by Sue Ann Rybak
An undercover surveillance operation near Valley Green Inn has resulted in the arrests of two alleged thieves involved in a vehicle break-in on June 6.
According to police, officers from the 5th Police District observed two men casing a vehicle on Valley Green Road and set up surveillance. Police said the detectives witnessed the suspects enter the vehicle using a slim jim and take a credit card, a cell phone, keys and a license.
The arrest was part of an ongoing surveillance operation between the 5th and 14th districts to curtail the recent rash of thefts from autos.
“This is nothing unique to our area,” said Captain John Cerrone, of the 5th District. “Unfortunately, thefts from vehicles are a problem all over the city.”
Last year there were 13,630 thefts from vehicles, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.
Cerrone said the two districts have been coordinating efforts to decrease the number of thefts from vehicles on both sides of the Wissahickon Creek.
“Thieves don’t discriminate about what side they are going to hit,” he said.
According to police, from April 1 to June 15, 2015, there were 142 thefts from autos in the 14th District and 43 thefts from autos in the 5th District.
He said the police have made several arrests involving a string of thefts in this area. Last June, police arrested three people near Valley Green Inn who were wanted in connection with a string of thefts from vehicles in the area.
Captain Sekou Kinebrew, of the 14th District, said hot spots in this area include Valley Green Road, Bells Mill Road, Kitchens Lane, and Northwestern Avenue.
“Many people jog and walk along Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon and because of the many parking lots down there, it’s a primary target,” Cerrone said, “especially now that the weather is warmer.”
Kinebrew said a lot of people leave items in their car because they don’t want to carry them when they are walking, running or bicycling in the park.
He said because many people are coming to the park straight from work, they will often have a duffle bag with their change of clothes inside the car.
“A closed duffle bag is a magnet for thieves,” Kinebrew said. “It’s just begging ‘open me up.’
The criminal thinks it’s worth it. It’s like a kid looking at a Christmas present. They want to find out if there is a diamond ring or laptop in there. Even if it’s just smelly gym shorts in there, it’s worth your window for them to at least investigate what’s in there.”
“Often, thieves are working in groups of two, three or even four,” Cerrone added. “Some of them are acting as lookouts. They will often try to blend in when people come around. They want to look like they are there for a legitimate reason.”
For instance, a thief may sit for hours in a parked car reading the newspaper versus reading on a bench or somewhere else in the park.
Cerrone said it only takes thieves about 30 seconds to forcibly enter a vehicle. Kinebrew added if the automobile isn’t locked, it can take as little as three seconds.
“In this particular case, they used a slim jim to get into the car, but in many cases, they will break the window to enter the car,” he said.
“These are not people who just decide one day to go out there and break into a car,” Cerrone said. “In some incidents, people have been around the block many times. They have a propensity to steal. If we are fortunate enough to get good fingerprints, that can sometimes lead to an arrest.”
He said unfortunately many people just accept thefts from vehicles and other property crimes as part of city life.
“Often people are too busy with their lives to report it,” he said. “They think ‘it’s no big deal. We wish people didn’t have that attitude.”
Cerrone added that it makes their job harder because police set up surveillance based on crimes in a certain area.
Kinebrew said that studies have shown that property crime leads to bigger crimes. He added many criminals start out doing petty thefts and then graduate to more serious offenses.
“Often criminals will check out an area before committing a more serious crime,” he said. “If thefts from autos and auto thefts are fertile in that area and no one seems to care, they might test the waters there. If they see that everyone is okay with litter, broken car windows, and even someone smoking a little weed, then they think ‘Well, they are going to be okay with this, too.’ Residents are not going to be as vigilant.”
He said it’s just one of the reasons that neighborhoods that have Town Watch or other civic groups make an impact.
He added that without physical evidence or eyewitnesses it’s very difficult to make an arrest.
“We hope to keep arresting those frequent flyers, so the more we arrest them and the longer we can keep them in jail, the more impact it does have on our crime,” Cerrone said. “You get these people who are frequent flyers that have 10, 20, 30 arrests, and sooner or later the judges in the judicial system are going to keep them in jail for longer periods of time, and when that does happen, we have found that it does impact our overall crime.”
“We recommend that people first and foremost lock their vehicles and remove any items that are visible inside their vehicles and secure them the best they can,” Cerrone said. “You want to make it a harder target. Sometimes, the first thing that these folks will do is walk by and look inside the vehicle and see if there is anything worthwhile inside. It won’t deter them totally. If they are looking to get in, they are going to get in, because they ultimately believe that once they get inside they will find something of value.”
Kinebrew added that “if thieves really wanted to work at it, they would get jobs – they want the easiest thing.”