By Yvonne Dennis (246)
Whether for large conventions, labor disputes, or highly charged protests, Police Capt.Robert Glenn (242) is responsible for keeping peace and order in Philadelphia.
Assigned this year to head of the department’s Civil Affairs Unit, Capt. Glenn swears by the 225-year-old edicts of the Bill of Rights, modern technological tools and good sense.
In just over a month he will be especially dependent on those resources, along with the Pennsylvania State Police and countless federal agencies, as he helps steer Philadelphia through its largest, most security-challenged event of the year–The Democratic National Convention.
Before that, Capt. Glenn will be keeping participants safe once again at the Central Alumni Association’s annual 5k run and 1m walk at the school.
Preparation and understanding keep this law enforcer, teacher, husband, father, church deacon and farmer (yes, farmer) ready for what may come.
AACHS: Your resume says you belong to a farmers association.
Capt. Glenn smiles: My brother went to Saul Agricultural School and he had a little farm. He moved out to one of the western counties. He joined a farmers association. Then I joined and I go to the meetings and participate and I enjoy it.
They advocate for farmers rights in Philadelphia. And you may think that’s not a city thing. It is because we do have people who do farm in the city of Philadelphia, way up in the Northeast.
AACHS: What do you grow at your home?:
Capt. Glenn: Cucumbers, tomatoes, anything that can grow in the city. Turnips. Anything that can deal with the elements of the city. It’s relaxing. I’ve been doing it for 15, 20 years.
AACHS: We have a new police commissioner since January–Richard Ross (241). What should Philadelphians know about the department under this new leadership?
Capt. Glenn: We have seen across the country the disagreement, the disconnection with the communities. Because what happens in Ferguson (Missouri), what happens in New York, what happens in Baltimore affects Philadelphia. You watch Fox news, you watch CNN. It’s a news cycle. So what we’ve done under Commissioner Ross is we’ve got back to community policing. That means interacting with the people who live in our communities, also the people we serve…If you notice, we haven’t had any serious issues with the police and the community and that’s good. And we’re gearing up now for the DNC. That’s going to be huge.
AACHS: Tell us about the preparations for that.
Capt. Glenn: We’re happy. We want people to come in town, exercise their First Amendment rights, to protest, and hopefully we’re going to have a great opportunity for the city to shine. This DNC is an opportunity to see Philadelphia in its best light.
The first thing is how to balance people’s First Amendment right to protest without interrupting the actual convention. That’s the delicate balance that you face… your First Amendment right can never infringe on anybody else’s individual rights.
AACHS: Are things much different today than when the city hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000?
Capt. Glenn: Yes and no. Yes in the fact that I think the anger toward the government is much more than it was in 2000. If you think about 2000, the Clinton years, besides President Clinton’s personal issues, America was booming. The economy was good. Everybody for the most part didn’t have any problems with Congress. Now I think it’s different because people are really upset with their government.
Now, how it’s the same is that we’re preparing just like we prepared in 2000. This is the cradle of liberty. This is where the Liberty Bell is. This is where the Declaration of Independence was signed so we want people to come here and we want them to voice their concerns but we want them to voice their concerns in a proper way.
AACHS: How should regular Philadelphians prepare?
Capt. Glenn: Unless you live in center city or unless you work in center city, or you live and work around the stadium area, it really won’t affect you that much…The president of the United States will be here; the vice president of the United States. You have a previous president of the United States. You have a first lady who also was secretary of state, so the security issues are going to be in effect but besides that it shouldn’t affect you.
AACHS: To get back to community policing, what exactly does that mean?
Capt. Glenn: Community policing means that the commanding officer for a district that you live at and his team engages with the actual community. That means community meetings with people. That means going to any social events. That means making sure you’re in touch with your clergy in your community. Making sure you’re in touch with the business owners in your community. Making sure you’re in touch with the schools in your community. It means touching every aspect of peoples lives we want to be able to touch in a positive way…Most of the time when people call the police usually it’s for something that’s been a negative action. Either someone has done something to them or they have done something themselves. It not like when you call the Fire Department. You’re happy to see the Fire Department because they’re trying to save your house.
AACHS: A lot of people today are sympathizing with the Black Lives Matter movement. What should they know about police in general and Philadelphia police in particular?
Capt. Glenn: I believe that there is a place for Black Lives Matter. No profession is 100 percent pure. There’s bad police officers. There’s bad lawyers. There’s bad doctors. There’s bad writers. But the thing is I would like organizations like Black Lives Matter to actually spend some time with the police. It’s easy to shout and it’s a lot harder to spend some time.
I’ve offered opportunities for people to come and shadow my officers when I was with the 22nd District. Spend a day with your police and you get a better idea of the day in and day out. Most police officers are honorable and they want to do a good job. And those are the ones what we want to keep. But the bad police officers, it’s our goal just like Black Lives Matter and any other social organization to get rid of the bad apples.
AACHS: Tell us about your last assignment as a district captain.
Capt. Glenn: I had the 22nd police district (covering much of North Philadelphia) for two years. That was a challenge. You had a district of about 100,000 people, 80 percent poverty, a major university (Temple), all the issues that come with that, all the issues that deal with urban living and then we had an officer killed (Robert Wilson). It was a tough stretch but I enjoyed it.
AACHS: How do you deal with day-to-day civil conflicts?
Capt. Glenn: If they come and they have an issue, a lot of times it may just be a sitdown. We try to get the two parties together and have a sitdown. Or if they may want to protest about about an issue, they may have gotten wrong information and the protest can actually be avoided a lot.
But then you have some organizations that are adamant that they don’t want to communicate and even with that the (police) lines are always open to communicate.
If you’re able to solve whatever issue and not spend taxpayers dollars unnecessarily–any time we can adjudicate a situation as soon as possible it’s a win win for the two parties. It’s a win-win for the city.