by Sue Ann Rybak
It was standing-room-only Monday, Nov. 4, at the East Mt. Airy Neighbors meeting held in response to a recent rash of robberies in the neighborhood. Police and city officials answered residents questions regarding the recent arrest of a Mt. Airy man, who police say targeted residents near the Mt. Airy train station. Also attending the meeting held at Grace Epiphany Church, 224 East Gowen Ave., was State Senator LeAnna M. Washington (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) and Vince Regan, chief of the Northwest Bureau for the District Attorney’s Office.
Captain John Fleming, of the 14th Police District, told residents that they arrested Gary Corbett, 33, of the 7300 block of Devon Street, in connection to five robberies in Mt. Airy.
According to police reports, the first robbery occurred on Oct. 2 at 9:10 p.m. on the 7300 block of Devon Street. A 56-year-old woman was pushed to the ground by the suspect, who took her pocketbook containing an undetermined amount of cash, credit cards, ID and a cell phone.
Additional robberies occurred on the following dates: Oct. 9 at 10:20 p.m. on the 7300 block of Cresheim Road; Oct. 12 at 12:50 a.m. on the 7300 block of Cresheim Road; Oct. 14 at 7:30 p.m. on the 7500 block of Boyer Street, and Oct. 16 at 11 p.m. on the 7400 Block of Boyer Street.
Corbett was apprehended by police at Chestnut Hill and Germantown Avenues following a robbery near SEPTA’s Mt. Airy Train Station. Police have charged Corbett with five counts of robbery, terroristic threats, theft, receiving stolen property, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.
In addition to his recent arrest, Corbett currently has an open court case involving drug charges.
Corbett is currently being held at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on $25,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is schedule for Dec. 16.
Fleming said despite having one of the largest districts in Philadelphia, he and his staff quickly realized that something was “out of whack.” “When you see a robbery on a certain point on a map,” he said, “you know something is up.”
Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum, of the 14th Police District, oversaw the investigation. He said police noticed a pattern of robberies occurring near the Mt. Airy Train Station and the Allens Lane Train Station and immediately “saturated” the area with undercover officers.
Rosenbaum said during the course of the investigation, police noticed Corbett dropping a child off at an apartment that he shared with his girlfriend only blocks away from the string of robberies. Fleming said despite “using all the resources available,” including an uncover female officer who posed as a commuter, the robber continued to evade police.
In one incident a good Samaritan with a bat chased the robber, but the suspect ultimately escaped because the resident was in bare feet. “He lived right under your noses,” Fleming said.
Several residents including Marilyn Cohen, executive director of West Mt. Airy Neighbors, applauded the police’s quick response. “It’s not comfortable for any of us when we have this going on in the neighborhood, but it sure feels good to have such a responsive force,” Cohen said.
Attendees asked police for ways they can prevent crime in their neighborhood. Fleming encouraged residents to form a town watch. He said that while Mt. Airy already has a strong sense of civic pride and is well-organized, establishing a town watch creates a visible presence that deters crime.
Besides deciding to establish a town watch, residents also discussed setting up a volunteer escort service to accompany residents to and from neighborhood train stations. Councilwoman Cindy Bass for the Eight District told attendees her office would assess the lighting near the train stations and added that grants are available to help establish and support neighborhood town watches.
Prevention Officer Sharrod Davis, of the 14th Police District, encouraged residents to call him at 215-685-2148 to get a free security assessment of their property. Besides being proactive at preventing crime, Court of Common Pleas Judge Lori Dumas, a local resident, stressed the importance of witnesses testifying in court. “We can’t stop crime if we don’t have the opportunity to find these people guilty and penalize them appropriately,” Dumas said.
Robyn A. Kulp, former president of the retired Safe Streets Committee, a nonprofit that helped establish and advocated for the police bike patrol in Mt. Airy, asked residents to be proactive and get involved in town watch. She added simply that “caring matters.”