Somerton Public Storage site hit for third time

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

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