by Pete Mazzaccaro

Back in February of this year, I was struck by how lean the Chestnut Hill Local’s weekly crime report had become. In the past, we could always count on between 10 and 12 crimes. Rarely were these crimes very serious – mostly various property crimes like thefts from cars in Valley Green and a mix of burglaries.

These days, however, it’s unusual to have even six crimes reported for a week. Often, we’ve had to skip weeks because no one reported a crime in the ZIP code.

As I noted back in February, crime in Chestnut Hill has declined sharply since 2009. Over a five-year period between 2009 and 2014, violent crime decreased from 26 crimes to 8, a decline of 69.2 percent. Property crimes in Chestnut Hill, declined from 358 to 220, a decline of 38.5 percent.

Those figures make Chestnut Hill one for the most crime-free corners of the city. As I noted six months ago, the average number of violent crimes for city neighborhoods (of which there are 57) was 227, making Chestnut Hill 96.4 percent safer than average among all neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The Hill’s 220 property crimes in 2014 are 706 fewer than the neighborhood average of 926, making Chestnut Hill 76.2 percent safer for your property than the city average.

Those are good numbers. At the time I wrote this: “Part of the decline can clearly be credited to overall declines in crime in general, but Chestnut Hill is clearly benefiting more than most other neighborhoods.”

Crime has been on a downward trend nationwide, this is true. From better police techniques to the pervasiveness of home security cameras, it’s not hard to see why crime does not pay as well as it used to.

In Chestnut Hill, however, I think it’s become more clear that a lot of the credit for declining crime rates should go to the officers of the 14th Police District.

Today’s front page story about the swift response of officers Thomas Seymour and Kimberli Harris to a 911 call that resulted in the arrest of two young men who may have been responsible for a rash of bicycle thefts in the neighborhood is just one of several recent examples that have demonstrated that a regular police presence in a neighborhood can result in lower crime rates.

One way in which this works is that officers Seymour and Harris, because they are regularly in the neighborhood, do not have to drive up from the 14th District’s Germantown headquarters. They were able to get to the home of resident George Coates in about 90 seconds. Because they were on the scene so quickly, they were able to catch two thieves who would have otherwise been free to steal again.

That form of neighborhood policing, which has been endorsed both by former 14th District commander Thomas Fleming and by the current commander, Sekou Kinebrew, is likely the main reason that crime report on page 3 continues to be low. This week, two of the five crimes in the report are of stolen bikes. Those are entries we shouldn’t see repeated next week.

Finally, it’s worth giving credit to Coates, not only for being quick to report the attempted theft of his bikes but also of coming forward to tell the Local about it. Getting the word out that the neighborhood police are effective is a pretty good disincentive to anyone else who might be considering coming to Chestnut Hill to steal something.

The key is making sure residents and the police talk to each other. In a stronger community, crime is weaker.

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