Vigilance isn't always enough.

by Pete Mazzaccaro

Last week, approximately 100 local residents turned up at a “crime summit” at Norwood Fontbonne Academy that was organized by the Chestnut Hill Community Association and members of West Moreland Avenue Neighbors who have organized their own town watch in response to a rise in burglaries and thefts in their area.

The main attraction of the summit was an opportunity for the public to meet and speak with 14th District Police Captain Joel Dale, who used his time to ask the assembled residents for help in tracking down at least one group of burglars who have been hitting the area hard in recent months, and he asked them to take practical precautions to avoid being victimized by criminals.

Hillers can definitely do more to cut the crime count, but diligence alone is not enough.

Chestnut Hill has less of a crime problem than people think – you can go to and see all incidents recorded in Chestnut Hill’s ZIP code, and you’ll see that Chestnut Hill had approximately 24 reported incidents in the last 30 days. Nearly all reports are burglaries or thefts from vehicles. We’re lucky that we don’t have the violent crime found in other parts of the 14th Police District.

But vigilance would not have prevented all of those crimes. It likely wouldn’t have prevented most of them. Burglars in the area have shown they are pretty well skilled in breaking and entering, avoiding alarm systems and escaping with the valuables of people who do take precautions.

What can be done about that?

One thing is for certain, and some brought it up at the crime summit: Police response needs to be faster.

Last week, Hill resident Matthew Studner called me to tell me about a situation in which a contractor was threatening him at his home. He called 911 to ask for a patrol car and informed the 911 operator that his 8-year-old son was with him and that he was concerned about what the contractor might do. After 35 minutes, he called 911 and was rudely told that there were a lot of people who needed police more than he did.

Studner said several men from his company, which is located in Germantown, had already arrived to help him out, and the contractor turned out to have a bigger bark than a bite.

But Studner was shocked not only by the slow response but also by the second 911 operator’s rude reply.

“I feel like selling my property and moving to Blue Bell,” Studner said. “We don’t have police protection.”

Studner said he understood that the police are overworked. I understand it, too. There’s a lot of ground to cover in the 14th District and Chestnut Hill’s non-violent crime stats are not going to keep it at the top of the local police priority list. That’s understandable.

But, as much as the police want more help from residents, residents need more help from their police department than they’re getting.
If more police in the district isn’t the answer, we need to start thinking of other solutions. The status quo is going to be less and less acceptable.

“I’d like to either hire our own police department or set up a volunteer system to get those 911 callers to be more professional,” Studner said. “If nothing gets done about it I’m moving out.”

He won’t be the only one.