With her appointment to lead the Philadelphia Police Department’s 14th District, Capt. Tanisha Richardson is, in a way, coming home.
With her appointment in February to lead the Philadelphia Police Department’s 14th District, Capt. Tanisha Richardson is, in a way, coming home.
Richardson grew up in Germantown and attended school in the community. In her new position, she has been getting reacquainted with the district neighborhood which includes Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown.
Richardson, who joined the police department as a recruit in 2006, replaced Capt. Austin Frasier, who was appointed to serve as commanding officer for the city’s SWAT team.
Last month, The Local caught up with Richardson to ask her about how her neighborhood has changed over the years, how the profession of policing has changed and how she feels about the public’s trust in police. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Captain Richardson, how have you liked being in charge of the 14th District so far?
I absolutely love it. I actually grew up in the 14th District, so in many ways, this is home. But I'm certainly still learning various different neighborhoods.
How has Germantown changed since you grew up?
I think I was 3 years old when I moved to the 700 block of Price Street. So yes, the district has undergone a whole lot of changes from childhood. I felt very safe at the time. The biggest difference now is just the obvious increase in crime that's taken place in our communities. But it's not unique to the 14th District. It's across the city. Quite frankly, I think it's across the country.
What crimes do you see increasing? Other than homicides, which is obviously the big one.
Property crimes, honestly. The biggest one is auto theft. That Kia Boys Challenge, which took off on TikTok - that has been a huge driver of a lot of our crimes because of the ease of stealing the Hyundais and the Kias. Individuals are looking at it as a challenge and so as a result, our numbers have just skyrocketed. Last week, when I looked at our numbers we had 676 vehicles that were stolen just in the 14th District alone. Of that, 448 of them were Hyundais and Kias.
Where do you live now?
I live in the outskirts of the city now. But I have family here, I grew up here and was educated here.
Who in the community have you met with so far to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods in the district?
I met with a lot of our political officials including State Rep. Chris Rabb and City Councilmember Cindy Bass. I've met with members of the religious committee. I've met with community members, and community leaders through town halls we had. Steve Stroiman [of Cresheim Valley Neighbors] comes to mind. He invited me to their annual block party event, which I went to.
How has policing changed since you started on the job in 2006?
It does feel like things have become a little more restrictive with regards to how we police. And it's not all bad and it's not all good. The bad parts are felt when we make what we know are good arrests and we do the enforcement part, but what is done beyond that is out of our hands, right? That becomes a court matter. So a lot of times I think we're seeing a lack of enforcement following the police action, which I think is a change, especially in terms of repeat offenders. For whatever reason, lighter sentencing is taking place, and so we're seeing a constant turnover of the same type of activity. There seems to be more leniency on the consequences side of things.
That's a complaint I think many people have heard from Philadelphia police officers before. Do you see the same people getting arrested over and over again?
Absolutely and oftentimes for the same types of crimes. The responsibility is on us to do our job the right way and make sure that we're processing and documenting these occurrences properly so that we have strong cases that go forward when they go to court.
One thing we’ve seen a lot of in our weekly crime reports are smash and grabs in parking lots by the Wissahickon Trail. Are there any resources, including cameras, being dedicated to combat that?
We do have police department cameras; however, we put those cameras in places where there's violent crime against people. Obviously crime of all kinds should be addressed; however, we value people over property. Not to say that property crimes are not important, but we have to deploy our resources in areas where we have the highest incidents of crimes against people. We're really trying to get the message out to individuals who visit these areas to be proactive and to take responsibility too for their items and make sure things are not visible in their vehicle so they're not an attractive target for smash and grabs.
People have seen trust in the police as more of an issue today than they have in the past. I'm curious to know why you think that is and how you address it as a Philadelphia police captain?
You're saying that people trust the police less today than what they did in the past - that's really not something that I - how can I put it? I don't move forward on that premise, if that makes sense. I just move forward with what I know to be truthful and to be transparent in all that we do. Staffing has been an issue not just with the police, but across every industry.
How is the staffing within the 14th District?
We always feel like we need more. Every industry has been hit, so we're not unique in that sense. We're unique in what we do; for sure we do notice the difference in our numbers. There's no mistake about that. We are short. I don't want to say it's not that bad because I don't want to make it sound like we don't need more officers, because we do. But we're managing and we're learning to do more with less. That's, quite frankly, how we're operating. But I don't think that's unique to the 14th District. I think all 21 districts in the city have gotten used to [this situation].
What would you say to somebody to try and convince them to become a police officer?
I would highlight all the rewards in being in law enforcement. It’s an honorable profession. I state that proudly, and I'm happy to serve. I would share my personal experiences with someone who is considering coming on board with the hopes that they would do just that.
How do you assess the amount of resources given to you by the city? What resources would you like to see more of?
We need more of everything. More people, equipment, cameras. All of these things are what we're in need of.
What made you want to do this line of work?
It's part of my personality. You have to know yourself. Do you like to interact with people? Are you comfortable talking with people? I was not always the most confident in that aspect of the job, but I think you learn to do that. The idea of servicing the public and working with and for people has always been something I enjoyed. I didn't set out to do this initially. I had thoughts of becoming a teacher, but quickly learned that I didn't want to teach. But I realized I did enjoy youth engagement. So when I had the opportunity to join the police department, I sought out ways to do just that. As a result, I did work in community relations. It gave me the opportunity to focus on youth programs. That was really cool to be a supervisor in that capacity for officers over there. We did a lot of work with the DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] program or the GREAT [Gang Resistance Education and Training] program.
How do you prevent young people from going down the wrong path? What has to happen to get kids to do the right thing?
Engagement. It's been a big focus on my end. Not just engaging the youth, but those who are responsible for taking care of our youth, including parents and caretakers. Getting the word out at these community meetings about when our curfews are is important. As a matter of fact, on the last day of school for public school we had a water ice giveaway just to celebrate summer and school ending, and I took that opportunity to just talk to the kids and tell them that if you're 13 or under you have to be in by 9:30 p.m. If you're between 14 and 18 you have to be in by 10 p.m. Just being able to engage and have that conversation with the kids - hopefully that message will spread and help get youth off the street and keep them safe from some of these other crimes that are taking place. You just don't want them to be a party to or a victim of any type of crime.
Is there anything you wanted people to know about you that I haven't already asked?
Just that I'm invested, I'm here, I'm all-in and I look forward to other opportunities to engage with all members of our community.