A little tip from Philly cops: Don’t announce your vacation plans on Facebook or Twitter

Watch out how much you share on Facebook and Twitter says one Philadelphia Police captain. That was the message given last night to residents of the affluent neighborhood of Chestnut Hill.

A recent rash of home burglaries in around the neighborhood led to a packed community meeting inside a school auditorium.

“We want to bring the attention that’s needed to crime and safety,” said Christopher Padova with the Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA), which helped organize the crime summit held at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.

Now that summer is here Philadelphia 14th District Police Captain Joel Dales warned residents that posting their plans on any form of social media could unexpectedly tip-off web-savvy criminals about when to strike.

“Please don’t announce on Facebook, Twitter, that you’re going on vacation,” said Dales, who led the vast majority of the meeting. “Don’t do it.”

Recent crimes in Chestnut Hill

According to police, there were 14 residential burglaries in either Police Service Area 3 or 4 of the 14th Police District between June 5 and June 18. The subsections of the expansive district roughly cover Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy.

Those statistics appeared to put more than a few of the 90-plus attendees on edge. By a show of hands, about a quarter of them had been personally victimized at some point during their time in the neighborhood.

Big picture-wise, Dales told neighbors that getting in the habit of reporting suspicious behavior to police can help tremendously. On the individual level, being vigilant about locking doors, windows, even securing air conditioners and lawn chairs, can go a long way.

While there were no gripes about Dales’ advice, a few neighbors raised concerns about response times and police presence in the neighborhood.

Dales firmly disagreed with the latter. He told residents that Chestnut Hill, in particular, gets a lot of individualized attention from police, including regularly assigned patrol cars, bike cops and, most recently, undercover officers.

“Don’t think that they’re all at the other end of the 14th,” he said.

The vast majority of Germantown and parts of West Oak Lane are also part of the district.

Understanding how police are deployed

As a means of illustrating the elements that contribute to police response times, Dales launched into an activity with audience volunteers.

Each of the six residents represented a patrol car. Each were given a different incident to respond to – a domestic disturbance, a shooting and an unleashed dog, among them.

As he orchestrated the mock police shift, he gave attendees a glimpse of the chaos that can unfold on any given day. He also broke down the factors – number of officers needed, severity of the crime and processing time – that can contribute to response times.

A burglary in process, for example, is more pressing that a reported burglary.

“Officers are responding to jobs all day long,” said Dales.

Captain Winton Singletary, who heads the Northwest Detective Division, added that processing criminals after they’re arrested remains one of the slowest parts of the process. That, in turn, can lead to longer wait times on any given night of the week.

“Right now it’s still paper intensive,” said Singletary, who headed the 14th District for several years before Dales.

Assistant District Attorney Debra Nash, who leads the office’s Northwest Sector, and the neighborhood’s bike patrol officers were also on hand.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, a Mt. Airy resident, and Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass were invited to the summit, but did not attend.

After the meeting, though, residents NewsWorks spoke with appeared pleased with the response from Dales and others to the community’s concerns.

“Considering how large the 14th is, they’re doing a good job for us,” said Tolis Vardakis, who has lived in Chestnut Hill for nearly twenty years.

Said Gayle Davidson, who recently moved back to the area after a stint in Massachusetts: “It wasn’t just sit there and listen. I saw [Dales] really hear. Everyone really listened.”

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