By Mike Mallowe
"Did you ever see what 20 officers jumping out of the back of a Hertz box truck looks like?" Mike Chitwood asks.
That's what happened during one of the first drug raids the
"Starting with that first year, we obtained hundreds of search warrants; made hundreds of arrests; acted on every complaint," Chitwood says. "We went after people if they had one cigarette. We didn't let them get away with anything. We'd go up to a drug corner and take 25 people in. In the beginning the neighbors just stood outside and looked. After a while, as word got around, they'd come out and cheer, start clapping for the police."
Drugs, more than anything else, brought Chitwood to
When he came to
That was hardly news to Chitwood, or most other cops. In an area like
"The people on my block couldn't even push their baby strollers," explained Cathie Rodgers, a resident of one of the most active drug locations in
"It was like
David Hulsey was the president of the Business Association in
That was not the case five years ago. "It was like
"People were afraid to leave their houses," he recalls. "They were terrified to let their children go out on the street and play. It was brazen, day-light, open-air sales."
The police knew that a disproportionate amount of crimes against persons and property were being committed by drug addicts. Drug turf wars were a continual source of weapons offenses and violent crimes. To attack the problem on all fronts Chitwood inaugurated a new era of forming partnerships with the Delaware County District Attorney's Drug Task Force and with an array of social service organizations - human services, housing, public health, community activists, churches, politicians, business associations. He knocked on doors, introduced himself, explained to people that, yes, he was that Mike Chitwood, the legendary cop from Philadelphia, and that yes, he was back in town, back to stay. This PR, promotional, get-to-know-the-players blitz was classic Chitwood. He had done it everywhere he had ever worked. To traditional cops, it was disconcerting; to the communities that were now getting immediate police response, it was refreshing. "When I first came here", he says, "there were plenty of people who were definitely not Mike Chitwood guys."
As soon as he arrived in
"In places outside the big city," he says, "there is not the same awareness of crime. There's considerably less alertness to what's happening. That applies to the residents and to the police. It can be a lack of experience, not a lack of willingness."
That's how it was in
He had a plan. "We had to make life as miserable as possible for the drug dealers, for any kind of criminal," Chitwood says. "Getting as many people as possible working on it was the best way."
Getting the word out
Above all, he told anyone who would listen, particularly the media, that
Under the former regime, direct contact with reporters of any kind, especially broadcast news, was virtually unheard of. But using the media to spread his message -- partnering with them, in effect -- was and is, also vintage Mike Chitwood. There were many times when that approach - in Philadelphia, in Portland, even in Upper Darby - did not go over at all well with his superiors, or with many of his peers. But Chitwood knew the degree of the problem he had and he also realized that the media could reach far more people that he could. His publicity blitz reached a peak when he had a batch of T-Shirts printed and sold as fund-raisers. They read: Not in my town, Scum-bag.
Every fight wasn't a clear win, of course. When a young woman gave birth to a baby in secret and the baby died almost immediately under suspicious circumstances, and that young woman happened to be from a prominent
Bars, or what Chitwood refers to as nuisance bars, have been a problem from the beginning.
"We get cooperation from everybody and the community does its, part, too," he says, gesturing in the direction of the small saloon. "The state police, liquor enforcement agents, everybody. But, as soon as the license is questioned and it gets to the state Liquor Control Board, it dies there. Why? The challenge can go on for years and they can keep operating; just get away with it. The owner has a right to make a living, that's all you hear. This is the place that's suing me now. Does he have a right to make a living in a place where there's been killings and beatings and drugs? But the place is still open. That's not fair to the families who have to live in this neighborhood."
Drug activity in the nuisance bars continues to be a big problem, so the police use undercover officers from inside and outside
Captain George Rhoades is in charge of
Moving against the dealers
The police also urged the township to begin closing down abandoned properties much more quickly. The police next worked with representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to discontinue subsidies to tenants who were dealing or buying drugs. That was a big challenge because drugs in a community can form a complex web. Narcotics are often the main source of neighborhood income. Landlords might actually prefer tenants who are known drug dealers - they pay on time and in cash. They also enforce their own twisted version of the law.
That can be open competition for the police. Chitwood approached HUD about working with landlords to obtain better, non-drug dealing tenants.
During those first two years, from 2005 through 2007, the police investigated 237 drug cases and made 355 arrests. Over 350 of those arrested went to
"We arrested a guy last Friday," Chitwood says, "Nice apartment in a nice part of
Richard Daubenberger is a busy defense attorney in the County. He saw the impact that the new aggressiveness in
Business leader Hulsey shared that sentiment. "It's turned around 100 percent," he said. "There are no more drug houses on
Testimonials are nice and Chitwood has heard his share, but he realizes that "change" can be difficult to obtain and illusory, at best.
"Every kind of drug is still here," Chitwood says. "One difference is that the dealers know they're being watched now. We monitor things constantly. There has to be this awareness that the police are around, that they're involved."
Drug cases are very hard to make. Possessing a small amount of marijuana, for example, is becoming ever closer to carrying the same severity as a traffic ticket, even in a city like
"I've seen people walk out of court in
It's late at night by now, and Chitwood has been at it since , just a normal day for him. The more
"What's next?" he's asked.
"Oh, the bikers are coming back," he answers off-handedly, dealing strictly with the moment, as always. "We're starting to see a few of them now, Pagans and Warlocks, the occasional Hell's Angel. They were always in
Chitwood rides off, still patrolling the 13th District.