by Elizabeth Coady
This is a story about a residential break-in, and the making of a police report, and how the space between those two distinct events can become gray.
On the morning of Oct. 14, Jonathan Conant noticed the glass door to his side porch was shattered, projecting shards across the room. A telephone call to his security firm found a record of an entry and exit into his home on the 100 block of West Moreland in Chestnut Hill shortly before he and his wife returned home the night before following an evening out with friends.
The break-in was troubling, not least because it was the second time in 18 months that someone broke into the home of the retired general manager of a printing company.
“For us as a family it was so traumatic,” Conant said of the original break-in over Memorial Day weekend 2017 where the loss was “much more significant.” He believed that his home was “sacrosanct.”
Conant said he left the shattered glass as it was and telephoned the Philadelphia police about 10:30 a.m. When they hadn’t arrived two hours later, and eager to clean up the mess, he called police again. He said an officer arrived about 2:30 p.m. The officer was cordial, and informed Conant there wasn’t much the police could do. The officer pointed out that nothing horrible had happened, and that the police force was shorthanded, according to Conant.
Under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, burglary is categorized as a “part one” crime and defined as an “unlawful entry of a structure to commit a felony or a theft.” Attempted forcible entry is included.
A neighbor noticed that the burglary didn’t show up in the Chestnut Hill Local’s police blotter which reports to the community serious crimes designated as “part one” offenses by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. A search of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s database of city crime by the Chestnut Hill Local found the incident had been documented as vandalism, considered a “part two” or lesser offense.
Vandalism is defined as a “willful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of any public or private property, real or personal, without consent of the owner or persons having custody or control.”
The incident at Conant’s home was officially documented as “vandalism/criminal mischief.”
A summary of the report released to the Chestnut Hill Local by the department’s Public Affairs office succinctly reports:
“On Oct. 14, 14th District Police Officers took a report of vandalism for the 100 block of W . Moreland Avenue. The complainant stated that on Oct. 13, an unknown person broke a window pane on their porch with an unknown object. It is unknown if entry was made into the home or if anything was stolen.”
At the request of the Chestnut Hill Local, Philadelphia Public Affairs Officer Tanya Little reached out to the responding officer, whose name was not released. That officer told her he remembered responding to Conant’s home. She said that the officer claimed that Conant “did not know if anyone got in.”
But Conant counters that he told the officer a brass cup with at least $50 in change was removed from a bureau in his bedroom, reaffirming that an intruder did gain entry into the home, and making the crime a more serious offense than vandalism.
In addition, the intruder entered through a broken glass door and not a broken window pane as specified in the police summary, he confirmed.
“That’s a very cavalier report,” Conant said. “That’s clearly not representative of what happened or what he saw.”
“The door as it is is still there,” he said, “It was obvious to him. It was a mess. I hadn’t cleaned up anything when he showed up. It was still a mess. I told him about the brass cup of money.”
While she said she could not send a copy of the actual police report, or revise the summary already sent, Officer Little said the original report included in small letters that the window pane was actually a door. An attempt to get a copy of the actual report was unsuccessful. Employees in the Department of Records in Room 168 of City Hall said Monday morning that the vandalism report was not available on their computers and that a copy of the report would take 10 to 12 weeks to be processed.
Conant, who has lived in the house for 27 years, said of the lesser report, “My first reaction was I didn’t think it was a deliberate mischaracterization, but I could be very naive. I don’t walk in their shoes.”
A subsequent bag of jewelry with an undetermined value was discovered missing from another bedroom. The cost to repair the broken glass door is expected to be about $1,200.
According to Officer Little, homeowners can have any reports taken by police amended, but they must make the effort themselves. She said Conant can file an amendment or file a complaint if he has an issue with the original report.
Elizabeth Coady is a contributor to the Local.