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?

Before the chief has a chance to approach Hines’s door, the SUVs barrel in, and police swarm everywhere. Hines and the woman with him wisely offer no resistance. At gunpoint, Chitwood’s boys handcuff their man, whose sleepy eyes are now wide open, like he just stuck a wet finger in a light socket. “They don’t know what the fuck hit ’em,” says Chitwood, in the same way a proud father brags when his kid hits a home run in Little League. That’s The Show. And Mike Chitwood wants to bring it to Philadelphia.

some Clint Eastwood in the old man, but there’s something else, too, something that doesn’t quite line up with his rough-’em-up-and-cuff-’em-up legacy. The day before the Hines bust, Chitwood shows a gentler side in a police headquarters briefing room, chatting up a group of clergy he’s invited for a get-to-know-you program he initiated. His gray suit is complemented by a powder-blue tie, wrapped a little loose around a neck that’s thinned with age. Chitwood is six-one and skinny from 5 a.m. workouts, much less intimidating than his storied reputation would imply — after all, he was the homicide detective who found Holly Maddux’s body in Ira Einhorn’s closet. “A lot of stuff happens in our community,” he tells the assembled religious leaders, cleaning up his language for the holy folk. “These cops do a great job. They know the baddies.” It’s not long before the praise flows.

“I’ve called the police about 10 times or so,” says a Baptist minister. “Your response time is incredible. I have been really impressed by that.”


One of Chitwood’s captains, Rudy D’Alesio, is asked about gangs — just like in Philly, schools in Upper Darby are struggling with them, right down to Beverly Hills Middle School, where PANIC (Punk Ass Niggas In Control) began living up to its name in recent years. Ever since D’Alesio and Lieutenant Dave Madonna rounded up 10 suspected mini-gangbangers and their parents for some tough talk — keep acting up and we will lock you up — the kids have kept their noses clean. That tale prompts a Lutheran pastor to testify. “You do piss people off,” he says, “and I’m thankful for that.”

Preach on!

It’s praise like this that’s turning Chitwood’s show into a religious experience in Upper Darby, whose population is nearly equal to Center City’s, but is far more diverse economically and racially. Town council, the mayor, the local papers, they’ve all thrown their support behind Chitwood’s “aggressive policing” strategy, with the war on drugs as its centerpiece. It’s too early to declare Chitwood’s tactics a complete success — while nearly half of all categories of serious crimes are down, others, like strong-arm robbery, have spiked. But with narcotics arrests up 60 percent and a gung-ho band of narc cops led by Captain George Rhoades, Chitwood anticipates that a chilling effect on other offenses will follow. “We take down these drug houses,” he says, “and burglary rates go down. These guys are often doing the other crimes in the neighborhood.”