Maureen Rush spent more than 10 good years on the Philadelphia Police Force before coming to Penn in 1994 to head up Victim Support and Special Services (now just Special Services). In her current role as director of police operations, Rush oversees the daily workings of the Division of Public Safety, recently centralized at the new headquarters at 4040 Chestnut St.
When Rush first became a cop in 1976, she was one of the first 100 women permitted to serve as street patrol officers. Thanks to a landmark court battle, women could break out of the previously designated niche of the Juvenile Aid Division and hit the streets.
Rush worked North Philadelphia's Badlands, the airport and several presidential campaign details, but then two years spent working undercover with the anti--crime unit was a bust: "I was a failure as a decoy," she said. "I couldn't get robbed to save my life. I guess I looked too much like a cop at that point -- too much eye contact, you know?"
Rush moved up through the ranks, worked narcotics, and was about to become a captain in 1994, when she got the call from Penn.
|The director of police operations wants to get everyone talking to each other. Communication, she says, will make Penn and University City even safer.|
Q.What made you become
A.Not the usual. No one in my family -- no one, no cousins, no one -- was in the police world at all. I was working at Beneficial Savings Bank at a newly opened branch at 15th and Market in the subway there, and Philadelphia Police were absolutely positive that we would be robbed every single day. It was a bad location for crime, with four or five escape routes. To say we got a lot of attention from the transit unit of the Philadelphia Police would be putting it mildly. So, I started to be exposed to a lot of police activity and culture and found it extremely intriguing. There was a series of rapes in Penn Center concourse at the time, and a woman officer was down there as decoy. I was very altruistic, and I thought, "Gee, she's really helping to save women from becoming victims, and the same with the bank patrols."
Q.Why did you choose to come to Penn?
A.I had no intention of leaving the force. I had fully expected to make captain in the next six months to a year. The call came in from Penn about the opportunity to work as director of Victim Support and it involved many of the issues I had dealt with at the Philadelphia Police Department.
Q.How has the department evolved?
A.In some ways, we have addressed a lot of the quality-of-life issues that are being touted in New York, and have continued to do that since 1996. Several of the types of things we realized are that people are sometimes more afraid of the perception of crime than the reality of crime. Chances are, the average person is not ever going to be a victim of crime. But if the perception is that "I am going to be a victim of crime because, as I walk down Spruce Street in front of the Wawa, there is a panhandler every day who greets me and every day seems to get a bit more aggressive," my fear level increases and even I feel like I'm under siege, and I don't want to walk in front of the Wawa anymore. So, one of the first things I did in February of '96 was create an aggressive homeless task force. Every Penn officer is responsible for the enforcement of quality-of-life issues such as panhandling and homeless issues. And we want to deal with the issues of truly homeless people in a humane way, so we don't just try to relocate people who are setting up tents; we try to get them help if they are mentally ill. With panhandling, we found they were not homeless people. They were entrepreneurs who were making a lot of money standing out there. The logistics of where they chose were not accidental; they chose places like the Wawa because our students were very generous. What we find today is a measurable decrease in the types of people who are out there trying to panhandle -- the window washer guy out on the 38th Street island, he's no longer out there.
Q.How will the new headquarters help?
A.It gives us the ability to have all of our operations under one roof and therefore really increase the effectiveness of our communications. We are now able to regularly see people who we would normally be e--mailing or setting up special meetings with. For example, the security services division, which is run by Stratis Skoufalos and Chris Algard, is right next to my office. The interaction between security services and patrol is great and really has to continue to mesh. Also, our Special Services unit, headed up by Susan Hawkins, is a natural to interact with the patrol officers and the detectives because they're the support arm. For example, if we find in an investigation that a certain activity that a student is doing or is not doing could put them in a particularly precarious situation, then Tom King, our detective commander, could then turn around and talk to Susan Hawkins and say, "The next time you do a safety presentation, could you add this issue?" Sometimes performance is enhanced by my getting a cup of coffee out here and running into Strattie or Chris and saying, "Oh, I meant to call you on whatever." It's those coffee--bar, stand--up meetings that create some of the best synergy between the divisions.
Q.How did Penn decide to locate the headquarters west of 40th Street?
A.This is the best area we could've located ourselves; it was the place where people felt most in harm's way. By putting it in the middle of an area where we are highly visible, we are not only helping the perception of people that walk through here now, but any police station is going to have cops coming and going at all hours. The criminal element is also aware that we're here. You can't miss the big red police sign out front. Most criminals aren't stupid people. They have strategies. If they're going to commit a robbery, they're going to do it in the least populated area.
Q.Will this new consolidation improve safety?
A.Absolutely, and it's important that the building will be open -- its conference room space, roll call and training room, space for the University City District, meeting places for town watch and student groups -- all that adds up to personal firsthand knowledge of the building and of its occupants. And when you add that all together, people, when they get to know each other, will engage in more chatter, more communication. And the biggest threat to crime, or to the perception of crime in West Philadelphia, is the organization of all its entities -- town watch, whether student or community people, the University City District, Penn Police, technology, Spectaguard, the 18th District -- all those are already in constant dialogue, and hopefully this building will be a catalyst in allowing people to come together even more.
Originally published on February 12, 1998