Robbery spree prompts upstart neighborhood-watch group in East Mt. Airy

 At Monday night's meeting, Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass pledged city support for upstart neighborhood-watch groups. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

At Monday night's meeting, Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass pledged city support for upstart neighborhood-watch groups. (Matthew Grady/for NewsWorks)

Blocks away from the central point in a series of robberies, public officials and Mt. Airy residents considered several strategies on Monday night to discourage similar episodes in their community.

As reported by NewsWorks, police arrested 33-year-old Gary Corbett of the 7300 block of Devon St. in connection to five separate incidents that occurred between Oct. 2 and 16.

Charged with five counts of each of robbery, terroristic threats, theft, receiving stolen property, simple assault and reckless endangerment, Corbett is currently being held at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on $25,000 bail. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16.

Discussing police reaction

Capt. John Fleming, commanding officer of the 14th Police District, told a standing room-only crowd at Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church that he and his staff acted quickly to identify the potential robbery pattern based on typical crime trends.

“When you see a robbery on a certain point on a map,” said Fleming, “you know something is up.”

Tasked with overseeing the search for the culprit, Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum told residents that he noticed that the perpetrator was operating every other night. From there, additional patrol resources were assigned to the area, saturating both sides of SEPTA Chestnut Hill East regional rail line.

Though a female decoy officer disguised as a potential victim was placed in the vicinity, the suspect managed to elude police for several days. The robber even escaped a resident, armed with a bat, who gave chase after one of the incidents.

On the night of the final robbery in the pattern, a pair of plainclothes officers observed Corbett dropping off a child at an apartment.

Shortly thereafter, a call came over police radio for a woman screaming on the 7400 block of Boyer St. Corbett’s car was once again observed, and he was followed and arrested in the area of Chestnut Hill Hospital.

He ultimately confessed to detectives, who performed search warrants on his car and the apartment that he shared with his girlfriend only blocks away from the incidents, police said.

“He lived right under your noses,” said Fleming. “He lived right here.”

Good from the bad

Despite Corbett having acted alone and currently being in custody, residents are using the incidents as an opportunity to organize a new town-watch group in East Mt. Airy. They are also proposing a volunteer service to escort residents to and from neighborhood train stations.

Eighth District Councilwoman Cindy Bass pledged city participation, suggesting an analysis of lighting in the area — especially near the train station — along with city activity grants to support any emergent neighborhood watch groups.

In terms of policing, Fleming fielded several pleas for the return of dedicated bike patrols in the Mt. Airy business district.

He made no definitive commitments, but said that he and his officers can be “very responsive, very quickly, to any area” in the district.

Speaking up

Lori Dumas, a neighborhood resident and Court of Common Pleas judge, reminded residents about another key function they play: As witnesses in court cases.

“We can’t stop the crime if we don’t have the opportunity to find these people guilty and penalize them appropriately,” she said.

Vince Regan, newly-appointed chief of the Northwest Bureau for the District Attorney’s Office, seconded Dumas’ plea.

He asked for residents to participate in Corbett’s eventual trial and sentencing by attesting to the impact his alleged acts had on the neighborhood.

“A community that gets involved, that looks out for each other, that’s willing to step up for each other, really does make a difference,” said Regan. “That word gets out.”

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