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December 17, 2009

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Pattern seen in burglaries at Chestnut Hill Village

Philadelphia Police have found a pattern in a string of burglaries that started at Chestnut Hill Village in late October, according to Det. Justin Frank, but no suspects have been linked to the crimes yet.

Four of the five burglaries in the pattern showed signs of forced entry, Frank said, and the theft of TVs and other home-entertainment equipment was common to all five. A sixth burglary, which occurred on Nov. 16, may also be part of the pattern, Frank said.

Because the case is still under investigation, Frank could provide only limited information, but he was permitted to say that latent fingerprints turned up at two of the crime scenes.

The first set of prints came back negative. The police department’s Special Investigations Unit was examining the second set when the Local went to press.

The most recent burglary, committed Dec. 11, was the 16th crime to occur at the luxury apartment complex since May, when in a 15-day span, four cars were burglarized and a tire was stolen from a fifth.

In a Dec. 7 letter, interim manager Ian Douglas told residents that their “safety and well being [are] our top priorities,” but did not say whether management would shore up security at the complex.

“Our hope is that by sharing this information, and some crime prevention and safety tips from local law enforcement officials, we can all do our part to keep our community safe,” Douglas wrote.

Cindy Duffy, a spokeswoman for AIMCO, the village’s parent company, said that the village does not have paid security guards, but “we have security cameras onsite and our staff members are doing extra checks of the building each day.”

Still, critics contend that village management is doing little to honor its security pledge.

“I’m basically one of the only security guys over at Chestnut Hill Village,” said Tom Keenan, an off-campus housing advisor with the Erdenheim-based Antonelli Institute of Art and Photography. “I do more security than they do.”

Seventy Antonelli students are leasing apartments at the village, according to Keenan, but none of their apartments were burglarized.

All but one of the burglaries have occurred in the Devon building, according to Keenan, and none of his students live in that building. But many of the students will head home for the holidays soon, exposing their apartments to increased risk of burglary.

Keenan said he was urging his students to take anything of value home with them and “be more aware of their surroundings” when they return. He and a colleague will be watching over the apartments while they’re gone, but the situation still concerns Keenan because security has been a cyclical problem at the village.

“I’ve seen this before,” Keenan said. “When it has happened in the past, the people would keep it up and eventually get caught.”

But catching burglars is, of course, more difficult when the burglars know how to exploit holes in the security system.

It seems to Keenan that the burglars in this case have been able to do that because they are most likely residents or friends of residents. They have been breaking into apartments when few people are around the complex, and they have left few clues for police so far.

“Certainly when someone is able to push in door after door there is a problem,” said Dick Martin, director of the Chestnut Hill Town Watch.

Martin said he has been trying to organize Chestnut Hill Village residents to participate in town watch for 25 years, but it has been much more difficult to get apartment tenants to watch out for one another than home owners, who tend to be more invested in the community.

The Chestnut Hill Village tenants association has provided an internal check on management since it organized in April, but its future is uncertain in the wake of association president Thomas Lind’s resignation last month. The safety of the complex, then, is mostly up to management and the authorities.

“Our top priority is to keep our residents safe and we are doing due diligence and working with residents and police to maintain a secure environment,” Duffy said.




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