The Pennsylvania House Republican Policy Committee held a hearing in the Northampton Township Building Thursday to garner testimony for a package of anti-crime legislation.
The bills include measures for 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 criminal charges for rioters.
Bucks County First Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Schorn said making catalytic converter thefts felonies rather than misdemeanors would be a big help. As it now stands, “It is equivalent to somebody opening your car door when it’s unlocked and scooping out the change in your console. However, the invasive nature of this crime, someone comes into your driveway and…they come underneath your car, and saw out the catalytic converter. It renders your car useless. There’s no deterrent.”
“What we’ve learned is this is a corrupt organization,” said Schorn. “This is not just an individual. These are organized crimes… They’re arrested and out on bail the next day, and they never appear (in court), so they’re never successfully prosecuted.
“It is a blight on all of our resources day in and day out,” she said. “As the resources are devoted to these thefts, homicides are happening. And the same detectives who have to investigate the most brutal homicides are getting swept so thin because they’re dealing with a rash of catalytic converter thefts.”
Schorn also said a new drug, called xylazine or tranq, is sweeping the county. It causes users to become extremely ill with open sores. And when they’re arrested for crimes they have committed to feed their habit, they have to be hospitalized. Methamphetamine use is also on the rise, she said.
Sheriff Fred Harran spoke about increased crime in Bucks County, much of it coming from Philadelphia.
“Last year alone, crime is up 22.7 percent in robberies in one year,” said Harran. “Crime is up 17.1 percent in sexual assaults.” There was also “a 32.9 percent increase in burglary, 21.8 percent in thefts, a 30.6 percent increase in auto theft, and an 18.7 percent overall increase in major crimes.”
“You often hear the phrase’ crime knows no borders,’ and this is so true in this situation,” said Harran.
Another problem is the reduction of people applying to enter law enforcement, making it difficult for various agencies to deter crime and make arrests.
Drugs are also on the rise because of “open borders,” he said.
Detox now for xylazine is seven days and beyond,” said Harran. Criminals must be guarded while they are hospitalized, which takes law enforcement personnel away from patrolling the streets.
“It’s either that or cut them loose and put them back on the streets, which is really not an option in my book,” said Harran. “This prevents the police officer from stopping crime. Worse, it prevents them from responding to your 911 call.”
“When Philadelphia criminals commit crimes in Bucks County, the reception is much different here,” said Harran. “They are arrested, prosecuted, and if convicted, they go to jail.”
Rep. K.C. Tomlinson (R-Bensalem) asked about cooperation with Philadelphia.
“There are clear obstacles if a crime occurs in Philadelphia and bleeds over into Bucks County,” said Schorn. “We recently had a homicide. It was a homicide of an elderly woman with dementia by her own family member.” The attack began in Bucks County and ended with her death in the city. “And we never had a problem picking up the phone. You have to work together (to decide) which jurisdiction is going to assume prosecution.”
“We had to fight to have Philadelphia give us the homicide,” she said. “Clearly, Bucks County knows we’re going to prosecute this case to the fullest extent. You can’t trust what’s going to happen in Philadelphia.” The other neighboring counties cooperate fully.
“That is not Philadelphia Police. I have to be clear,” she said. “The men and women on the streets are outstanding.”
Harran added, “One of the other issues in Philadelphia is to follow up on investigations… You’re not dealing with a Matt Weintraub. You’re dealing with a (Larry) Krasner.”
Northampton Police Chief Steven LeCompte said serious crime in his town has increased 26 percent in the last two-and-a-half years. Mail theft has grown by 600 percent. And that has also brought an increase in fraud.
In 2021, the police investigated eight mail thefts and three fraud cases resulting from mail thefts. There were 26 victims, and the total losses were $29,6333.
In 2022, they investigated 50 mail thefts and 46 frauds from mail thefts. There were 102 victims. Total Losses: $455,697.
So far this year, they have investigated 45 mail thefts and 12 frauds from mail thefts. There were 64 victims. At the current rate, there could be 57 mail thefts this year. Total Losses year to date are $130,639.
Thieves steal mail from private mailboxes and U.S. Post Office mailboxes. The criminals get checks and “wash” them, then fill them out again and cash them.
“The problem is so serious we told our residents to take their mail into the post office to prevent theft” and to “avoid using the U.S. mailboxes outside the post office.”
They have made some arrests.
“Mail theft is often an organized criminal act, and the grading of the offense should reflect the serious impact it has had on our businesses and residents,” said LeCompte.