by Sue Ann Rybak

It was standing room only 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 SEPTA’S 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), 8th District Councilwoman Cindy Bass 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 Gary Corbett, 33, of the 7300 block of Devon Street, has been arrested in connection with five robberies in Mt. Airy. Corbett was apprehended by police at Chestnut Hill and Germantown avenues following a robbery near the 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. He is currently being held at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on $25,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled 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,” said Fleming, “you know something is up.”

Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum, also of the 14th 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 undercover female officer who posed as a commuter, the robber continued to evade police. In one incident, he said, 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 ways they can prevent crime in their neighborhood.

Fleming encouraged residents to form a Town Watch. He said 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 Bass told attendees her office would assess the lighting near the train station and added that grants are available to help establish and support neighborhood Town Watches.

Prevention Officer Sharrod Davis, of the 14th 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, who is 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 Safe Streets Committee, a nonprofit organization that advocated for and helped establish the police bike patrol in Mt. Airy, asked residents to be proactive and get involved in Town Watch.

“Caring matters,” she added simply.