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Concerned with recent uptick in crime, Northwest Philly police captain calls public meeting

Six months into his command, Capt. John Fleming of the 14th Police District brought residents up to speed on recent criminal behavior and trends in sections of Northwest Philadelphia.

Standing before a packed house at the Reformation Lutheran Church in East Mt. Airy on Wednesday night, Fleming said the meeting was scheduled in response to a streak of violence in his district two weeks prior.

Recent homicides cited

As reported by NewsWorks, on April 17, a 40-year-old East Germantown man was fatally shot on the 1400 block of E. Sharpnack St.

According to police, at least five shots were fired from a semi-automatic handgun; shells found within feet of the body suggested that the victim was shot at close range.

The next evening, a 29-year-old man visiting his family in West Oak Lane was shot multiple times by two gunmen wearing masks and hoodies.

Police said the man was sitting on a front porch in the 7900 block of Fayette St. with his cousin around 11:45 p.m. when the pair emerged from an alley and opened fire. The victim was reportedly shot up to 10 times.

Fleming said that in both instances, a fight had taken place beforehand but no 911 calls were logged by police dispatch.

While impossible to determine whether early intervention by police might have changed the course of events, it might have discouraged an escalation.

“I do know that had that call been made, it would have shown those individuals that police are in the area and maybe we should cool off,” Fleming said.

Additional crime trends

Other violent crimes are keeping 14th District officers occupied as well.

Atop the list are robberies, especially those of iPhones and other cell phones, known as “apple-picking.”

Fleming pointed to May 2, when four armed robberies of iPhones occurred within two hours in East Mt. Airy.

Thanks to cooperation from the victims and quick action from police, the suspect was arrested after the final incident at Washington Lane and Lowber Street in West Oak Lane.

Beyond continuing to make arrests, Fleming said he is looking to clamp down on the black market for such goods.

Burglaries remain a concern

In terms of property crimes, Fleming said that the 14th District remains one of the city’s most burglarized areas.

He said that simple steps — beware of dog signs, secured rear doors and activated burglar alarms registered with the city — can help curb the break-ins, which tend to occur during daylight hours.

For his part, Fleming said that his officers are conducting follow-up investigations to each burglary, canvassing neighbors who may have been witness to unusual activity.

A district-wide “Burglary Task Force” was also established, whose responsibility is only to answer calls for break-ins.

Keeping an eye on schools in the district

With six officers riding circuit among the 55 public, private and parochial schools in the district, maintaining a consistent presence is challenging, especially with a handful of locations requiring the most police attention.

Fleming said he is working with administrators of the more troubled schools to seek answers, with staggered dismissals being seen as one possible solution to quelling fighting and other misbehavior afterschool, when the overwhelming majority of problems occur.

“Some kids are going to fight no matter what,” said Fleming. “As a police department, our job is to document it and makes arrests where needed. It’s up to the school [district] to do whatever they have to do.”

To assist the police and schools in monitoring dismissals, Fleming promoted a “Safe Corridors” program that is being started in conjunction with the 14th District Police Clergy.

Fleming received praise from the politicians present at the meeting.

Ninth District Councilwoman Marian Tasco said she was “so pleased” with the still-new captain, noting that he made the call to hold Wednesday’s meeting.

“The police really work with us on so many issues,” said Tasco.

Sgt. Tim Becker, a 10-year veteran of the district, affirmed the connection between a community and its police department, telling the crowd that they were “the most valuable tool out there.”

“With you and us,” Becker said, “the bad guys don’t have a prayer.”

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