Burglars broke into 51 rental units at a Public Storage facility in Somerton one night last week, but Philadelphia police Capt. Joseph Zaffino wasn’t surprised.
Since 2008, crooks have compromised the same site at 1251 Byberry Road at least three times in similar fashion, in addition to countless smaller-scale break-ins, according to Zaffino, who heads the 7th Police District. Yet each time, the captain claims, the business has declined to beef up security with surveillance cameras or reinforced fencing, despite his repeated requests.
“This is the third time I’ve had a mass hit, and I think it’s been 150 [storage] units total,” said Zaffino, who must report each burglary as a separate crime because each unit is leased separately and has its own lock.
The sudden deluge of burglary reports is wreaking havoc with the crime rate in the 7th district. Excluding storage unit break-ins, the commercial burglary rate in the district is typically six or seven for an entire month, the captain said.
But more important to Zaffino, storage facility customers should know the risks involved in leaving their valuables unattended in a locked unit and should take steps to improve their own levels of security.
The latest break-in occurred either late on Feb. 11 or early the following morning. A couple of storage unit renters showed up at 6 a.m. on Feb. 12 and saw dozens of broken padlocks lying on the asphalt. Someone had used bolt cutters to remove the locks from doors on the storage units.
Police found a hole in a chain-link fence along the east side of the five-acre complex. It appeared as if someone had driven a vehicle up to the fence via an unpaved service path accessible from Byberry Road. The path runs underneath a bridge and along railroad tracks.
The hole in the fence measured about 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, Zaffino said. Most of the busted locks were on the first row of storage units closest to the fence, while a few were on the second row. The Public Storage complex has hundreds of storage units. A site manager declined to talk to a Northeast Times reporter. A corporate-level representative for the chain, based in Glendale, Calif., did not respond to a request for comment.
The first major break-in at the Byberry Road site occurred about four years ago followed by another a couple of years later, Zaffino said.
In response to the latest set of cases, cops from the 7th district wrote up dozens of incident reports, leaving the spot for victims’ names and stolen property blank. They initially identified 27 victims by name and attempted to contact them. As of Tuesday, about 12 victims had responded and filed formal complaints, although most did not itemize any loss of property.
Police detectives are conducting the follow up investigation. According to Lt. Michael Gormley of Northeast Detectives, two smaller-scale break-ins occurred in the Northeast in the days prior to the Feb. 11-12 incident.
On Feb. 5, a witness reported seeing a man break into a single storage unit at the 1251 Byberry Road facility and remove a TV, coffee table and golf clubs. Investigators have not identified a suspect by name.
On Feb. 7, witnesses discovered that a single storage unit had been burglarized at another Public Storage site, 2700 Grant Ave., in the 8th Police District. The victim reported that a mirror had been taken. The case remains unsolved.
According to Zaffino, yet another set of burglaries occurred last Saturday at the Extra Space Storage, 1600 Grant Ave. Witnesses found the locks had been cut from five units, four of which were empty at the time. Lawn care equipment was stolen from one unit. The crooks used a similar method as the Feb. 11-12 incident. They accessed a perimeter fence via a path along railroad tracks and cut a hole in the fence to enter the site. The crooks eluded the view of surveillance cameras at that site.
The 1251 Byberry Road site does not employ cameras, Zaffino said. The captain asked a site manager to have cameras installed, along with reinforced fencing and razor wire to deter burglars. But no such modifications have been made. For now, the complex has a chain-link fence and a gate controlled by a pass code. Customers have to punch numbers into a keypad to open the gate.
Although the Public Storage site is private property, beat cops have the pass code and routinely patrol inside the fence. But they can’t sit there all the time. The Northeast Times was unable to determine if the business employs its own security guards.
Zaffino recommends that consumers do some homework before renting a storage unit. They should ask the business about security measures and insurance coverage for stolen or damaged items. Some storage businesses may try to sell site-specific insurance policies to renters.
If nothing else, consumers should invest in high-grade locks. Storage businesses sell those, too, at a premium.
“The locks that were targeted [last week] were cheap three-dollar or four-dollar locks,” Zaffino said. “In the main office, they sell a disc lock. It looks like a hockey puck. [Burglars] can’t get bolt cutters around it. With a padlock, they cut right through it.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org