Burholme Town Watch, Civic Association host police radion discussion

Last night’s meeting of the Burholme Town Watch and Burholme Civic Association touched on many neighborhood issues, but the dominant one, by far, was the discussion of the police radio process.

Police Inspector Tom Lippo, commander of the 911 system, led the discussion with help from Paul Andris, president of the Police Radio System Advisory Board and vice president of Burholme Town Watch.

Lippo explained to the crowd that 270 civilian employees man the operating system under the eye of 35 police supervisors. When you call 911, Lippo said, the dispatcher gives a priority to your situation, based on the type of emergency. The ranking system runs from zero to six, with zero being the most important: an officer assistance call. One- and two-level emergencies are crimes in progress, and the system continues from there. They receive about 3.3 million calls per year, Lippo continued.

Lippo then answered questions from residents about experiences they’ve had with the 911 operating system and how to get the best response.

When Town Watch secretary Jeanette Scully asked if 911 dispatchers can trace a cell phone, the inspector explained how call tracing works: Phase 1 can track the number, provider and cell tower you’re calling from. From there, Phase 2 can get within one or two blocks of the crime for callers with GPS phones and withing two to four blocks for callers with regular cell phones. It’s important to remember, Lippo said, that you may not always reach Philadelphia’s 911 system from your cell phone. Depending on where you’re located, the nearest cell tower could be in another county.

A special request

At last night’s meeting, Al Taubenberger, president of the Greater Northeast Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, asked those in attendance to pray for Paul Martin.

Paul, a dedicated, involved resident, as Town Watch Vice President Paul Andris called him, is battling a serious form of cancer, and is in need of prayers.

Paul is the owner of Martin Print & Copy at Cottman Ave. and Claridge St., and among many other “tremendous” things he does, Andris said, prints fliers for the Town Watch on his own dime.

Another resident asked the priority level of the crime she was recently a victim of: being robbed at knife point on her steps. By the time she had called the cops, she explained to the crowd, the crime was over. Lippo said the robbery was still considered by police to be a crime in progress, making it level-one priority.

“We average a one to two minute response time for priority one crimes,” he told attendees, though he admitted various circumstances can affect response time.

For instance,when a man drove the wrong way down a street and hit three cars belonging to one of the meeting attendees, it took the police 90 minutes to arrive. The woman and her family were left to detain the man themselves, who eventually fled on foot.

“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong that night,” Lippo told her as he recalled the incident.

In that particular case, the officer on the way to the scene was flagged down by a person in need on the way, deferring the call to another officer, who, by chance, was also called away en route to the scene. Lippo also reminded the crowd that officers do not receive direct contact information on calls, only the block and the type of crime, often making the experience feel less personal for the caller in need.

Regardless of the circumstance, Lippo said, if you’re not getting the response you want, get the 911 dispatcher’s number, which is usually recited upon receipt of call, or ask for a supervisor. Lippo and Andris fielded several questions from the audience, and dispensed numerous police radio tips.

The bottom line, Andris said, is “We want to make sure people know how the system works. And if you have a problem,” he continued, “call me.”

Mark Moroz, community relations officer for the 2nd Police District, assured uneasy residents that violent crime in the district is down 26 percent since last year, and the increase in burglaries is “seasonal,” since people are leaving their windows open and cars unlocked.

Though the police radio discussion was the bulk of the hour-long meeting, board members also addressed the budget, with a standing balance of $22,165.98; neighborhood banners, which are expected to be put up at the end of the month; and zoning approval for a daycare center.

After the meeting, board members, local political representatives and residents came together for a spread of wraps, doughnuts, baked ziti and other refreshments to discuss the meeting.

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