Local police are seeking the public’s help to combat a wave of car break-ins that have plagued large sections of Northwest Philadelphia.
Since June 1, several dozen thefts from vehicles have taken place across the 14th Police District, which stretches from southwest Germantown to Chestnut Hill.
While property crimes have been on a downward trend locally year-to-date, this represents a statistical jump of more than 100 percent compared to the previous period which ran from mid-April to the end of May.
Green means stolen
With one click of the mouse, an electronic map on Capt. John Fleming’s desktop-computer screen comes alive with little green dots; each represents a car break-in.
While they are concentrated in one section of Germantown, another click of the mouse reveals that it became a problem across the vast 14th District.
At present, an area bordered by Johnson Street and Chelten Avenue and Wissahickon to Germantown avenues bears the largest amount.
This area typically bears the brunt of monthly break-ins, but since the beginning of June, the thefts have spread out to encompass the entire district.
Three of the 14th District’s four Police Service Areas have seen more than 20 break-ins since June 1. The remaining PSA, which covers Chestnut Hill and Cedarbrook, has seen more than a dozen in the same time period.
Fleming said that beyond geographical features, the lone observable pattern is that break-in reports tend to arrive in the morning, suggesting that the thefts occur in the overnight to early morning hours.
Not just the 14th District
The neighboring 39th District saw a rash of vehicle break-ins as well, all of them close to the southwest Germantown border in East Falls.
In one 30-hour period from June 29 to July 1, at least nine cars were broken into, primarily in the area of the 5400 block of Wissahickon Ave. between School House Lane and Midvale Ave. Wallets and electronics — including always-popular GPS units — were among the most taken items.
It remains to be seen whether there is a connection between these incidents and ongoing break-ins along Kelly Drive, where thieves are known to target joggers who park their car in lots before using the river trail, police said.
The interior of East Falls has been largely spared, with only a handful of occurrences in previous weeks.
While Captain Michael Craighead of the 39th District wasn’t immediately available for comment, Fleming said they have been working together to combat these crimes.
Amidst the round dots on Fleming’s computer screen are a handful of similarly-colored triangles that represent theft from vehicle arrests. They’re greatly outnumbered.
To level the field, Fleming is redeploying some officers and making some adjustments to the scheduling of his supervisory staff.
Officers assigned to patrol are being encouraged to perform on-street investigations, known as “ped stops,” of suspicious pedestrians.
Police are also combing recent prison-release records for repeat offenders who may be back on the streets plying their trade.
The public can also play a role in helping to quell these crimes.
The easiest, but most commonly overlooked, step in preventing breaks-ins is removing any valuables from cars and keeping doors locked.
While Fleming acknowledged the temptation to leave open one’s car windows in the summer, just the tiniest gap presents enough opportunity for would-be thief to gain entry.
Fleming asked that any victims of car break-ins report the crime immediately to afford police the opportunity to catch any suspects and allow the processing of the vehicle by police.
He noted that victims will often get their window fixed and then report the crime, which hampers investigators’ abilities to solve the case.
Fleming said that the public should never hesitate when it comes to reporting crimes, as police deployment is heavily influenced by crime statistics.
“Theft from auto is a slap in the face to the working person,” said Fleming. “It’s a very demoralizing thing.”