Capt. John Fleming talks to residents at the Community Crime Meeting held on Nov. 12 at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy in Chestnut Hill. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Capt. John Fleming talks to residents at the Community Crime Meeting held on Nov. 12 at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy in Chestnut Hill. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

It’s been almost a year since Capt. John Fleming, a 17-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police department replaced Capt. Joel Dales as head of the 14th Police District. Fleming met with Chestnut Hill residents on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy to discuss changes he has made in the precinct in that time.

The meeting was organized by the Chestnut Hill Community Association.

But while burglaries are down in Chestnut Hill since Fleming took over, he warned resident that he doesn’t “expect that to happen forever.”

One of the most noticeable changes Fleming made in preventing crime in Chestnut Hill, he said, was assigning officers Thomas Seymour, Kimberli Harris and Robert Mahan to address burglaries in the area.

Fleming said one of the challenges of the 14th district, which covers Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, and parts of Germantown and West Oak Lane is that it’s one of the largest and the most diverse districts in the city.

Fleming said it’s the only district where you will find people living below the poverty level on one end and millionaires on the other end.

Fleming told a group of about 50 residents that he personally visits every burglary scene. He commented that he believes its one of the reasons he and his officers are able to quickly identify any crime patterns in the neighborhood.

“If I see any kind of spike anywhere, we can get up there pretty quickly,” Fleming said.

He urged residents to be proactive about preventing crime in their neighborhood. Fleming said in a large percentage of burglaries, owners leave their house and never activate their alarms.

Another key component of his crime fighting strategy was to enlist the help of Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum, who was in charge of the burglary task force in the Far Northeast.

Rosenbaum said thieves have burglaries down to a science. He referenced a recent episode on 20/20 about professional burglars.

“They know they have only a minute or two to get through your house,” Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum said in almost every burglary, thieves will knock on your door. He said criminals typically pose as a solicitor or ask for some random person. He said one of the most important ways residents can help prevent burglaries is by calling 911 and reporting suspicious behavior. He said the police will investigate the situation and stop the individual and record their information.

One attendee asked if their were any regulations or ordinances against people soliciting door to door.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” Rosenbaum said.

He said currently the city doesn’t have any ordinances against going door to door.

Fleming added that very few companies go door to door anymore because “you get very little bang for your buck.”

“The bottom line is if you feel uncomfortable call 911,” Fleming said.

Eliminating market for thieves

Rosenbaum said one of the challenges the police face is cash for gold stores. He said while pawn shops

are regulated by the state, cash for gold stores are not.

“It’s almost like a legal fencing operation,” Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum said if burglars steal $50,000 worth of gold from a homeowner they can go to the cash for gold stores and get $2,000 for it – no questions asked. He said the gold is worth about $30,00 to the storeowner. He added that even if the police do find your stuff and put a hold on it – you have to buy it back from the store owner for the price he paid for it.

“Believe me, I have dealt with a couple of homeowners insurance [companies] and your agent will cut a check for $2,000 to get your jewelry back rather than pay a $50,000 claim,” Rosenbaum said. “As long as they abide by the law, there is nothing we can do.”

Tips for preventing burglaries

Seymour thanked residents for their assistance in reporting suspicious behavior. He said the police take every call seriously.

“We will always come back and talk to you so you are not guessing,” Seymour said.

He offered residents tips to help prevent burglaries in their neighborhood – always set your alarm, cut back bushes, don’t leave boxes on the curb, lock all doors and windows, leave lights on, and call the district and file a roll call claim. A roll call claim informs all three shifts that a house is going to be vacant.

He said it only takes a minute and it helps the police a lot.

Seymour suggested engaging solicitors or strangers that knock on your door from a window. He said give them some indication that someone is home and call 911.

“You don’t have to open the door and be vulnerable,” Seymour said. “Everyone has their spider sense.”

He told residents to trust their instincts and let the police be the bad guys.

Praise for the Police

Ralph Purvis, of Chestnut Hill, noted the increased police presence and praised officers Seymour, Harris and Mahan for their quick response regarding a recent incident on his block. He recalled seeing Officer Mahan’s police car before the incident and thinking “be still my beating heart.”

Purvis added he couldn’t remember ever seeing a police car drive through the neighborhood. He referred to the officers assigned to Chestnut Hill as “Philadelphia’s finest.” He thanked Capt. Fleming and his officers for the “tremendous good thinking and energy” that they are putting into making the community safer.

To get a free security audit or for more information about community crime meetings call the 14th district police at 215-686-3140.