South Siders critical of police response to neighborhood crime
December 22, 2008
For the first time in recent years, the monthly Zone 3 Public Safety meeting was held in the South Side Flats, just a few blocks from the zone's police station that is moving its headquarters to the hilltop in Allentown in April.
While there were residents at the public safety meeting from hilltop communities including Carrick, Mount Oliver city, Arlington and Allentown, a portion of the Zone 3 meeting turned into a South Side focus. Several residents of the South Side Flats expressed their strong displeasure and total frustration over what they believe to be a blatant lack of commitment by the Zone 3 staff.
These sentiments were expressed by quite a few South Side residents at the Dec. 17 meeting at the Brashear Center, located at 2005 Sarah Street. Crime Prevention Officer Christine Luffey took the brunt of the complaints as the Zone 3 representative at the meeting because Commander Catherine McNeilly was not able to attend due to a prior commitment.
At the meeting there were several examples of residents, victimized by crime, who provided the police with details on how to solve these crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.
In each case, these residents say the police have done nothing to catch the alleged criminals despite having information provided by the victims.
For example, a long-time resident said her business in the South Side Works was victimized by $3,000 worth of retail theft (shop lifting) six months ago. The woman said she has told police that she has the names and addresses of at least two of the three women who stole expensive merchandise from her business.
She said she has been able to determine who the thieves are because of a surveillance camera system. Through a costly digital enhancement process, the business owner said she was able to obtain clear photos of the thieves and post them at the entrance to her business, detailing what the thieves did. The business owner said several people stepped forward and identified the thieves in the photos, providing both names and addresses.
The woman said that she has provided the Zone 3 police with more-than-adequate information on the theft, but thus far, the police have done nothing to apprehend the shoplifters.
In another complaint at the meeting, a woman noted that her car, among several other vehicles, was broken into overnight a few weeks ago with several valuable items and personal belongings stolen. This included a credit card that was used at 5 a.m. that day by the thief at an area convenience store/gas station. The store was able to provide the woman victimized by the crime with a photo and information on the car that illegally used her credit card but says the police have done nothing to follow up on the case to bring the thief to justice.
In yet another case, a young couple said that they were returning to their house at about 2 a.m. after a night out socializing with friends when they witnessed three men trying to break into the front entrance of their home.
The husband called 911 three times and it took about 30 minutes for the police to arrive at his house which is within walking distance of the Zone 3 station. Only one officer showed up at the scene having walked to the house. The man, whose house was almost broken into, said he is not even sure if the police took a report.
Officer Luffey said that since the man called 911 while a crime was in progress, his call should have been given the highest priority and the police should have immediately responded to the call.
“I don't like this and Commander McNeilly would not like this,” Officer Luffey said. “I took this job to make a difference. This type of response is not acceptable.”
Officer Luffey said she would “pull the documented files” on each case that was brought to her attention at the meeting to find out why more appropriate action was not taken.
Other residents there complained about the attitude of the police officers and the 911 operators who act like they don't care about crime victim's problems and sometimes tell the victims that they should just accept what happens because they live in a busy, high-crime area.
Councilman Bruce Kraus was at the meeting and only spoke briefly, noting he did not want to infringe or interfere with Officer Luffey's dealings with the residents.
“It's your meeting,” he said.
However, Mr. Kraus did say that if a 911dispatcher or police officer responds to a call in an inappropriate or unprofessional manner, the resident should insist on getting that city employees' full name and in the case of a police officer, their badge number.
Mr. Kraus said crime victims should insist on a police officer taking a crime report even if that policeman is reluctant to do so.
The councilman said he recently met with Police Chief Nate Harper during 2009 budget meetings and he said the chief noted that “our officers are report takers. That is what they are expected to do.”
Many of the residents said they have had to take their problems to Mr. Kraus who has had a sympathetic ear for them. However, despite the councilman's position with the city, there have been few tangible results from the police doing their job despite the efforts by residents to help solve these crimes.
Councilman Kraus told the residents not to get discouraged and to continue to call 911 when the need arises.
“911 is the correct response,” he said.