A lot of Tacony residents don’t like what’s been happening to their neighborhood in recent weeks.
On Jan. 20, at Longshore Avenue and Tulip Street, two masked gunmen shot and killed a Chinese takeout shop owner during a robbery.
On Jan. 6, three robbers invaded a home on Hegerman Street near Hellerman Street, threatened four adult occupants at gunpoint and stole between $5,000 and $7,000 cash from them. Then they grabbed one of the victims, a 44-year-old man, drove him to a nearby convenience store where he works and forced him to surrender another $8,000 or $9,000 to them.
During a Town Hall meeting led by 15th Police District Capt. Frank Bachmayer at Disston Recreation Center on Feb. 1, residents vented about those two disturbing crimes as well as what they described as routine incidents of gunfire in the neighborhood.
They also complained about the hookers on Torresdale Avenue.
The Tacony Civic Association hosted the meeting.
“We’ve seen in the last few years, especially the last ten years, our neighborhood is going down,” said Joe Nicoletti, president of the Tacony Town Watch.
Nicoletti asked the 50 or so residents in attendance to volunteer for his organization and help revive the neighborhood.
“This is our neighborhood. I grew up here and I don’t want to leave,” Nicoletti said.
Tacony includes the area bounded by Frankford Avenue to the west, Robbins Avenue to the south, Cottman Avenue to the north and the Delaware River to the east. The larger 15th district also includes the neighborhoods of Holmesburg, Mayfair, Wissinoming, Northwood, Frankford and Bridesburg.
Milt Martelack, president of the newly reformed Mayfair Town Watch, piggybacked Nicoletti’s message.
“Everybody’s starving for resources now. [But] we’re the resources sitting right here in this room,” Martelack said. “A lot of stuff, as a community, we can control.”
Bachmayer acknowledged that violent and property crime is trending in the opposite direction from what neighbors want to see.
His district is the largest in the city by population and volume of 911 calls. It’s also one of the largest geographically.
In 2010, there were 72 fewer robberies reported in the district than there were in 2009. And in 2011, there were 40 fewer robberies than there were in 2010. Yet, the district still leads the city in gunpoint robberies and all other types of robberies.
“Robberies as you know can lead to shootings and can lead to homicides,” Bachmayer said.
More recently, there were 41 robberies reported during the last week of December and first week of January, followed by 29 more in the second and third weeks of January.
None of those 29 occurred in Tacony. Yet, violence resurfaced shortly after that period in the form of the Jan. 20 takeout shop shooting.
“Robberies are extremely sensitive to us because we saw what happened at 4800 Longshore,” Bachmayer said.
No suspects have been named publicly in the case, but homicide detectives feel “confident” that an arrest is imminent, Bachmayer said. Meanwhile, the bandits in the Jan. 6 home invasion robbery and kidnapping remain at large.
The captain advised residents that avoiding escalation should be their first priority when confronted with a robbery.
“Two things are very important,” he said. “Firstly, do what the perpetrator says. Give him what he wants. Don’t be a hero. But get an age and a description [of the robber] and call 911 [afterward]. And secondly, follow up with it through the court system.”
One man complained that the news media seem to pay more attention to crimes in Center City than in Tacony. For example, by his assessment, television news programs reported for several days last month about a fatal beating that occurred on Chestnut Street. Yet, the Longshore takeout murder seemed forgotten a day later.
“It’s like [they’re saying] Tacony is already gone,” the man said.
Bachmayer noted that homicide detectives might seek additional publicity in some cases when the coverage might result in needed investigative leads.
Residents of other areas in the district also contributed to the meeting dialogue. One man lives near Bridge and Hawthorne streets in Frankford and he’s worried.
“I [live] around the corner and hear shots all the time,” the man said.
Bachmayer reported that he’s been assigning additional patrols, including foot and bicycle units, to that area to combat violence.
Districtwide, burglaries are also on the rise, just as they are throughout the Northeast and the city as a whole. In 2011, burglaries were up 20 percent from 2010 in the district. A large portion of those crimes involved vacant properties in which the crooks went in looking for copper pipes and other metal to sell as scrap. Police have been trying to work with area scrap metal dealers to identify lawbreakers.
Bachmayer advised residents that if someone breaks into the house, don’t clean up before police arrive. Leave everything as you found it so officers may be able to get fingerprints and other evidence from the scene.
Back in Tacony, one woman reported that the area of Unruh and Knorr streets is a problem.
“That pocket, it’s bad,” she said.
Bachmayer was aware of one drug-related shooting at Unruh and Ditman streets a “couple months ago,” followed two nights later by a related shooting nearby. Police arrested two suspects after the latter incident.
Another woman pleaded for help getting rid of the Torresdale Avenue hookers, particularly in the Knorr Street area. When neighbors call 911, patrol officers might show up and shuffle the street-walkers off the corners, but they always seem to return.
Bachmayer explained that patrol officers need probable cause to arrest the women of the night, and that’s tough to establish because of the nature of their business.
However, the 15th district officers who patrol the area know the usual offenders.
“We do our best to move them along as orderly as we can,” the captain said.
He encouraged residents to take their own stand against the hookers, simply by becoming a visible presence in their neighborhood.
“The way you’re going to end prostitution is by taking back your community,” Bachmayer said. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org