Night court to launch in June

An innovative program kicks off next week in the 6th District to bring swift, pragmatic justice to petty criminals.

Out Common Pleas Court Judge Dan Anders will preside over the district’s first night court, held in two sessions June 3 at district headquarters, 235 N. 11th St.

The district includes the Gayborhood, Old City and Chinatown.

The first session, at 7 p.m., will address those accused of summary offenses in the district the prior week. Once those cases are heard, Anders will return at 1 a.m. to hear cases of individuals cited that Friday night.

Summary offenses include such transgressions as loitering, vandalism, disorderly conduct or public urination.

The accused will be given the option to plead guilty, with those choosing not guilty having their cases held for trial.

Individuals who plead guilty will be sentenced to community-service hours to be served directly in the 6th District.

Sixth District Officer Joe Ferrero explained the details at the Police Liaison Committee’s monthly meeting last Thursday at the William Way LGBT Community Center, noting the program will help communicate the message that the 6th District won’t tolerate quality-of-life crimes.

“If people want to come in here and raise hell, then they can come in and help clean it up,” he said.

Ferrero has been working to gather a list of nonprofits in the district in need of volunteers and thus far has garnered cooperation from six, including Philly Pride Presents and the William Way LGBT Community Center. Agencies interested in participating must be present for the June 3 sessions in order to sign up the new volunteers, and interested organizations can contact Ferrero at 215-375-0932.

Anders, who also volunteers at a 17th District night court, plans to hold the 6th District proceeding every three months, and police are also in discussions with another judicial official to participate.

One ongoing trend in the district that could be addressed through night court is the large crowd gatherings, such as several in the past few weeks in the Gayborhood that escalated into violence on 13th Street.

Deputy Commissioner Stephen Johnson, liaison to the LGBT community, said police are taking a hardline approach for disorderly groups that congregate outdoors; once the individuals refuse police orders to move, the officers will bring in a police van and arrest individuals.

Johnson stressed that this issue is plaguing the entire district, not just the Gayborhood, and will be addressed throughout the area.

“If it wasn’t a community concern, then we wouldn’t be using our resources to address it, but this is something that’s important to the community,” he said.

Committeemembers also raised the issue of slow response time to 911 calls.

Johnson explained that calls are filtered by 911 dispatchers, who prioritize the incidents according to the descriptions provided by callers. He said callers need to be very specific in the call — not fabricating elements, but including all pertinent information about an escalating incident.

He suggested that numerous individuals placing calls about the same incident will focus more attention on it, although he noted police must still respond first to more serious situations, such as a report of a person with a weapon over a fistfight.

However, callers can also ask for a radio-room supervisor and then a patrol supervisor if still unsatisfied with the police response, Johnson said.

The committemembers were also briefed on the proposal to install surveillance cameras at 13th and Locust streets, a plan that is awaiting city approval.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].