On the police beat with Lt. Edward Bier of the 39th District

For the second time of the evening shift, Lt. Edward Bier insists that he’s seated front-row for “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

To emphasize this point, he takes his right hand off of the Diet Coke in the cup holder of the department-issued Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and gestures laterally with his thumb and first finger, suggesting a marquee.

It’s about 6:30 p.m., and he’s returning to his office in the 39th Police District to complete some paperwork in anticipation of a busy Saturday evening, which it will soon become.

Among old friends and select superior officers, Bier is known as “Christopher Walken,” a nod to the ashen features and ocular intensity that he shares with the actor. The likeness ends there, however – physically, Bier is a formidable presence. By appearances, he shares a collegial rapport with his subordinates, who refer to him phonetically as “L.T.”

Returning to the street, Bier resumes patrol, answering a call – known as a “job” – to a building on Hunting Park Ave. for a reported burglary. Nothing found, he is driving back to HQ one more time when the SUV’s dispatch laptop and his radio begin beeping and blaring with the report of a person screaming on Bowman St.

“Hey – East Falls,” he notes, in reference to Newsworks’ coverage area. When the second confirming report comes in, he hits the lights and sirens and heads to the hillside neighborhood.

“It’s a job,” he says.

Family and friends on the force 

The first time Bier mentioned “The Greatest Show on Earth” was shortly before his 4 p.m. roll call at the 39th District’s Headquarters.

With his sizable hands holding the shift’s first Diet Coke, Bier mentions that this month – April 20 to be precise – is the 25th anniversary of his tenure in the Philadelphia Police Department.

Originally from West Philadelphia, Bier comes from a long lineage of police. Both grandfathers wore the badge, as does his wife Stacey, who works in the PPD’s Gun Permits Unit. “She’s the love of my life,” he mentions – twice. His wife’s brother Ed Pisarek is also a police officer, assigned to the 35th District.

His uncle, Daniel Bier, was an officer in the Cambridge, MD Police Dept., who was killed in the line of duty in 1953.

Bier – who would only say that his age was “north of fifty” – spent several years in an engineering firm before joining the PPD in 1987, where his first assignment was in the 35th District, headquartered on N. Broad St.

While assigned to the 35th, two of Bier’s colleagues in the district’s “Five Squad” – a unit assigned at the district Captain’s discretion – were shot in the line of duty.

Officer Robert Hayes died of his injuries. Officer John Marynowitz survived, but was permanently disabled as a result of the shooting. The assailant, Bortella Philisten, was subsequently convicted and remains on death row.

“It was a horrific night,” said Bier, who was detailed to another assignment that evening.

A career decision with family in mind 

It’s been said that there are two routes for ambitious cops – that of the detective, or that of “boss.”

Bier chose the latter, citing that managerial experience garnered during his pre-police days guided his decision. In addition, he remembered Marynowitz and Hayes – and thought about the security of his own family.

“I was tired of the run-and-gun stuff,” he recalled. “I couldn’t be Superman anymore.”

Bier made sergeant in 1996, and was promoted to lieutenant in 2010. That year he was assigned to the 39th District, which covers East Falls and sections of Germantown and North Philadelphia.

Since arriving, he’s earned high marks from both commanding officers and the community.

Captain Stephen Glenn was Bier’s supervisor through 2011. “Lt. Bier leads by example,” said Glenn, adding that Bier assumes “ownership” of PSA-1, a sector of the 39th District which Bier is tasked with overseeing.

In this capacity, Bier sheds his black bulletproof vest once a month and meets with the community to address their concerns.

“He’s a convergent thinker,” says Mary Jane Fullam, president of East Falls Town Watch, in reference to Bier’s monthly presentation of crime statistics. She added that he is professional yet accessible, and is responsive to civic needs, be they for quality of life matters or for crime.

The pursuit 

Responding to the job, Bier maneuvers the SUV at high speeds driving northbound on Henry Ave. Talking ceases – from here on, he’s all business. When he reaches Bowman Street, he makes a hard left and races down the two blocks to the reported address, a home on the 3400 block.

When he arrives on scene, 39th District personnel are interviewing residents and conducting searches of the ground for evidence. Bier gets out, and receives a quick briefing from his officers on what happened.

According to subsequent police reports, at approximately 8 p.m., a 61-year-old resident of Bowman St. was returning home. While attempting to open his door, the resident was grabbed by two juvenile males wearing hooded sweatshirts, who hit the man and attempted to take his wallet.

Told the suspects were last seen heading in the direction of Henry Ave, Bier gets back into the SUV. Intent on pursuit, he’s stopped by an interloper from the neighborhood who attempts to detain him with irrelevant stories.

“I don’t have time for that now,” he responds sharply, the only point in the entire evening where his demeanor changes.

A key tip 

Interlopers dispatched, Bier pulls away from the scene and makes a right turn on Conrad St. When he reaches the intersection of Queen Lane, the driver of a Ford Explorer beeps his horn and flashes his lights at Bier, bringing the Tahoe to a halt.

“I chased them down,” the driver shouts, and relates that he pursued the two suspects down nearby Indian Queen Lane. They eluded him, and the driver was forced to continue down one-way Indian Queen Ln. and loop back around.

“Do me a favor,” Bier tells the pursuer. “Go back to Bowman, and tell the officers there.”

Radioing in the report, Bier makes a hard U-turn and heads in the direction of Indian Queen, hot on the heels of the 39th District’s prisoner transportation van – the wagon – which is also responding to the tip.

Passing Krail St., neither Bier nor the officers in the wagon spot anything, and continue their pursuit.

Passing Haywood St., the wagon speeds downhill toward Ridge Ave. Bier follows, but noticing something out of the corner of his eye, stops the SUV, and throws it into a hard reverse.

There, walking among parked cars, are two young males – both of whom are wearing hoods.

Popping the two young males with the SUV’s spotlight, Bier exits and tells them, “Hold up, boys.”

The crime scene and escape route 

With the suspects detained and awaiting identification by witnesses and the victim, an opportunity is presented to consider how the young men were stopped so close to the crime scene, despite almost twenty minutes for escape.

From the Bowman St. crime scene, Indian Queen Ln. is a natural choice for egress, as it affords some degree of concealment. However, if one were to turn left on Krail St. from Indian Queen Ln. in an effort to elude pursuers, you would be stunted by the fact that Krail dead-ends at Rt.1. The only remaining option is to turn right onto Haywood St., which deposits you back on Indian Queen Lane, exactly one block south of Krail – and exactly where Bier spotted them.

An ambulance arrives, in which the victim was being treated for a large gash in his head, a wound that would eventually require six staples at Temple University Hospital, according to Officer Christine O’Brien from PPD Media Affairs.

Amid the hum of motors and the scattershot beams of police spotlights, a 39th District officer leads a handcuffed suspect back to the ambulance for identification by the victim. A moment passes, and the suspect is led into the wagon.

Bier then walks over to his idling SUV. With a subdued expression recalling Christopher Walken, he sticks his thumb up and says, understatedly, “Positive I.D.”

‘The right place at the right time’

After a round of congratulatory exchanges among the police officers present, Bier gets back in the SUV and drives away, leaving behind the officers who must transport the suspects and process paperwork.

“Well, we did something tonight,” he says, admitting their fortune in both finding the suspects and having identifications made on the spot. “The right place at the right time,” he muses, and adds that the police were aided by the suspects’ unfamiliarity with the area – and that they didn’t run when found.

Asked whether or not he’s experienced similar acts of intervention by neighbors, Bier is hard pressed to recall. “Not often,” he replies, but uses the occasion to reinforce a message he consistently voices at PSA meetings.

“The people living out there are the eyes and ears of the police,” he observes. “We want them to get involved – just not directly involved.”

After a quick stop back at HQ, Bier gets back in the SUV to resume patrol and cracks open the third Diet Coke of the night. Shortly after 9 p.m., there are a few jobs pending, but nothing demanding close supervisory attention.

With the shift drawing to a close, Bier has an opportunity to reflect on the night – and, once again, The Greatest Show on Earth.

“I like it busy,” he says. “The time goes by faster.”

“Ask any cop,” he concludes, “they’ll tell you the same thing.”

The names of the suspects, both juveniles, were not released. According to the Philadelphia Police Department, preliminary hearings were held, and the suspects face charges for simple and aggravated assault, as well as attempted robbery and reckless endangerment.

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