Captain Nicholas Smith of the 14th District addresses a crowd of approximately 250 residents at a meeting on recent shootings in East Mt. Airy (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Captain Nicholas Smith, of the 14th Police District, told a packed auditorium at Grace Epiphany Church, 224 E. Gowen Ave., on Aug. 7 that the recent rash of shootings in Mt. Airy were not random acts of violence.

He told the audience of roughly 250 residents that recent shootings were gang-related and the victims were the intended targets. He said the two July 31 shootings were connected to the One Four gang, which operates out of the 1400 block of Vernon Road in the Stenton section of Philadelphia.

Police said the first shooting occurred on July 31 at approximately 1:07 p.m.

According to police records, police responded to the report of a shooting in the 6500 block of Boyer Street. A 25-year-old African-American man was transported to Einstein Medical Center by police for a gunshot wound to the left leg.

The second shooting occurred 17 minutes later, at approximately 1:24 p.m. on July 31 on the 7900 block of Temple Road, where police responded to a report of a person with a gun. A 28-year-old African American man was found inside a 2006 Buick with gunshot wounds to the head and neck. The victim, Jawson Bellinger, of the 8200 block of Forrest Avenue, was pronounced dead at approximately 1:48 p.m.

Smith told attendees that the shooting on Aug. 2 was a “crime of opportunity.” He said the suspects were following the victim in his car, and he just happened to be driving through Mt. Airy. He said, “Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.”

According to police records, on Aug. 2, at approximately 4:55 p.m., a 25-year-old man was driving his red 2015 Nissan Altima near Wadsworth Avenue and Anderson Street when four gunshots were heard, and the passenger rear window was struck by gunfire. The man was grazed one time in his back. The driver’s girlfriend, a 26-year-old woman, was sitting in the passenger seat and two girls, 4 and 9, were in the back seat. The two children were transported to the hospital where they were treated for minor cuts and scratches from broken glass and later released. The investigation is ongoing.

When asked about the fatal shooting of a man earlier this summer near the Mt. Airy Train Station, Smith said the victim in the shooting was delivering drugs.

According to police, on July 15, Fahim Abdul-Raheem, 48, of the 1100 block of East Stafford Street in East Germantown was shoot multiple times and killed around 9:30 p.m. on the 7400 block of Devon Street.

Smith said homicides in the 14th District are up 300% (18 compared to six) this time last year. The number of homicides and shootings are up across the city.

In the 14th District, shootings have increased 45% from this time last year. The captain added, however, that overall crime in the district is down, including robberies at 17%, aggravated assault with a gun at 4%, violent crime at 8%, residential burglaries at 25% and commercial burglaries at 37%.

8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who organized the community meeting, asked Smith what was causing the increase in gang activity and asked if it was related to “an increase in illegal marijuana sales.”

Smith said reduced charging rates under District Attorney Larry Krasner have made their job more difficult. He said the legalization of “medical marijuana” has increased the demand for illegal marijuana sales and made it difficult to keep criminals off the streets.

An attendee asked Smith to talk about gangs in the area. She asked if they were organized.

“You said the victims were targeted, but bullets don’t have names on them,” the woman said.

Smith, a 19-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, said the gangs were not well-organized and added that they do not reach the level of violence of gangs such as the “Bloods and the Crips.”

He explained that one effective way to deter crime is to be proactive. He encouraged everyone to invest in residential security cameras and register them with the Police Department’s SafeCam program, which allows police to engage with citizens in real time for footage.

He urged citizens to utilize his resources including his community relations officer and crime prevention officers. The captain implored people to attend the monthly Police Service Area meetings because it allows people to establish relations and address problems face-to-face.

Before ending the meeting, an attendee asked, “How can we as a community help you get what you need?”

Smith said that residents should create petitions, get signatures, and email their concerns to him so he can forward it up his chain of command. Several attendees suggested starting a petition for more bike patrols in the 14th District. Smith had several until they were transferred out.

Darius Thomas, who lives near the Dorothy Emmanuel Recreation Center, 8500 Pickerington St., said he was pleased with the meeting.

“I went to the meeting to find how I could get involved as a community member to protect the youth who are in fear of and dying from gun violence,” said the single father of a 3-year-old son.

Thomas, who volunteers at the center and spends his own money to help keep it clean, said Captain Smith “seems interested in working directly with the community” and that was “the most important thing” to him.

“In every part of the city, kids and teens need to feel safe, and they deserve protection before another one is harmed,” the 30-year-old Mt. Airy resident said. “Prevention plays a major role.”

Capt. Nicholas Smith’s email address is police.co_14@phila.gov. You can also call the 14th Police District at 215-686-3140.

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