvious observation is that PHAPD specifically serves their master, “Mr. Jeremiah”. In 2016, after coming under fire about the lack of PHA policing on PHA properties, CEO Kelvin Jeremiah had officers provide a 24 hour a day special detail at his personal residence while multiple incidents occurred with PHA Police acting outside of their jurisdiction. “Mr. Jeremiah is an asset of PHA and I’m going to protect him as such,” Chief Branville Bard said during an interview with NBC10. “I wish I had an officer for every PHA development and every PHA asset 24 hours a day, but I don’t,” Chief Bard said. Sounds like they should disband since its all too much for them. Maybe drop the front, and be the privite security team that they act as for Jeremiah. If the function of PHAPD is to be the force behind PHA’s unethical practices, then both PHA and their pigs are not required in Philadelphia. PHA has an annual budget of $400 million and according to them, $12 million is being used on so-called protective services, which is most likely policing, for which they often hire even more pigs to do nothing. That does not include police salaries, equipment, technology, insurance, litigation costs and much more. The budget for resident services is only 9 million dollars. PHA’s capital funds for this fiscal year are $55 million and this low amount is being used to justify demolitions and sales of public housing.

PHAPD has a history of terrorizing the people during the times when they’re not seen protecting and serving their CEO and PHA itself. In 2017 an off-duty PHAPD officer unloaded her gun on the streets of southwest Philadelphia. In 2015 a report was done on PHAPD after a retired city woker said “a PHA officer racially profiled him and stopped him without cause last summer, failed to identify himself as a PHA officer (their uniforms and cars resemble the city’s) and resisted his request to call a supervisor.” In 2016, John Dawkins “was  the victim of a wrongful death caused by a police pursuit involving two officers from the Philadelphia Housing Authority police.” His family filed a lawsuit against PHA police and PHA hasn’t spoken about it since.

The combination of PHA’s land grabbing, their police force’s reckless brutality, and sheer indifference to the needs of the community, establishes itself as an enemy of the people. This private police force does not serve the people and by their account, PHAPD’s job is merely terror and asset protection.

Many cities in the past have disbanded or merged their housing authority police with the city police department, such as NYC, Chicago, LA and Richmond VA. In the case of  becoming a burden to the community and on the housing budget, PHAPD ought to be up next. Consistent with the mass call for police abolition and along with other important demands from the Philadelphia Housing Action, an effective solution would be to “disband PHA Police and redistribute all monies used for policing into the the capital funds and resident services portions of the budget.”

OccupyPHA’s Demands on Private Polices in Philadelphia

PHA Police Demands:

Disband PHA Police and redistribute all monies used for policing into the the capital funds and resident services portions of the budget

University Police Demand:

-Campus Police jurisdiction to be cut back from the current 500 feet from university property to be only “in and upon the grounds and the buildings of the University.”

-Philadelphia Police Demand

End all Memorandums of Agreement or Understanding that allow any private police force access to J Band frequency or any other Philadelphia Police information systems

General Demands for all Private Police Forces:

-Prohibit private police forces from deploying undercover and/or plain clothes officers, unmarked vehicles, or any narcotic, detective, or tactical units. Private police forces may only have uniformed patrol officers and uniformed supervisors who all patrol in clearly marked vehicles.

-Prohibit private police from having canine units

-Prohibit private police forces from having emergency numbers other than 911. An incident is not officially reported until it is reported to 911 therefore private emergency numbers open the door for coverups. Also many times the numbers are not answered in a timely manner leaving injured people in danger. All emergency calls must go through 911 where dispatch will send it to the appropriate party.

-Prohibit Private Police from acting on their own, require at least one Philadelphia Police Officer to respond to incidents along with any private police officers

-Immediate termination for any private police officer who operates outside of their legislated jurisdiction

-Prohibit private police from engaging in traffic stops and issuing traffic tickets

-Prohibit private police forces and their agencies from investigating misconduct and citizen complaints internally. All complaints against any member of law enforcement shall be investigated by the Philadelphia Police Internal Affairs Department

-Prohibit the use of facial recognition technology by any law enforcement agency including PPD

-Require all private police to follow all Philadelphia police directives and memo’s put out by Phila Police Commissioner i.e don’t cover badge numbers at protests etc.

-Require Phila PD to immediately publish all memorandums of agreement or understanding with any and all private police forces on their website and social media accounts

-Make body cam footage available to the public