14th Police District closes out year with dramatic drop in burglaries

 Captain John Fleming of the 14th Police District addresses Chestnut Hill residents at a recent meeting held at the Norwood Fontbonne Academy. (Matt Grady/for NewsWorks)

Captain John Fleming of the 14th Police District addresses Chestnut Hill residents at a recent meeting held at the Norwood Fontbonne Academy. (Matt Grady/for NewsWorks)

With dramatic decreases in property crimes, police and residents in Chestnut Hill are breathing a collective sigh of relief as the year comes to a close.

At a recent public meeting, Captain John Fleming of the 14th Police District said that residential burglaries in Chestnut Hill have dropped due to a combination of dedicated police deployment and community involvement.

According to departmental statistics, residential burglaries in the 14th District’s Police Service Area Four — which includes all of Chestnut Hill along with Cedarbrook and parts of East Mt. Airy — are down by almost 58 percent, from 144 in 2012 to 61 in 2013 as of Nov. 21.

Fleming and his staff have been described as being on a “crusade” to combat these incidents.

“The last thing I want anyone here to do is to come home and see their back door kicked in,” said Fleming.

Spring robbery spree

As Fleming is keen to point out, sections of the 14th District have been prone to residential burglaries for years, if not decades. For him, it boils down to the high quality of life enjoyed by many in Northwest.

“You have what other people want,” is a favorite mantra of the captain, who came to the District in late 2012.

The height of the property crime spree occurred this spring, when someone kicked in the doors of a private residence on the 700 block of St. Andrews Street in Chestnut Hill on May 15. Once inside, thieves ransacked the bedroom, ultimately taking $100,000 of jewelry from the home, said at the time to be the residence of the close relative of a once-prominent Philadelphia figurehead.

According to police reports, an alarm was installed in the home but was not activated at the time of the burglary.

In the same period of time, a team of suspected burglars were known to be scoping properties in Chestnut Hill and West Mt. Airy. Stopped at least once by district cops, the suspects were spotted by detectives in June and careened across the Northwest to avoid being intercepted.

Since then, the team has not been observed in the Northwest. Local police believe that they have been arrested in connection with string of burglaries in neighboring Montgomery County.

Increased police presence

To discourage these occurrences, Fleming has changed the way cops do business on “the Hill,” where for years residents felt that they were being underserved. Fleming bolstered routine patrol assignments and dedicated both uniform and plainclothes teams to the area. In fact, the captain and his aide often patrol the area during their daytime shifts as well.

While this enhanced presence contributes to deterrence, police are also being similarly aggressive in the follow-up of crimes that do occur. Processing of crime scenes is de rigueur, and Fleming is known to contact victims personally.

Beyond this, there is also strong interaction with the Northwest Detective Division, which has investigators currently assigned to a specialized burglary task-force. Cops are also keeping an eye on secondary markets for stolen merchandise, such as pawn shops and “cash for gold” businesses.

Staying vigilant

While local police are pleased with the reductions, they are cognizant of the challenges ahead.

“Just because it’s gone well for a period of time doesn’t mean that it will go well all of the time,” said Fleming, who will be monitoring district crime statistics to see if current tactics employed by his officers are in need of adjustment.

In the meantime, however, residents expressed positive sentiments with the changes.

Chestnut Hill resident Ralph Purvis said that while tending to his lawn this summer he saw a police car on patrol.

“Be still my beating heart,” he thought, recalling that he had never seen a police car on his secluded street on over 20 years of residence. He struck up conversation with the officer, who instructed Purvis to call 911 if he saw any suspicious.

Three weeks later, some suspicious vehicles passed by his home, and Purvis notified police about this occurrence. A “perfect response” ensued, said Purvis, noting that an officer quickly responded to take the initial report followed a few days later by two additional officers who visited his house.

When Purvis went on vacation in September, he informed the 14th District about his absence and received reports from his neighbors that police were frequently seen checking up on the house.

“It is all working,” Purvis said to Fleming, “and I just want to tip my hat to you and Philadelphia’s finest that you’ve assigned to Chestnut Hill.”

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