In recent weeks, fliers circulated around Bridesburg that said neighbors were invited to a meeting to discuss “a possible solution” to crime in the neighborhood.
More than 100 neighbors came to the meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, all of whom seemed to agree that graffiti, drug sales, burglaries, car thefts, car break-ins, and theft of metal and other outdoors household goods by “scrappers” are an increasing problem in their neighborhood.
But many of them were surprised when they were handed brochures for the Pennsylvania Private Police, LLC, a private security company that for a monthly fee could bring a patrol car and armed guards to the neighborhood.
Neighbor Stanley Ruth said that he would not have come to the meeting at all if he knew security guards would be advertising their services.
ldquo;It’s a waste of time and money,” Ruth said. “They can only make a citizen’s arrest. You can do that yourself.”
The Pennsylvania Private Police service costs $20 per home per month, and their contract requires at least 200 homes in the neighborhood to sign up.
But Kathy Rolle, the neighbor who invited the Pennsylvania Private Police to present to the community and organized the meeting, believes that they could help deter crime just by being in the neighborhood.
“What really impressed me is the idea of that cop car they have going around,” Rolle said. “I would feel much safer with that vehicle going around our neighborhood.”
A few days after the meeting, Capt. John McCloskey of the 15th Police District, which includes Bridesburg, assigned a patrol car and two bicycle officers to Bridesburg, partly in response to complaints voiced at the meeting. He also rearranged other assignments to have more officers on patrol in general.
“I can see the neighbors’ concerns that as drug usage starts and property crime starts, it’s going to get worse. I think you’ve got to nip it in the bud with a visible police presence,” McCloskey said.
“I don’t think residents should have to pay for extra security. That’s the police department’s job,” he added.
But Rolle said she is skeptical that the police will be able to stop the crime problems in Bridesburg.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told that we’re getting something – and as soon as they get a call from Frankford, they’re out of here,” she said.
About 30 neighbors signed up for Pennsylvania Private Police’s services after the meeting, Rolle said.
“I think it will be a good deterrent. When people see them, they’ll start thinking twice about doing something,” said neighbor Jill Elliott after the meeting.
The Private Police service includes one patrol car with two armed security guards patrolling the designated area from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week. Homes that pay the fee and are signed up will get extra attention, including guards shining flashlights at their homes, but the entire neighborhood would fall under the guards’ service area.
ldquo;I would rather pay $240 a year to have these guys here, than have to pay $175 when a window in the front of my house gets smashed,” said neighbor Bill Lorch.
Chief Harry Mearing, 43, owner and founder of the Pennsylvania Private Police, said he has more than 20 years experience as a security guard.
“I’m not selling anything,” Mearing said. “It’s what you need, to go to this level, to have visible patrols to deter crime in the area.”
Rolle heard about Mearing through word-of-mouth and researched his previous work in Northwood before inviting him to this meeting.
State Rep. John Taylor (R-177th dist.), who attended the meeting, told people in attendance that in his home neighborhood of Northwood, crime did seem to decrease while Mearing was patrolling the neighborhood.
Capt. McCloskey acknowledged that residents of Bridesburg have not gotten a satisfactory response to their complaints about crime in the past, but he pledged to do more.
“You call for a cop, you’ve got to wait four [or] five hours – that’s not right … You pay your taxes, you keep up your homes, you deserve better,” McCloskey said. “But I think it’s too much to ask households to put up $240 a year for protection the police and the city should be doing.”
The Pennsylvania Private Police will hold a second informational meeting for the residents of Bridesburg at the First Presbyterian Church of Bridesburg, 2770 Pratt St., at 7 p.m., on Oct. 2.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Private Police or to sign up, visit www.pennpvtpolice.com. ••