Seniors block streets to demand armed guards at PHA residence
Seniors from the Gladys P. Jacobs complex blocked the streets around their residence today to protest the loss of 24-hour armed security at the building.
More than 30 senior citizens, many of them in wheelchairs, blocked 11th Street and part of Fairmount Ave outside the the Philadelphia Housing Authority Gladys P. Jacobs Manor at 6 a.m. Tuesday in protest of the announcement that armed security guards would no longer man the doors 24 hours a day.
"It's a safety concern," said Virginia Wilkes, 62, head of the Jacobs Resident Council. "We need better security."
Residents of the seniors-only housing facility for tenants 55 and older were notified recently that armed guards would no longer be stationed at Jacobs.
"Our security is very good," said Katherine White, a resident at Gladys P. Jacobs Manor since 1998 who participated in the protests and wanted armed security guards to continue. "They work with us and make it safe."
PHA president Kelvin Jeremiah met protesters around 3 p.m. to discuss their concerns, at which time they ended their blockade. He plans to return to Jacobs on Wednesday to discuss the issue further.
After a meeting with the tenants only, Jeremiah told Metro that PHA needs to cut armed guards at individual buildings to pay for more system-wide police officers.
"We're not just removing security -- we've done a lot in terms of enhancing security," Jeremiah said.
After hearing residents' concerns, Jeremiah said PHA will offer to continue assigning one armed and one unarmed guard at Jacobs from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., rather than removing all guards.
Jeremiah also disagreed with protesters' claims that criminal elements have avoided Jacobs due to the presence of armed guards and their assertion that armed guards would protect the building better than PHA police can.
"I haven't seen any correlation with the armed guard services that we have contracted for the past three to five years for which we paid over $30 million ... and incidents of crime," Jeremiah said. "It is not just the presence of security but the fact that you have 52 cameras covering the entire development -- if you look up it's quite visible that it's being monitored -- the fact that it's completely fenced, the fact that to get in it's a gated-entrance site with a call box, all of those things are investments that PHA has made that have made it a secure site."
Two years ago, the PHA invested $10 million in security upgrades, Jeremiah said.
Over the past year, Jeremiah has increased the PHA police staff from about 28 officers to 74, with plans to go up to 100 by the end of 2014.
Security cameras monitored by PHA police, fences, key-card entrances and call-boxes for visitors will protect PHA residents, Jeremiah said.
More than $348,000 has been invested in security upgrades at Jacobs, Jeremiah said.
Meanwhile, Jacobs is operating at a $277,000 annual deficit, about 22 percent of which is in security costs, he said.