Town endures series of thefts from automobiles

6 mins read
Thefts graphic
Graphic by Leo Elliot ’18

Last month, the town of Swarthmore experienced a wave of thefts from automobiles. On March 22nd, the campus received an e-mail from Director of Public Safety Mike Hill that outlined the dates and locations of the thefts that were reported to the Borough Police, which took place on the evenings of the 16th, 19th, and 21st. The next morning, another round of thefts were reported for the night of the 22nd, bringing the total number of episodes to four. According to the borough’s Chief of Police Brian H. Craig, officers responded to the thefts with increased patrols.

There were a total of sixteen incidents across the four nights. By and large, the thefts were small, all below twenty dollars. In several cases, nothing was stolen even though there were valuables in the car, and theft was only apparent from the scattered mess that was left behind. In one instance, a Garmin GPS system was stolen from a car. Of note, several thefts on the night of the 19th occurred along Harvard Avenue, where Mary-Lyons is located. Since thefts occurred down the road in either direction from Mary-Lyons, it appears that the thieves would have walked by the dorm during their route.

From the police reports that Hill distributed in his e-mail, the culprits appear to have targeted one area of the town at a time. Each night’s thefts were contained within a cluster of nearby streets. The first two nights, thefts were confined to parts of the town south and southwest of the campus center — along Chester Rd on the 16th, and Harvard Avenue on the 19th. During the nights of the 21st and the 22nd, the thieves moved across town, with the most affected locations north of the SEPTA tracks.

As of this week, no suspects have been brought in for questioning with regards to the thefts. Craig did note, however, a possible link between the thefts from automobiles and two attempted home robberies that occurred during the same period. Both houses are on Magill Lane, by a side

“At one of the houses an officer was able to gather latent fingerprints — fingerprints at the scene. We just got word back that they matched a suspect who has been arrested in the past for taking things from cars with two other people. That’s a very recent lead that we’re checking into,” said Craig. “We’ll see where that goes.”

Nevertheless, Craig emphasized that the nature of the type of crime makes it difficult to be exact. The report sent to Public Safety stated that most of the thefts could have taken place anywhere between 7 p.m. the night of the robbery and 7 a.m. the next day. Rather than indicating the most likely hours that the crimes might have been committed, this wide range indicates that the police department has limited information to work with.

“[A theft] could occur between midnight and 3 a.m., [but] we don’t have anything that pins it down. Most of the people parked their car between 5 and 7 at night and then came out the next morning around 7 a.m. to discover that the car had been entered,” explained Craig.

Most of the entered cars were parked directly outside of their owners’ homes, and some were parked in private driveways.

As far as advice for avoiding this particular kind of crime, Craig indicated that there was no evidence that anyone broke into any of the cars. In all likelihood the cars that were robbed were unlocked. In general, Craig emphasized that the department’s ability to prevent crime depends on the willingness of residents to call in about concerns and suspicions, even trivial ones.

“We always advise people that if they see something, to call 911 immediately … We have in the past investigated [a crime] and had people tell us ‘oh, well I saw something suspicious last Thursday.’ If we had known last Thursday we would have checked it out then,” he said. “We get information frequently that we check out and it turns out to be nothing, but that’s fine, we would rather do that than not be informed that something is happening.”

Since the morning of March 23rd, no further thefts of this kind have been reported. As such, this particular bout of criminal activity appears to have subsided.

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