Feeling Safe

Our editor reflects on his experience dealing with the police.



Hobart Rowland

The pounding started at about 3 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, jarring my family out of a sound sleep. My wife was the first to respond, heading down the stairs toward the front door before I could get my bearings. 

I could hear her yelling, “Go away! We called the police!”

After a brief silence, the pounding started up again on the back door, so violent that it activated our burglar alarm.

“F---in’ let me in!”

Of all the things coming from the mouth of our unwanted visitor(s), that was all we could decipher. Was it one person or two? We couldn’t tell.

Minutes later, the West Chester police arrived, and a scuffle ensued that flattened a portion of our back hedges. After they dragged the West Chester University student away—so drunk he thought he’d been locked out of his group rental a block away—we found urine by the front door and human feces on the back porch. His belt, removed by the officers for safety reasons, was left on our front lawn.

There was a lot we loved about our fully renovated twin on East Union Street. But over seven years, all the good was canceled out by incident after incident around our neighborhood—vandalism, drugs, beatings, even a shooting. This was not the quaint, walkable West Chester lifestyle we signed up for.

So we moved just a few miles away to East Bradford Township. Now, it’s like we’re on another planet—one that’s peaceful, quiet and inhabited by neighbors who actually care about each other.

But West Chester is no Coatesville, which is where associate editor Melissa Jacobs found herself while doing the reporting for “Black and Blue”, our cover story on the state of community policing efforts around the region. “Walking down the street with Sgt. Rodger Ollis, I felt exposed but not unsafe,” she says. “He had a gun, a Taser and other weapons. He also wears a uniform. These days, though, that could make him a target.”

Indeed, cops never know exactly what’s coming. “Very few of us walk into a meeting or interview without knowing the agenda and who’s attending,” Jacobs says. “Police officers don’t know any of that. Someone could be high or drunk or have a gun—or it could be a false alarm.”

Jacobs and staff photographer Tessa Smucker watched in awe as Sgt. JoAnne Pepitone walked through the door of a darkened home in Ardmore without hesitation. “We looked at each other and just shook our heads,” Jacobs says. “No way were we going to follow her.”

Officers willingly discussed their work, their opinions, and various aspects of their personal lives. “No one held back, no one refused to answer a question, and no one was offended by anything I asked,” says Jacobs. “In all three of the departments I visited, they were eager to share their side of the story.”

And we’re so glad they did.

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