Officials with the Philadelphia Police Department say West Mt. Airy residents had little way of knowing that a neighborhood garage was part of a crystal methamphetamine operation.
Officers with the department’s Narcotics Field Unit, who led the investigation, recently seized more than $250,000 worth of meth from 529-35 W. Sedgwick St., arresting five individuals along the way.
Police were tipped off
Afterwards, narcotics officer Lt. Robert Otto acknowledged that the “substantial” drug bust was only made possible after an outside source provided the unit with information about the distribution site.
“Had we not received that information then this guy could have gone on for years without being noticed,” said Otto.
Town Watch surprised by bust
Members of the Carpenter’s Woods Town Watch, one of Northwest Philadelphia’s most active member organizations, were unaware that there was drug activity on the block until police stepped in.
Heather Pierce, who heads the volunteer group, said neighbors saw nothing during their weekly patrols that led them to think there was an illegal drug operation inside the unmarked garage.
“You didn’t hear. You didn’t see. You didn’t smell,” said Pierce, who said she walks with her dog down that stretch of Sedgwick Street three to four times a day.
That said, the long-time resident said the organization’s members were pretty shocked to learn what was unfolding on a street they regularly patrol.
“We’re out here all the time, so for something like that to be happening right underneath our nose was a pretty big surprise to us,” she said.
Town Watch volunteers walk, bike and drive around a 50-block swatch of the quiet, residential neighborhood a couple of times each week, day and night, said Pierce.
Meth operation was hidden well
Lt. Michael Kopecki, an officer with the city’s 14th Police District, which includes Mt. Airy, said even so it would have been difficult for Town Watch to spot anything suspicious.
“The opportunity for the basic resident to try and determine something is sometimes a little difficult,” said Kopecki.
“Sometimes it just blends into the natural landscape,” he said.
Kopecki’s logic is two-fold.
The garage – a large windowless structure – wasn’t an easy property to peer into, he said.
But Kopecki also said the nature of the neighborhood itself may have helped cloak the offender’s work. Nearby residents, he said, aren’t necessarily accustomed to sniffing out drug operations, especially ones of the crystal meth variety.
“That adds a layer of protection, unsuspecting residents,” said Kopecki.
Pierce with Town Watch said she doesn’t recall there ever being any serious drug activity in the neighborhood since she’s lived there, some 40-plus years now.
But there’s a first for everything and Pierce said her band of volunteers will continue to vigilantly comb the neighborhood for suspicious behavior.
“Neighbors need to continue to really keep their eyes open, keep their eyes open and really be more diligent about knowing your neighbors,” said Pierce.