When PHA Police Officer Rokeisha Gallashaw responds to tense situations, she often hears the same line from distressed residents.
"You judging me 'cause I live in the projects," they tell her.
But with just six words, Gallashaw quickly turns the tables.
"I just moved from the projects," she says.
Gallashaw, 26, is one of nine current and former public housing residents who have joined the Philadelphia Housing Authority's 70-member police force as part of the department's "all-out attack on engaging the community," said PHA Police Chief Branville Bard Jr., a retired Philadelphia police inspector who became head of the PHA Police Department in February 2015.
"When I got here, I think it would be fair to say it was more of a siege mentality that existed," Bard said. "The community distrusted the police, and the police distrusted the community."
Bard and PHA's president and CEO, Kelvin Jeremiah, believe enhanced community engagement – including the hiring of resident police officers – is the main factor behind a precipitous 41 percent decrease in crime across PHA properties last year.
But other factors have played a role in the decrease as well – including the destruction of the crime-ridden Norman Blumberg high-rise complex in 2016, major technology enhancements like body cameras for every officer, tighter and more visible patrols, and the reallocation of tens of millions of dollars -- previously used to pay for security guard services -- to hire 50 more officers.
"From the very onset of my arrival, it was clear that PHAPD did everything but policing," Jeremiah said. "And the relationship with the community was virtually nonexistent. Where there was a relationship, our police were almost like an occupying force."
Landlord to 82,000 Philadelphia residents -- or about 5 percent of the city's population -- PHA, which has 65 developments, is a microcosm of Philadelphia, Bard said.
"Not only is PHA a microcosm of the city, it's a microcosm of some of the social ills," he said. "We're underemployed, undereducated, and low-income, obviously."
But in a few short years, PHA police have been able to dramatically improve their relationship with the community, said Ethel M. Wise, a PHA resident commissioner who has lived in public housing for four decades.
"A lot of the residents did feel like it was us versus them, but I don't think anybody is feeling like that now," Wise, 69, said. "It's been like a 360-degree change in everything – especially crime and attitudes."
When Jeremiah took over in 2012 and realized the authority was spending $30 million on a three-year contract for security guards who had no policing authority, he was stunned.
"What shocked my consciousness was that the security guards had the highest presence at sites where we had the highest crime," he said, noting that their presence did not prove to be a deterrent.
Jeremiah reallocated the $30 million to hire 50 new officers. When he announced his decision to PHA's resident advisory board, tenants suggested he consider adding two PHA residents to the ranks.
"I said, 'I'm not going to do two. I'm going to do 10!' " Jeremiah recalled.
He vowed that PHA would pay for the chosen housing authority residents to attend the Philadelphia Police Academy and that it would address any transportation or child-care issues.
Among the first two resident officers was Gallashaw, who was living at PHA's Norris Homes development in North Philadelphia when she joined the force.
Early on, Gallashaw encountered a fellow PHA officer who looked down on her because he believed PHA had handed her the job, she said.
"I decided not to say anything," Gallashaw said. "I was, like, 'Let my work start proving itself.' Then I started doing more work than him."
PHA Police Officer Clarence Hinton, a 20-year veteran, said Gallashaw has proven to be hardworking, and he believes the resident officers are a huge boon to the force.
"I love it because you've got to have some connection to the people," he said. "I keep telling these other guys, 'You ain't but one or two paychecks away from living in a PHA development yourself.' "
What struck Bard about the resident officers was that they came equipped with cultural and environmental competencies that it takes many new officers years to learn.
"They already understood the environment in which they were expected to police," he said. "It's like they already had this hyper compassion developed that's important when you police."
Representatives of the Police Department also began attending monthly tenant meetings, and Bard reinstated the defunct PHA Police Department Advisory Board, which consists of resident leaders and resident commissioners, like Wise.
"You're as good as the amount of information and intelligence you have doing this job," Bard said. "We've seen the flow of information ... increase immeasurably."
Technology has also increased tenfold in the department with the introduction of body cameras to all officers and a $9 million upgrade of a closed-circuit television and remote entry locking system.
Bard also realized his officers' patrols were focused on a large radius around PHA developments instead of in them. Given that PHA officers have full policing powers on PHA property only, Bard limited their patrols to PHA developments and had them turn on the side beacon lights of their cruisers for high visibility.
Historically, one of the hardest areas for PHA police to patrol was the Norman Blumberg apartments, a high-rise complex on the 2300 block of West Jefferson Street in North Philadelphia.
"The high-rises are incredibly difficult to police and very easy to defend," Bard said. "By the time police entered one of the structures on the first floor, anything happening on the 15th floor was no longer happening."
In 2015, police responded to 68 crimes at the complex, more than at any other development under the authority's umbrella.
Before the complex was torn down in March 2016, the authority relocated the more than 1,300 residents to other properties throughout the city.
"It goes to show that it wasn't the people, it was the location that was conducive to crime because we kept those people but lost those crime numbers," Bard said.
But above all, Jeremiah and Bard remain steadfast in their belief that it was the increased relationship PHA police have developed with PHA residents, including those who have joined their ranks, that's the biggest factor in the crime decrease.