by Sue Ann Rybak
Captain John Fleming of the 14th Police District addressed a packed auditorium at a public meeting held at The Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, 7301 Germantown Ave., on Thursday night, April 11. About 35 residents voiced concerns about burglaries, speeding, underage drinking and thefts from autos. Also in attendance were Philadelphia Police Officers Thomas Seymour, Kimberli Harris, Robert Mahan and Lt. Sean Dandridge, as well as two plainclothes police officers assigned to Chestnut Hill and sections of Mt. Airy.
Chestnut Hill resident Brad Bank, asked Fleming why officers do not respond in person to reports of thefts from autos or other minor offenses.
“In general the public image is that crime doesn’t happen here but the reality is anything but,” Banks said. “The perception in Chestnut Hill is that the police will not investigate or prosecute crime, so therefore people are not reporting it. It’s a vicious cycle. When somebody makes a phone call, and a police officer comes out, it’s not necessarily to catch a criminal; it’s to take a report.”
Bank added when the police department sends a police officer to take a report in person, it builds public trust in law enforcement. Fleming said the policy is part of an effort by the Philadelphia Police Department to keep more officers on the street to deter more violent crime.
Fleming said depending on the nature of the call, people are transferred to the Differential Police Response Unit. Then, police officers take reports over the phone for non-violent offenses such as thefts from autos and vandalism. Fleming said the crime reports are then sent down to the 14th district the next day.
“You aren’t the first one to complain about it,” Fleming said, “and I don’t have the authority to change it.”
Fleming added that when he does see a spike in a certain area, he could call the commanding officer of police radio and ask him to redirect any thefts from auto reports to officers on the street. “I can only do it if we notice an increase in a certain area,” he said. “The problem is most property crimes aren’t reported.”
Fleming recently asked the police department to transfer calls to officers on street when the lower portion of PSA3 (Police Sector Area) was “under siege from thefts from autos.” Fleming said criminals “were shopping right up and down PSA3.”
“If thieves see something of value in your car, they will smash the window, but for the most part with thefts from autos, people are just going to walk by and try your door. At one point last year, in 70 percent of my thefts from autos, there was no forcible entry because people accidentally left their car doors open.”
In a later telephone interview, Fleming said the issue is not that crimes are not being reported to the press or the 14th district. He said the 14th district receives “Part Ones,” weekly criminal reports that are broken down into two categories, violent and property crime, by the police department that identify exactly where and when a crime occurred. Then undercover officers are deployed according to hot spots.
Fleming encouraged residents to be engaged and not hesitate to call 911. Police Officer Robert Mahan recalled how one neighbor watched a burglary in progress but never reported it.
“The problem is that people in Chestnut Hill are not calling 911 to report suspicious behavior or property crime because they don’t want to bother the police,” Mahan said.
Police Officer Thomas Seymour encouraged attendees to email him or other officers with concerns or questions. He urged residents to notify the police before they leave to go on vacation.
“If you are going on vacation, give us a call so we can put it in the roll call log,” said Seymour. “Everybody will be made aware of it, and the district will keep a record of it.”
If you would like to be added to an email list to be notified of crimes in your area, please email Dandridge at Sean.Dandridge@phila.gov or Thomas.Seymour@phila.gov. For more information about community crime meetings in your neighborhood, call 215-686-3388.