Recent robberies in Chestnut Hill called ‘a new and dangerous time’

Judging by the turnout at the Wednesday morning security seminar hosted by the Chestnut Hill Business Association (CHBA), theft and robbery at Chestnut Hill businesses are a hot button topic right now. Around 50 people filled the upper room at Roller’s Flying Fish Restaurant, 8142 Germantown Avenue, to discuss what one attendee called “a new and dangerous time.” 

One reason for the turnout and the interest may have been the recent high-profile robbery and alleged attempted robbery of the Delphine Gallery at 8435 Germantown Avenue. On August 2, the store, which specializes in estate jewelry, was robbed by a man wearing Muslim women’s garb. Less than a week later three men also in Muslim clothing fled the store when told that police had been called. Three arrests have been made in that incident. Gallery owners Vicky Spangler and Debbie Weiner were in attendance and were appreciative of what they termed “an outpouring of support” in the wake of the second incident.

Greg Welsh, a former president of the CHBA, moderated the meeting and threw it open to comments from the floor. First up was Jim Foster, publisher of the Germantown Chronicle and Northwest Independent newspapers, and an independent candidate for the 2nd Congressional seat currently held by Rep. Chaka Fattah. Foster suggested that Chestnut Hill, currently part of the 14th Police District, be split off from that district and made part of the 5th Police District that is headquartered in Roxborough.

The reason, he said, is that crime in Germantown is “out of control” and absorbs a disproportionate share of the 14th’s resources and attention. While the 5th district might seem far away, he said, “They can get here just as fast” as 14th District officers,” since the narrow streets in much of the 14th slow down response time.

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The sprawling 14th stretches from Chestnut Hill almost to Broad Street along its Cheltenham Avenue boundary on the east side of Germantown Avenue, and covers West Mt. Airy and West Germantown as far south as Queen Lane. Foster said that it was the most heavily populated district in the city. The 5th District covers Roxborough, Manayunk, Andorra and much of East Falls. “That district is not overburdened,” he said.

Foster was followed by Officer Steve Arbiz, a bike patrol officer in Chestnut Hill, who said that officer retirements and a lack of new officers were straining the 14th’District’s resources. “It’s a manpower issue, absolutely,” he said. When asked whether he thought Chestnut Hill would be better served out of the 5th district, however, he pointed out that there are only two roads crossing the Wissahickon valley by which the Northwest can be reached from Roxborough: Walnut Lane and Bell’s Mill Road.

Welsh followed, saying that he had heard, “The word is, if you want to commit a crime, don’t do it in Montgomery County because they’ve got a better system” for prosecuting criminals. Welsh suggested a community support system for victims of crime that would provide things such as education on the intricacies of the criminal justice system and help with transportation to hearings which can be time-consuming and are often postponed. “We’ve got to get the word out that Chestnut Hill is organized and tough on crime” he said.

Brien Tilley, president of the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA), followed and said, “The community association would really like to partner with you.” After the meeting he said, “It’s not just a business issue, it’s our community. I’ll take this back to the board and see how we can pool resources.”

The idea of a systematic approach seemed to appeal to a number of attendees. One said, “We’re all going to be sitting here again next year talking about this if we don’t do something,” while another remarked, “Resources-wise, let’s be pro-active.”

In the meantime, 14th District Crime Prevention Officer Hall said she was available to visit stores and assess them in terms of safety and anti-theft measures. She gave out a few tips on crime prevention such as arranging aisles so that those entering and exiting would have to pass in view of the counter, but emphasized the need for an on-site inspection. “Everybody’s store is set up differently,” she said. Officer Hall can be reached at the 14th District by calling 215-685-2148.

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