A new Franklin & Marshall poll shows that the third most important issue for Pennsylvanians is crime.
Republican candidates running for Delaware County and Upper Darby offices held a town hall meeting at American Legion Post 214 about crime Wednesday evening. About 65 residents attended, although several complained about landlord/tenant issues, saying the township is not enforcing its codes against absentee “slum lords.”
Beth Stefanide-Miscichowski, who is running for district attorney against incumbent DA Jack Stollsteimer, spoke first.
“I’m pretty passionate about championing the rights of individuals who need support, who are underprivileged, under-served. I’m incredibly passionate about that. That’s what I’ve done my entire career,” said Stefanide-Miscichowski.
“Crime is up in Delaware County for (2022) the last full year 25.5 percent,” she said. For 2023, crime is “on a trajectory to be even higher.”
And “Upper Darby is seeing a rise in crime. They’re specifically seeing a rise in murder and nonnegligent manslaughter cases,” Stefanide-Miscichowski said. “Your five-year average for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter is four. You’re on track for 2023 to double that rate…But you’ve had a 75 percent uptick in murders in the last five years. If that isn’t bad enough, you’re actually on track to have a higher per capita murder rate than the city of Philadelphia.”
Council President Brian Burke, who is running for mayor, said all 11 council members voted on ordinances to put $13.5 million of federal ARPA funds to work. But Mayor Barbarann Keffer refuses to release the checks for much-needed projects, such as firehouse repairs, hiring new police officers and “we need police officers on the street. We need police officers around our schools.”
“It’s very dangerous,” said Burke. “Two months ago, I was in the Secane area speaking to a young student who was shot. He blew us all away. He talked to us for 10 minutes. He was shot in the head. His friends were scared of the school.”
“Two weeks ago, at the bottom of the hill at 69th Street, a young man grabbed me and started talking to me. He wants metal detectors. He wants infrared. He wants K-9 dogs in our schools. It’s dangerous for these children to go to school in the middle school.”
“What happens today, if a 13-year-old shoots a 13-year-old for a pair of sneakers, where do they go? Nine hours in the police department, and then they’re released (because the county no longer has a juvenile detention center).”
“Our police officers do not have the tools to do their jobs,” said Burke. “My main concern is public safety. My second is recreation. We need places for our kids to go (and) for students to go after school. The school district and the township need to work together.”
Tina Hamilton, who runs Recovery Without Barriers, is campaigning for a council-at-large seat. She said the police need to send addicts to her organization to get help. And if there is a code blue for cold weather, they have beds for them.
“We can get help for the people who need it,” she said. “We can change lives, and we can change everybody’s by doing it.”
Jeff Jones, an Upper Darby resident running for county Council, said he’s helped Hamilton in her work over the years.
“County Council is ultimately the infrastructure that supports our communities,” said Jones. “Remember, we’ve moved to Delaware County, to Upper Darby, because we wanted to build a legacy. The schools at the time were good…Today, that legacy, that quality of life we saw, is diminished by reckless behavior.”
“The county government decided it would take over the prison. In that process, the DA’s office implemented its system of offering people not to go to jail by not prosecuting certain crimes…What I do believe in is a prison system that first and foremost protects its employees, the folks charged with keeping us safe, keeping those incarcerated safe and healthy.”
Corrections officers have said, “‘We don’t feel safe,’” he said. Jones said there should be a penalty and rehabilitation while someone is behind bars.
“What matters is service to the community and the people who live here,” he said.
After the candidates’ remarks, residents spoke up.
“I’m speaking with a passion now at the town hall,” said Rich Blye, commander of the Sons of the American Legion. “These problems started happening with our youth because you took away PAL (Police Athletic League). The kids have no place to go. They started being book-bagged with the drugs. They started filling them with drugs, OK?”
“We have a turnstile type of justice,” Blye said. “Because I’m a father with a murdered son, so I know what I’m talking about…We need the PAL back…We need the district attorney’s office to help…We need all functions of the government to help.”
“Looking at the crime map, it’s coming this way,” said Andrea Mathis. “Businesses are not keeping up…look at the amount of trash and overflowing dumpsters. That draws the crime. That’s beyond blight. We have an ‘F’ rating for crime. That’s deplorable…We don’t have police officers patrolling on foot. We’re short-staffed…We don’t have the tools to address the dysfunction that is happening…We have a lot of renters (who) don’t keep up their property. They may bring in 10 others to help them (pay the) rent. It’s just out of hand. And nobody’s paying attention.”
Burke said that he’d called the code enforcement officers on her behalf. And Upper Darby Council directed ARPA money for streetscaping, but the mayor did not release it.”
He agreed that landlords need to be held accountable.
Hamilton said more oversight is needed to clean up the problems with negligent landlords.
“You should be able to reach out to a council member, and I promise you can reach out to me,” Hamilton said.