On Crime & Security
On a cool, clear late afternoon and early Friday evening, on a day when the oppressive humidity thankfully broke, I accompanied a Philadelphia Police Officer as he went out on patrol in the 6th District of Philadelphia.
As we drove through the heavy traffic, we passed a good number of sidewalk cafes filled with many people eating, drinking and taking advantage of the unusually pleasant weather. Officer Mario Rossi explained to me that the 6th District is one of the city's smallest districts, covering only 2.1 square miles, yet the Center City area is the city's chief business, up-scale residential and entertainment center.
According to the Philadelphia Police, the 6th District contains 30,000 residents crossing every ethnic and economic background. Millionaires live in proximity to the very poor. During a typical business day, the district swells to more than 250,000 people, as business people, office workers, merchants, shoppers and tourists come to Center City.
"The biggest crime in this district is theft from autos," Rossi said as we drove through the district. "People are breaking into parked cars. We see that more than anything else"
"Tourists and shoppers believe they are coming to Society Hill, Chinatown and other areas and they think that because they are in a safe neighborhood, nothing is going to happen to them," Rossi explained. "They think because there is little crime they can leave valuables in their car."
Rossi said that both homeless people and professional criminals are breaking into cars. Rossi advises people not to leave change, CDs, bags and other valuables clearly visible in your parked car. He suggests that it might also behoove business people to advise their customers not to leave valuables in their parked cars.
If a shopper or tourist returns to their car and discovers that it has been broken into, they may look in horror at the broken window and decide to never visit that business establishment again. Perhaps they will think their cars will be safer at another shopping area.
A young officer at 30, Rossi said he has been patrolling the 6th district for seven years -- nearly his entire career to date. He told me that he knows the area and the people in the district well.
"I have a good rapport with the business owners," Rossi said. "Businesses need to work closely with the police to curb crime, including quality-of-life crimes." Quality of life crimes such as drunk and disorderly, urinating in public, trespassing and graffiti are not life-threatening, yet they can irrevocably harm the reputation of a residential or business district.
In addition to theft from autos and the quality of life crimes, Rossi has responded to calls concerning robberies and retail theft during his patrols. He mentioned a recent incident where a thief walked into an antique shop and, bypassing the valuable antiques, he instead picked up a laptop on a desk and ran out the door.
"There are bad guys out here just looking for opportunities to steal and rob," Rossi said.
On this night, Rossi was twice called to local book stores due to shoplifters being caught by store security as they attempted to steal the new Harry Potter book. Rossi wrote reports on the incidents and arranged for transportation to the district for the shoplifters. As he had a reporter in the patrol car, he was unable to transport prisoners.
I noted that in the 6th District there are some key terrorist targets, such as the U.S. Mint, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Liberty Bell and Carpenter's Hall, to name but a few. This area was identified as a potential target in documents discovered in an Afghanistan cave.
"We've had terrorism training, which basically teaches officers to keep our eyes open for suspicious activity," Rossi said. "Out on patrol, we're the first line of defense in the war on terrorism."
There was a riverfront festival and free concert on the night we were out on patrol. In the crowd were a few drunk and disorderly people. Rossi responded to several calls of minor disturbances, including a call to a park where two relatively harmless homeless and intoxicated men were loudly arguing with each other.
Later in the shift, Rossi was called to a scene of a suspected residential burglary. A young couple's alarm alerted them to the back door being open. As they were frightened that someone was in their home, they called 911.
We were the first to arrive on the scene, but several other officers arrived within a minute. Six officers quickly searched the home and didn't find anything, and at that point, the wife realizes she was the one who left the back door open.
As we pulled away from the scene, Rossi said that after three false alarms, the home or business owners will be fined. If you have an alarm system, you should learn to properly use it so false alarms don't waste the police officer's valuable time and you won't have to pay the heavy fines.
Although we encountered no major crimes on this tour, it was a busy night, with Rossi responding to one call after another. I observed that Rossi was truly professional in his dealings with people, including the drunks. I came away thinking that business owners in the 6th District should be thankful they have officers of Rossi's caliber out on patrol.
The 6th District's commanding officer, Captain Brian J. Korn, also works closely with business, civic and residential associations, as well as other community groups, town watches and the District's Police Advisory Council.
Small business people should make the police their partners in curbing crime. Get to know your community relations officer and the local captain. Let them know your concerns and problems. Join local business associations and police advisory councils if they have them in your area.
By working closely with the police, you can help curb crime in your neighborhood.