Last spring assaults on the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia reached a point where they were being posted on Facebook. Most them fit a standard profile, groups of black children on BMX bikes harassing and groping women runners.
The Philadelphia Police Department appeared mystified as to why these incidents went largely unreported. This was often due to a number of factors; 911 operators who were unable to locate the SRT within their system to dispatch the police, the incidents happened so fast that victims did not know what to do, and the police who have have crimes with higher priority. This culminated in the winter when a series of armed robberies on the trail occurred and resulted in arrests.
In a moment of inspiration John Lyons from the Facebook page RUN215 came up with a unique solution. Create a neighborhood watch to provide coverage to supplement the police, a trail watch. Announced at a press event in February 2016 the SRT Watch garnered the support of eleven local groups and non-for profits. Then nothing and problems continue along the trail.
June 2 - Homeless man threatens and chases female jogger.
May 21 - Two flashers on the trail
April 13 - Kids throw rocks at cyclist
April 8 - 12 year old child attempts to punch female runner
April 5 - Group of youths on BMX bikes grope and harass female runner
Some problems along the SRT have been addressed. Broken lights are being repaired, 911 has added the SRT to their maps, and markers have been placed along the trail to help people determine their location if they call 911.
Although the SRT Watch has held four training sessions there has been no indication when they are going to start patrolling. You would have thought the membership of RUN215 alone would have been enough to fill out the roll call for the SRT Watch. Let alone all of the people who help support the organizations are backing the SRT Watch.
I had high hopes that patrols would start in the spring, giving the SRT Watch time to work out the kinks of running this type of operation. Unfortunately there have been no informative updates from the SRT Watch since its press event.
Given the lack of updates the SRT Watch is becoming another example of the “Philly Shrug” (http://bit.ly/1U4nJOt). The Philly Shrug is a phrase that is used to embody a number of behaviors that relinquish self responsibility or reinforce apathy in the face of obstacles (cultural, political, etc.) and are specific to the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (http://bit.ly/1WHpDVp). It’s the antipathy that Philly residents take towards corrupt politicians, crime, a failing school system, and the pervasive litter in the streets that no one wants to take responsibility for.
I fear that in the end the SRT Watch will be yet another Philly Shrug. Unable to sustain itself for any length of time to make any kind of a difference because not enough people to care to make a difference.
Footnote: After I finished writing this post a woman was attacked and had her face slashed by an assailant (http://bit.ly/22WXF8c). At this point Councilman Kenyatta Johnson announced that the start of the SRT Watch would be accelerated to start this month (June 2016). What is really tragic is that someone had to get hurt for this to happen. It also makes me question how much longer the delay would have been had this not happened. Yet another example of the Philly Shrug.