14th District police captain reflects on a year on the job

 Captain John Fleming took over the 14th District in Nov. 2012. (Jana Shea/for NewsWorks, file)

Captain John Fleming took over the 14th District in Nov. 2012. (Jana Shea/for NewsWorks, file)

Captain John Fleming’s eyes lit up last December as he talked about taking the helm of the city’s 14th District.

After three years serving as Commissioner Charles Ramsey’s administrative lieutenant, the 16-year veteran was excited about a new challenge and ready to return to the streets.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be here,” said Fleming a month into the job.

One year in

A year later, it appears Fleming’s verve hasn’t waned.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

During a recent interview inside district headquarters in Germantown, Fleming energetically bounced between his desk and a series of push pin-filled crime maps.

“I’ve made some good strides, but I want to keep going in a positive direction,” he said.

Fleming knew he was walking into a challenge. Geographically, the 14th District is the third largest in the city and police must also tackle a full menu of crime.

The district has made some strides in the numbers game. Totals for nearly every major crime category are down, according to police statistics. Rapes are up.

Between Nov. 12, 2011 and Oct. 31, 2012, there were 24 murders. The same strech a year later saw 13 murders.

Robberies are down 14.3 percent; burglaries, 31.9 percent, aggravated assaults, 18.1 percent.

Fleming is particularly pleased with the drop in burglaries, consistently one of the district’s biggest problems. He’s also glad that to see that shootings have started to level off after he made a change in his deployment strategy.  

Still, like most cops, he’s not ready or willing to claim victory.

“It’s still a work in progress,” said Fleming.

Community feedback

Community leaders in his Northwest Philadelphia district appear to be fine with that. From a crime standpoint, those who spoke with NewsWorks commended Fleming’s work.

He got more mixed reviews when it came to his interactions with the community.

Elayne Bender, executive director of East Mt. Airy Neighbors, couldn’t say enough about Fleming’s availability and personal touch.

“We are a demanding community and we’re not quiet about our concerns and our issues,” said Bender. He has spent a year being responsive to that and I would hope that he would continue to respect not just the community leaders but the businesses and residents.”

“You don’t always find that [police] respect you back.”

June Robinson, who heads the 14th’s PDAC, short for police district advisory council, has been equally impressed with Fleming, who she’s known about for years.

“He is the person that’s going to respond. He doesn’t put that off on other officers,” said Robinson, who lives in West Oak Lane.

Others, such as Heather Pierce and Rev. Chester Williams, think there’s some room for improvement in the communication department.

Williams, president of the Chew and Belfield Neighbors Club in Germantown, would like Fleming to have more of an open-door policy and send out more information about crime in the neighborhood. He thinks it would help build a greater sense of trust with some residents in the community.

“It’s not mentioned enough,” said Williams. “It’s more of a protocol type thing.”

Heather Pierce, who leads the Carpenter Woods Town Watch in Mt. Airy, said Fleming is “equally effective” on crime as his predecessor Inspector Joel Dales. But, from her experience, he’s a bit less hands-on when it comes to working with the community.

“He’s definitely approachable, I just don’t know how available he is,” said Pierce.

What’s next

Moving forward, Fleming said he’d not only like to see crime stats drop more, but also put more criminals behind bars. He thinks Vince Regan, the newly-appointed chief of the Northwest Bureau of the District Attorney’s Office, could be a real asset in that regard.

Already, Fleming said he gets the impression Regan is looking to “make a splash.”

“Our job is only halfway done if these guys don’t go away,” he said. ” If they’re not successfully prosecuting, we’re just chasing our tails all day.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal