was it his theme as president of the NLC, but it was also highlighted by his appointment of John Timoney as Philadelphia's police commissioner. Timoney was a deputy chief in New York City when COMPSTAT was created to map crime areas, and he brought a version of it to Philadelphia to reduce an escalating crime rate.
Philadelphia's version of COMPSTAT, according to O'Neill, the son of a Philadelphia police officer, is a frequent review of computer-mapped and computer-generated statistics. The program challenges commanders in different precincts to come up with strategies to deal with what they know are areas of high crime within their geographic areas of responsibility.
There is flexible authority with what police personnel can do, the councilman said. "For instance, there used to be a big bureaucracy
in the police department. If you wanted to have bike patrols because you felt that your area was different from the rest of the city and bicycles would work, you had to go through mountains of red tape and memos and everything else," he said. "Now, there is complete flexibility into how the precinct captain handles the crime problems in that precinct. But, on the other hand, there is a whole lot of responsibility if they don't lower the crime.
"Commissioner Timoney's focus [that] he's outlined from day one isn't to see how many 911 calls we can answer, but rather, how many 911 calls we can prevent," O'Neill continued. "We should be able to prevent them if we know where the activity is happening. Once you get a 911 call, the crime has already happened, and he's trying to create a more defensive posture. It's a whole different concept from what we're used to doing. It's really been effective, and he's done a lot of things in the real high-crime areas, the drug-infested areas of the city."
While Philadelphia will never be completely free of crime, O'Neill has noticed a marked difference compared to previous years, noting that the police have gotten great results by going into areas with masses of personnel and following through on an order that crime won't be tolerated, even if it meant completely closing streets.
In fact, while crime was the hottest campaign issue a year or two ago, O'Neill said Timoney's efforts have probably lowered it to third on the list behind education and taxes. That's just fine with O'Neill, who served as a juvenile probation officer, a law clerk in the Court of Common Pleas and an attorney in private practice prior to his election to the City Council in 1979. Now, he is excited about focusing on the new top two.
"The city has gotten a lot better than it has been. But we still have a long way to go," he said. "There's no question that this is a city that needs to be doing what it's been doing for the last few years for many, many more years and not just be a blip on the screen.
"I'm excited about the city right now and where it fits in with tourism, conventions and economic development," O'Neill said. "But we've still got some problems. One of them is a high wage tax, and it's dragging us down because our suburban counterparts, many of which have beautiful industrial parks and office buildings, have little or no wage taxes. There is a serious differential. The lowering of those taxes, I think, is part of a long-term strategy."
While the crime rate is falling, so
is the number of homeless people in the city. "You still see them," O'Neill said, "but it's a minor problem instead of the major problem it was a couple of years ago."
All Over the Map
While O'Neill is no longer constantly in the NLC spotlight like he