Growing up in the Olney section of Philadelphia, Penn Police Chief Mark Dorsey was strongly influenced by the cops who took a vested interest in his neighborhood. That kind of concern is central to Dorsey’s policing philosophy: “That’s what I’m looking to bring back here—you feel very comfortable with the officer and the officer takes a stake in what happens in the neighborhood.”
Dorsey arrived at Penn last fall after a long career in public service—first with the Philadelphia Police Force for 26 years and then with the Lakewood, N.J. force for a year. In Philadelphia, he served as Captain of the 15th Precinct, and was responsible for safeguarding the Frankford and Mayfair sections of the city. As inspector of the citywide Narcotics Strike Force, Dorsey investigatated drug organizations and violent crimes across Philadelphia.
Along the way, the avid athlete (he used to play semi-professional baseball, football and boxing) also found time to go back to school, graduating from LaSalle in 2000 with a degree in sociology.
Q. What are some of the public safety challenges Penn faces, and are they common to every urban university?
A. Schools in an urban environment are adapting to different communities to fit in and be part of an area. You have to be conscious of what’s being reported and what the trends are. We meet on a regular basis with the Philadelphia Police Department, the University City District and their ambassadors and all the West Philly community groups, and we discuss issues, strategies and ways that we can work together.
We also use a process called Pennstat, which is modeled on a national police program called Compstat, where you take a look at all that’s been reported to us on a regular basis and use mapping strategies & to be aware of what’s happening in the surrounding neighborhoods so we can develop precautionary strategies.
I also do this on a citywide basis. Once a month, I meet with all the Philadelphia Police commanders. So the communication is constantly open and it extends within the federal jurisdictions, too. I meet with representatives from the FBI, DEA, the Secret Service and other federal agencies to talk about ideas and exchange information.
Q. What are the most common crimes Penn faces?
A. Thefts, especially thefts from autos. We have experienced some thefts in buildings, but we’ve also had some success stories. We have a supervisory zone building coverage, where each of the supervisors is assigned a group of buildings.
We also put the same officers in the same schedule, so they’re in regular areas consistently, so they can get a chance to know the community. [Officers] become more familiar with surroundings, with what’s out of place, and build up trust, so people feel encouraged to report things. & I want to bring the same feeling back when I was a young policeman, to be part of the neighborhood.
Q. Were you a beat cop when you joined the force?
A. When I first started out, I was assigned to the beat for the first six months. It was in a high crime area in the West Philadelphia area, and between the old-time veteran police officers and community members, they gave me quite an education. I learned to listen, to understand and the importance that friendship plays in the role of policing.
I spent about 10 years out here in West Philly. Most of that was spent in plainclothes tactical robbery operations, where it was my responsibility to address violent crime issues, narcotics in West Philadelphia and the plainclothes proactive response. Myself and my partner and several other teams would stage operations to catch [criminals] in the act of doing things, or following up on crimes.
Q. That sounds like dangerous work.
A. It was, but because of the training and the fact that I was an athlete and I believed very much in the team concept—the more you train, the more you feel comfortable and get a handle on it. You never become complacent. You understand that’s what you’re getting into and you see the good that comes out of it when you can resolve a pattern that [stops] people from hurting others.
Q. You also ran the citywide Narcotics Task Force. What did that involve?
A. In areas that were experiencing violent crime—that would include robberies, assaults, shootings and gun violence—the idea was to make an impact, to start shutting down the various street corners that the sales would be occupying.
It isn’t just about arresting people. It’s about identifying programs that can address some of the problems that drugs bring into a neighborhood, such as treatment centers, afterschool programs, mentoring programs and, because of my love of sports, getting involved with the community where we play athletic contests together.
Q. After many years on the force why did you go back to school?
A. When I first got out of high school, I went to Temple and only stayed a year because I had a dream about being a police officer. After one year at school, I was then nominated to the Philadelphia Police Academy. But I still had the desire to complete my education. I had a little taste of the Big 5—when I was in the 19th [District], I went to St. Joe’s. Then I went back to night school at LaSalle. I spent nine years going to night school. At the same time we have three children and I had to go piecemeal. I had to delay my education a little bit, but it was all worth it.
Q. What are your goals for Penn public safety?
A. What I want to do is develop partnerships and work very strongly & to solidify the security and safety network that we aim to build to create a better neighborhood for everyone.
I’m very family-orientated and so I take a perspective that this is my second family, the people that I work with. The people I come in contact with on a daily basis—it’s my second neighborhood.
Originally published on April 28, 2005