Philadelphia police Capt. Len Ditchkofsky spent a mere nine months with his department’s special victims unit. But that relatively brief assignment more than a decade ago represents much of what his 30-plus-year career has been about.
The terms “investigation,” “diligence” and “integrity” are apt descriptions.
On Feb. 10, Ditchkofsky became the Northeast’s newest patrol commander as head of the 8th Police District. He replaces Capt. Deborah Kelly, who retired after 32 years in the police department.
But back in late 1999 and early 2000, his job was to review thousands of years-old SVU cases, many of which had been misclassified by initial investigators.
That is, then-Commissioner John Timoney suspected that SVU or “sex crimes” detectives, working under a prior administration, had downgraded or dropped many reported rape cases, likely to artificially decrease the city’s crime rates, which are reported to the FBI annually.
The Philadelphia Inquirer exposed this statistical manipulation in a series of articles published around the same time.
Ditchkofsky and his team found more than 300 rapes in the previous five years that had been recorded as lesser crimes or not at all, in addition to hundreds of other cases that had been downgraded. The investigators looked as far back as 1995 because statutes of limitation would have expired on earlier cases.
“It was me, a sergeant and four brand-new detectives,” Ditchkofsky said. “We arrested everybody we could and reclassified jobs. It was in the thousands.
“Number one, it was for the victims’ sake. It was [about] fixing those jobs.”
By August 2000, the task was done and Ditchkofsky was reassigned to command East Detectives, a post he held for the next nine and a half years.
Ditchkofsky, 53, a Kensington native and 1976 North Catholic graduate, was hired on Sept. 16, 1981. After completing his Police Academy recruit training, he served in North Philadelphia’s 22nd district.
“One of my lieutenants, Bobby MacNeal, his father was my first captain in the 22nd district,” Ditchkofsky said. “I spent most of my time as a [patrol] cop in plain clothes on burglary detail.
“I was an active [patrol] cop. I liked locking people up. My partner most of the time was John Darby. He’s the godfather to one of my kids.”
Darby now has one of the highest-profile jobs in the police department as captain of the SVU.
In February 1989, Ditchkofsky left the 22nd to become a sergeant in the East Division’s 25th district. Fourteen months later, he moved to North Central Detectives, where he became special investigations unit supervisor.
Ditchkofsky returned to the 25th as a lieutenant in December 1994, then to the 9th in Center City upon his August 1997 promotion to captain.
Three years later, he moved to SVU, then East Detectives. In early 2010, he moved to the major crimes division as commander.
The 8th district may be his final stop in the department. He is scheduled to retire in three years as an enrollee of the city’s DROP program. Despite spending most of his career doing investigative work, Ditchkofsky is well-versed on effective patrol strategies.
“Attitude is everything. They keep coming up with new technology to solve crime, but the truth is you have to talk to people. You have to be aggressive, chase [suspects] and you have to know people in the neighborhood. You have to know where you work,” he said.
Ditchkofsky favors highly visible uniformed patrol as a deterrent to some of the district’s biggest problems. Burglaries are on the rise in the district and the city as a whole.
“Property crime, burglaries: that’s our biggest problem right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who aren’t home during the day. They’re out working or going to school every day. It’s a target-rich environment. There’s a lot up here.”
There’s a lot of territory to cover. too.
“It’s big up here, really big. That’s the big difference,” he said. “You have to know where the crime is. … You need more visibility. Cops have got to get out of the car and look around.”
Ditchkofsky is no stranger to the Northeast, however. He lives in a neighboring police district. Now single, he has four adult children.
“I can have an impact on my own neighborhood,” he said. “I want to make a difference here.” ••
Community members will have a chance to meet Ditchkofsky in person on Sunday, March 18, at the annual George Biles Memorial Officer of the Year dinner at Cannstatter’s, 9130 Academy Road.
The event runs from 3 to 7 p.m. The $25 ticket price includes buffet, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and dessert. Call Officer Rudy Muller at 215-685-9377 for information.EndFragment