Northwest Philly residents, police grapple with wave of car break-ins

 Automobile break-ins have long been a scourge of residents and police across Northwest Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

Automobile break-ins have long been a scourge of residents and police across Northwest Philadelphia. (Brad Larrison/for NewsWorks)

During the past month, at least 20 to 30 cars have been broken into throughout West Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, prompting police to remind residents to take common-sense steps to avoid being victimized.

Officers within the 14th District’s police-service areas covering those neighborhoods caution that the wave of automobile break-ins could be more extensive since property crimes are traditionally underreported.

“The thefts are spread district-wide,” said Sharrod Davis, the 14th District’s community relations officer. “This tells us that it is not the same person or group of people committing the crimes. These are crimes of opportunity, with the chance to make a quick score being presented, and someone taking it.”

From the reports

The break-ins have occurred primarily between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. Most of the vehicles have either been left unlocked or had items of value left inside in a place visible from the outside.

These characteristics tell police that youths or transients are probably responsible for most of the incidents.

However, investigators also believe the upcoming holidays may be a contributing factor to the recent spike. A particularly stressful time of year when families are desperate for money, people could be seeking items that can be pawned for quick cash.

“The problem is getting worse,” said Officer Nick Teas of PSA 4. “We’ve seen a sharp increase in incidents in these areas. One would think that the incidence of these types of crimes would decrease at this time of year, but this is not the case right now.”

Teas said break-ins offer a “low-risk, clear-rewards” dynamic when items are left out in unattended vehicles.

“It is much easier than breaking into a home,” he said. “If people don’t take the appropriate precautions, there is no way to completely prevent property crimes of this sort.”

The response

Police have increased the number of patrols in the PSAs reporting increased thefts.

Nevertheless, Lt. Scott DiDonato stressed that neighborhood vigilance plays an important role in crime prevention.

“Our residents should feel free to pick up the phone if they see suspicious activity near their homes,” DiDonato told NewsWorks. “Let us know what is going on so we can let officers do their job.”

He emphasized the importance of reporting property crimes. Each police district uses the information presented in the course of reporting crimes to determine the best way it can allocate its resources.

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