by Sue Ann Rybak
“Where are the bike patrols?” That was the question of several residents at last month’s Police Sector Area ( PSA) 4 meeting held May 21 at Roller’s Flying Fish Restaurant, 8142 Germantown Ave. It’s a question other Hill residents and business owners who have noticed Chestnut Hill’s bike patrol, a visible neighborhood presence for the better part of 20 years – has been noticeably absent from the Avenue for some time now.
In an interview with the Local earlier that same day, Captain John Fleming of the 14th Police District said several bike patrol members were promoted or reassigned to a different unit. He said he had replaced the bike patrol unit with patrol cars that are currently assigned to Chestnut Hill and parts of Mt. Airy.
Chief Inspector Dennis Wilson of the Philadelphia Police Department said the 14th Police District has an active and effective bike patrol unit. He added that the 14th District has “a lot of officers on bikes compared to other districts in the city.”
None, however, are in Chestnut Hill.
Wilson said it was the captain’s prerogative to deploy his officers in the best and most efficient way possible. He said that there is not a decreased police presence in Chestnut Hill because two other officers were assigned to canvass the neighborhood in patrol cars.
“It is true that two police officers in Chestnut Hill were moved out of their beat, but they were replaced by two other officers,” Wilson said. “For whatever reason, he [Capt. John Fleming] changed the assignment of the officers on the bike.”
Wilson said Fleming should constantly evaluate crime patterns in his district and make changes when necessary.
And while many civic and community organizations, such as the Chestnut Hill Business Association, often make donations to to buy bikes and help maintain police bikes, they cannot dictate where the bikes go.
Though it’s not clear that the bicycle patrols are any more effective at crime prevention than squad cars, business owners polled by the Local said the preferred officers on bikes.
Lesley Seitchik, director of marketing at Valley Green Bank, said the bike patrol unit was “an asset to the Avenue.”
“The officers were very friendly and helped to create a sense of community on the avenue,” Seitchik said. “They were a terrific fixture. And we certainly would welcome them back. We miss their presence.”
Vickie Spangler, co-owner of Delphine Gallery, 8435 Germantown Ave., said one of the benefits of the bike patrol is that business owners really got to know officers because they would stop by.
“It felt like there was more of a police presence on the Avenue because they were right there on the Avenue,” Spangler said. “And because we knew them by name there was a strong community connection. Ideally, it would be great to have both the bike patrol and a patrol car. I think the businesses owners would like to see the bike patrols back.”
Debbie Winer, co-owner of Delphine Gallery, said she appreciated the bike patrols because Germantown Avenue is a high traffic and high-pedestrian area – especially during the summer.
“There is more pedestrian traffic because schools are out,” Winer said. “Businesses are twice as likely to be hit in the summer.”
Pete Thomas, owner of Fiesta Pizza, 8339 Germantown Ave., said he thinks crime in Chestnut Hill has increased since the district moved bike patrols to a different area.
“Officers on bike patrols were a good deterrent – especially during the holidays and summertime,” Thomas said.
Martha Sharkey, executive director of the Chestnut Hill Business Association, said while the bike patrols are currently not assigned to Chestnut Hill, they have “noticed an increase in the police presence in Chestnut Hill with patrol cars, along with the mounted police visiting the area frequently.”
“The police officers check in at the Chestnut Hill Welcome Center on a daily basis,” Sharkey said. “They are responsive to issues that arise. In addition, Captain Fleming has visited Chestnut Hill several times and has hosted meetings with community members to answer questions. We are anticipating the return of the bike patrol in the near future and appreciate the increased police presence within our community.”