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?

With his new office on West Chester Pike, Chitwood had nearly come full circle since leaving Philadelphia, and all along the way, he carried with him another lesson learned from Nicky Caserta’s murder. Throughout the investigation, he could barely hide his disgust for the Caserta family — penniless and living among the city’s dregs. If those dirtballs didn’t live this way, Nicky would still be alive. Pieces of shit. Later on, in his pretrial meetings with the Casertas, Nicky’s older sister, tattooed and tough as a 10-dollar steak, handed him a box, a gift for all he’d done in Nicky’s name. Inside was a kitten. It was all they could afford.

“I’m allergic to cats, number one,” says Chitwood with a laugh. “Number two, when I saw that way of saying thank you to me, it was kinda like, holy fuck — it hit me like a rock. What an asshole I’d been for forming these biased opinions of people. Who am I to make those kinds of judgments? It was very touching, very emotional for me.”

He’s careful to keep his feelings in check when talking about the Philly police force that consumed nearly two decades of his life. Chitwood goes on about how Upper Darby has embraced him, how he’s working with some of the best cops he’s ever known. So instead of saying how much the commissioner’s job would mean to him — he might get, y’know, emotional — he hands over a two-page typed outline — and by outline, we’re talking Roman numerals and everything — detailing what he’d do if asked to lead his hometown in its war against crime. Two thousand new cops and a re-energized narcotics unit like the one in Upper Darby would be his priorities.

But Chitwood enjoys certain luxuries in Upper Darby that are critical to his success, like a council and a mayor that don’t interfere with his policing, and judges who set six-figure bails so arrested drug dealers go to prison, not back on the streets. He also doesn’t spend his days stuck in meetings or glad-handing politicians. Then there’s the usual talk that the Philly PD — meaning the union — wants a promotion from within. Chitwood embraces the obstacles.


“There’s always internal candidates, and that’s good,” he says. “But I think outside perspective is needed to inject a new vision. You don’t hear ‘aggressive policing’ coming out of the city. I have my own little plan I put in place here, and you can probably carry it into Philly. You need generals out on the streets riding with the guys. You need bodies to fight a war.”