by Sue Ann Rybak
Members of Philadelphia’s 14th Police District were lauded for their good work at a community meeting held Dec. 9 at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, 8891 Germantown Ave.
Will Detweiler, president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association, was one of the about 35 attendees at the community meeting who lauded the police officers assigned to Chestnut Hill.
“On behalf of the community association, I would like to thank you all,” Detweiler said. “I lived in Chestnut Hill a long time, and I don’t think we have ever had a stronger sense of police presence, and it translates into people feeling secure and safe on the streets, in the business area and in their homes. It’s a tribute to all of you, and, frankly, we should all be very proud.”
Captain John Fleming arranged the meeting to review the status of crime in Chestnut Hill and encourage residents to be more proactive in preventing crime, especially burglaries.
Officers Tom Seymour, Kimberli Harris, Bob Mahan, Joseph Gomes, Mike Bransfield, Ed Solvibile and Detective John Schell, of the Northwest Detective Burglary Task Force, attended the meeting.
Fleming said Chestnut Hill has a long history of being plagued with burglaries. He cited a recent book he read called “Confessions of a Second Story Man,” about the K & A Gang, a crew of professional burglars that claimed to have been “in every house in Chestnut Hill.” He added that while there has been a decrease in burglaries in Chestnut Hill this year, that has not been the case for surrounding neighborhoods.
Fleming said burglars will often enter through an open second-story window.
“Most burglars know the second floor is less likely to be armed (with a security system),” he said. “I strongly encourage people to spend the extra money to arm the second floor.”
Fleming noted that while many homes in Chestnut Hill do have alarms, they are often not activated.
In 2013, a burglary on the 700 block of St. Andrews Street resulted in thieves stealing $100,000 worth of jewelry from the home. According to the police reports, an alarm was installed but not activated.
“If you go out to get a coffee make sure you arm that alarm,” Fleming said. “In the last few years, we have had a handful of very frustrating burglaries.”
Fleming suggested residents install surveillance cameras. He said video cameras should be placed at entrance points.
“Inside cameras provide peace of mind,” he said. “Sometimes just the presence of surveillance cameras will be a deterrent.
In September, a series of burglaries occurred in the vicinity of the 8300 blocks of Seminole and Navajo streets. According to police records, in each case, the burglar entered through an open window and took easy-to-carry items like laptops and purses.
“Over 90 percent of the time, burglars are going to the master bedroom,” Fleming said. “They are going to go to the one room that yields the most. They want something they can fit into a back pack. Things they know they can fence very quickly – jewelry, laptops, phones.”
“If you are gonna leave your house and you don’t have a safety deposit box give them to a family member until you get back from vacation,” he said.
Schell recalled one woman who hid $10,000 worth of jewelry in her kids’ socks.
“The burglars just tossed the kids’ socks on the floor,” he said.
Schell encouraged residents to participate in Operation ID, a burglary-deterrent program that encourages residents to photograph and label personal property such as televisions, computers, cell phones and GPS devices with a state identification card number or state driver’s license and recording serial numbers.
Participants are then provided with window stickers to display to let burglars know that your items have been labeled. If a burglar is caught with labeled property, it is solid evidence of possession of stolen goods.
Officer Tom Seymour encouraged attendees to notify police when they will be away on vacation by calling the 14th District at 215-686-3140.
He reminded residents to be aware of any suspicious behavior and asked them not to hesitate to call 911.
“If someone knocks on your door let them know someone is home by being visible or calling out ‘Honey, I got it’ – even when there is no honey,” he said.
Fleming credited the decreases in burglaries to the dedication of his police officers.
Martha Sharkey, executive director of Chestnut Hill Business Association, also encouraged businesses to call 911 if they see anything suspicious or have any concerns. She said oftentimes business owners will call the Welcome Center to report unusual behavior and we tell them they have to call 911.
“For example, last week a man who was pretending to be a guard was on the street asking for money,” Sharkey said. “Two of our members called the Welcome Center and we ended up calling 911 on their behalf. We always encourage businesses to call 911 directly.”
She said officers responded to the call and were able to pick up the suspect before he got out of the community, but there was some time that was wasted due to the delay in calling 911.
“I know I said this to you in the past, but we are thrilled to be working with you and partnering with you so much,” Sharkey said. “And even though we don’t have the bike cops right now, I think the patrol cars and the willingness of the officers to check-in with us has created a very strong police presence in Chestnut Hill.”
Overall, the majority of attendees agreed and praised police efforts to curb crime in Chestnut Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods.
One woman was on the verge of tears as she thanked Mahan for his quick response and professionalism.
“My daughter was approached in the street waiting for her bus,” she said, as she struggled to maintain her composure. “To us, she is still very young, and you were very attentive, and I want to say that you made her feel really as ease. We are just really grateful for your dedication and the time you took to check back in with us.”
Mahan responded with a simple “thank you.”
He took the opportunity to encourage residents to contact him or his partners by email about any questions or concerns they had. The officers email addresses are: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next Police Sector Area 1 meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 7200 Woolston Ave. in West Oak Lane. For more information about police community meetings in your area go to phillypolice.org or call 215-686-3140.