Crime: “Not in My Town, Scumbag”

Upper Darby police chief Mike Chitwood was known as "Dirty Harry" in his 19 years as a cop in this city. Today, his tough talk is tempered with compassion. Could he be the solution to Philly's crime problem?

JAMES HINES HAS NO IDEA HE’S about to take a lead role in the biggest show to hit Upper Darby since the Rolling Stones plugged in at the Tower Theatre. Hines deals heroin, and will soon make his third sale to an undercover cop. The narcotics squad usually calls perps like Hines “the bad guys.” The squad’s boss, superintendent Mike Chitwood, prefers “scumbag,” or occasionally “shithead.” He’s not sitting behind his desk, awaiting word on how the impending bust goes down. The chief is riding shotgun in an unmarked car, with a 9mm on his hip. Chitwood wants “The Show,” as he calls it. Two tinted SUVs filled with cops in ski masks. Hit ’em fast and loud. Let the neighbors know the police are taking this fight to the sleazeballs.

“The thing with these guys, you just never fuckin’ know,” he says from the front seat. No Kevlar vest for him, just a black police jacket you could pierce with a No. 2 pencil. At 63, Chitwood can still be a badass. “He could be a pussy, he could have a couple guns. But you go in with the expectation he wants to protect his product. So the takedown is kinda rough.”

Talk like that in Philly would send protesters to the Roundhouse and councilmen into fits of righteous outrage. Here in Upper Darby, the Mike Chitwood Show is being embraced, warts and all. In 2005, with crime skyrocketing and a police department burdened by low morale — sound familiar? — the township needed a new leader. Chitwood’s résumé spoke for itself: more than two decades as the top cop in Middletown Township, Bucks County, and Portland, Maine, and before that, the most decorated man who ever wore a shield in Philadelphia. Though Chitwood calls Upper Darby “the 13th district,” crime isn’t as dire here as it is on the other side of Cobbs Creek (three homicides in 2006 among 82,000 residents, compared to 406 in the city). But it’s bad enough that Hines sells smack a block away from the police station.

Just as it’s beginning to look like the bust will be postponed, word comes over Chitwood’s radio that the sale went down — “done deal.” That’s when the intangibles surface. Hines is with a passenger, who could be armed, for all the cops know. Then both SUVs get stuck behind a SEPTA bus.

“Go! Go!” Chitwood barks to the undercover cop behind the wheel. Their car, intended for backup, is now first on the scene. In seconds they have Hines boxed in from behind, but he doesn’t step out of his blue Taurus — and then, whadayaknow, who’s the first to draw his gun and yell “Police!”? It’s Chitwood, ready for action and looking more like the cop who earned the nickname “Dirty Harry” back in the nightstick-swinging ’70s than the great-grandfather he is today.