by Sue Ann Rybak
For years the late Mister Rogers asked children, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Now police are asking residents to do the same to help prevent crime.
Three 14th District police officers assigned to Chestnut Hill – Thomas Seymour, Robert Mahan, and Kimberli Harris – are asking residents to share in the responsibility of making their neighborhood a safe and beautiful place to live.
Mahan, 39, of Andorra, said burglaries are one of the biggest problems in Chestnut Hill. He said an important part of his job is educating homeowners on how to prevent them.
“People in Chestnut Hill hesitate to call 911 because they don’t want to bother us,” said Mahan, who has eight years of experience with the Philadelphia Police Department.
Mahan said neighbors of burglary victims will often recall seeing somebody in their neighbor’s backyard after the crime was committed. He said burglars often pose as landscapers or other maintenance workers. He added that burglars will often knock on the door and ask for random people.
Recently, Mahan said an elderly couple were recently arrested in Lower Merion for a series of burglaries.
“They looked like they lived there,” Mahan said. “If you get a sense that something’s not right, call us. We’ll check it out.”
Seymour, 44, of northeast Philadelphia, said residents are listening.
“People are heeding our advice and calling 911 if they see anyone acting suspicious,” said Seymour, a 16-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Some examples of suspicious behavior include sounds of glass breaking, an unfamiliar vehicle circling the block or someone carrying objects out of a house.
“The folks up here have been really responsive and we really appreciate it,” Seymour said. “We can’t do it all by ourselves.”
He added that the residents and the community play a huge part in reducing crime.
“If you see something, report it,” Seymour said.
Harris, 42, of northeast Philadelphia, urged residents to call the district if they know their property is going to be vacant.
“If you are going on vacation, give us a call so we can put it in the roll call log,” said Harris, who has 10 years on the police force. “Everybody will be made aware of it and the district will keep a record of it.”
She said the important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and be proactive.
Harris said recently police were able to make an arrest because a resident was enrolled in Operation ID, a crime prevention program that involves labeling personal property with an identification number and recording serial numbers for those items. After the property is labeled, police provide window stickers to display, letting a potential burglar know that items have been registered.
Recently, three bicycles were stolen from several properties on Rex Avenue.
“We knew what the bikes looked like and were able to identify them,” Seymour said.
Seymour said he and Harris were investigating four youths in connection with an attempted burglary in the 5th District, when she noticed that one of the teenagers was riding on one of the stolen bicycles.
“We were able to arrest all four youths and were able to recover the stolen bicycles,” Seymour said.
“One owner didn’t even notice his bike was missing. We returned his bike to him before he even knew it was missing.”
Seymour added that because the bikes were registered and could be easily identified police were able to make an arrest.
“Even something minor can be important – if we can add possession of a stolen bike to a burglary – it gives us a little more leverage,” Seymour said.
Mahan warned residents to be suspicious of people soliciting money for magazines, sports teams or charities. He said one man claimed to be soliciting money for his daughter’s track team – the Mt. Airy Track Team – which doesn’t exist.
“There is no Mt. Airy Track Team,” Mahan said.
Seymour added: “We don’t want to discourage people from feeling like they can’t contribute to something – but nobody wants to learn that they gave $20 for nothing.”
Harris said if someone makes you feel uncomfortable or gives you a hard sell, call 911.
“Let us come out and assess the situation,” Harris said.
Seymour added that after all it was their duty to serve and protect.