After a surge in suburban crime — including a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses — a group of Bucks County lawmakers led by GOP Sen. Frank Farry are sponsoring legislation to fight back.
“Every day when you turn on the news, those of us in the Philadelphia media market see what’s going on,” said Farry. “You see different and evolving crimes happening in our communities and our neighboring communities. We think it’s our responsibility, as public figures, to step forward and make sure proper statutes are on the books to help the men and women in law enforcement have the tools they need to do their jobs.”
And they had plenty of backup from the local police. About two dozen police representatives from Bucks and Montgomery Counties were on hand at Thursday’s press conference Thursday outside the Northampton Township Police Department to endorse their efforts.
Lawmakers are introducing the bills because of “feedback we’ve heard from law enforcement, feedback we’ve heard from victims, feedback from our communities, and feedback we’ve heard from prosecutors,” said Farry. “We want to ensure that law enforcement has the proper tools in their tool chest to be able to properly charge crimes that will ultimately lead to convictions.”
Warrington Police Chief Daniel Friel, president of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Bucks County, said, “We’ve seen increases in nearly every category of crime that affects the average citizen or business owner. These categories include robbery, burglary, thefts from vehicles, retail thefts, thefts of catalytic converters, and firearms thefts…We have seen a 32 percent increase in thefts from vehicles since last year (and) a 28 percent increase over the average of the past three years. Theft of catalytic converters in Warrington Township is up 85 percent since last year, and again, that’s a 237 percent increase over the past three-year average.”
Perhaps most disturbing, “There’s already a 130 percent increase in firearms offenses, which is an 89 percent increase over the past three years,” said Friel.
And illegal car meetup rallies have become common in Bucks County, overwhelming municipal police forces, he said.
The bills include mandatory jail time for illegally possessing a firearm, cracking down on porch pirates, reducing catalytic converter robberies, increasing penalties for gun store robberies, putting the brakes on vehicle meetup rallies, and enhanced charges for rioters.
Bensalem Public Safety Director William McVey called them “common sense.”
“First, mandatory jail time for illegal gun possession is absolutely needed in Pennsylvania,” he said. “In Bensalem, we’ve experienced a 75 percent increase in illegal guns. We’ve seized 174 illegal guns in that timeframe. More distressing is the fact we’ve arrested 21 convicted felons for illegally possessing a firearm this year to date.”
“Without strong penalties, these felons are often released and go back to carrying illegal guns,” he said. “And worse, they use the illegal guns on innocent victims.”
And catalytic converter theft is booming. One Bensalem business had 58 catalytic converters stolen from its fleet of vehicles, which cost more than $100,000 to replace. When officers see someone with a truckload of catalytic converters, they can’t charge them “even when they have no legitimate purpose to carry them.”
“And the car meetups, the drifting, it’s absolutely crazy,” said McVey. “They’ve popped up in our jurisdictions. They overtake areas. They have no regard for anyone’s safety.”
Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Wrightstown) thanked Farry for shepherding the porch pirates bill, which increases penalties for that type of theft, through the Senate. It awaits passage in the House.
“Especially with the holiday season, where more people are relying on mail-order purchases, it’s more important than ever to protect consumers and to think about how we can help,” she said. She said that stealing boxes from people’s porches is not a victimless crime. For example, it could be medicine ordered by an elderly person that’s stolen.
Afterward, Marcell told DVJournal that Democratic Reps. Joe Ciresi (D-Royersford) and Ed Ne9lson (D-Philadelphia) are also sponsors.
Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Langhorne) said, “What’s happening in our cities right now is a choice. The decline, the prosecutorial decisions, is a choice…to allow violent criminals to be released out on bail to go back and commit more crimes. This morning, I learned that an individual who was picked up in the burglary and the rioting two days ago was released on bail on a murder three charge. (They were) right back out committing more crimes.”
Hogan introduced a bill in response to crooks who robbed a gun store in Langhorne in the middle of the night.
“If you rob a gun store and steal guns, you are going to jail for a mandatory minimum of time,” said Hogan. “We’re going to take that decision away from these prosecutors who are letting our cities fall into chaos, and we’re going to make sure that if that crime is committed, you are going to jail, and you’re going to be there a long time.”
Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) said, “Nearly 40 percent of the crime committed in Bensalem is not committed by Bensalem residents but by individuals crossing over the border from Philadelphia. Sadly, the city continues to send a message of tolerance. I stand here today with my colleagues and law enforcement to make our message very clear: Bucks County will not tolerate what’s going on in the city.”
“We will always fight to maintain the quality of life we enjoy here in Bucks County,” Tomlinson said.