A Crime Victim’s Night With the Philadelphia Police Department

After an armed robbery, how long would you wait to call the cops?

When you move from a sketchy North Philly neighborhood to an aesthetically superior, seemingly safe haven in the heart of Fairmount, the last thing you’re anticipating just a few minutes past midnight on a Tuesday is getting robbed right outside your apartment. Not that we were being completely naïve that night: My small-town nervous wreck of a roommate had her Mace cocked and ready, as usual, as the two of us walked back from a neighbor’s house. But I had just finished giving my spiel about how not to look vulnerable and why not to walk alone, strutting my city savviness and convincing her I had picked a neighborhood where we wouldn’t have to always live in fear as long as we played it safe.

Not two minutes after we changed the subject, less than a block from our front door, three males dressed head-to-toe in black approached us with a gun and demanded our purses. Luckily it was quick, and physically, we were unharmed—just freaked out and absolutely furious.

After they casually sauntered on, we bolted inside and immediately started frantically dialing banks and credit card companies, not even thinking about the police until about 15 minutes after we got home—I suppose unconsciously assuming there was nothing they’d be able to do. But the bigger reason likely was that we were still in total shock. And let’s face it: We’re college students. We’re always panicking about money. This was the last thing we needed. I was livid.

About five minutes after we finally called 911, a cop showed up at our apartment to take us down the street to identify three suspects they’d arrested nearby. My heart felt like it’d been drop-kicked into my chest at the thought of possibly getting my precious belongings back. What followed were the last few fleeting moments of relief I’d get that night.

The suspects they’d nabbed didn’t turn out to be the right guys. We were back to square one, feeling as though we’d been robbed all over again. The officer continued to make loops around our neighborhood for what felt like hours of adrenaline-filled anxiety as we scanned the streets for our perpetrators.

No luck. By now it was already after 1 a.m., we were still shaken up from the whole incident, frustrated with the lack of resolution, completely exhausted and impatient to get off the plastic bench seat of the musty squad car. Nervous about ever getting to sleep and waking up for work the next morning, eventually I politely asked if we could just get a ride back home. But we were appreciative of this officer’s persistence and patience, so when he asked if we’d first come with him to the station so we could formally give a statement about what happened (in case they did eventually find the thugs), we reluctantly agreed. It would be quick, he assured us.

Once we finally made it past the first fluorescent waiting area, where we sat by ourselves with nothing to do but repeatedly mull over the entire dreadful scenario, we were (after nearly another hour) led to the next one. This one offered a quite repulsive view of the restroom and the custodian’s closet. The restroom was something I would avoid like an abandoned truck-stop port-a-john; in the closet, dark stains from who-knows-what dripped down the walls; mops bore what looked like decades of dirty floor water, and the drop ceiling was moldy—and that’s just what I saw from a distance.

“Sweet,” I said. “You’d think they’d have a slightly more hospitable place for us to wait. This is ridiculous.”

“This place is run by men, Brittany,” my roommate sarcastically replied.

At the time, I concurred with her reasoning. Later, I’d find out that the stations have filed grievances with the city over leaking roofs, sewage backup, mold, vermin, inadequate electrical systems, and pretty much total noncompliance with health and safety codes. Mesothelioma.com even has a writeup about toxic asbestos in the stations. Nice.

Come on, Philly. Really? I can see letting the holding cells get filthy—let the criminals feel punished. The cops, other innocents and I, on the other hand—we deserve just a little more luxury. We can afford multibillion-dollar convention centers and three-story-high paintbrushes but can’t hire a janitor?

Anyway, after another painfully frustrating hour of staring at the walls, I resorted to pacing dramatically back and forth in front of the detectives’ office window to try to get some attention. Finally, one officer nonchalantly waved me in, seemingly waiting for me to demand to be dealt with. We were the only people in there the entire time; our story wasn’t very long— I’m still confused as to why we were forced to wait over two hours to speak to anyone.

After transcribing three thorough recitations of the attack from each of us, the cops finally gave us some post-traumatic-stress literature and a ride home.

PPD: You do a hell of job protecting this city, and for your courageous efforts, I sincerely commend you. I mean no disrespect or insensitivity to the department or other crime victims. But I and everyone I know in this city who have been victimized have been forced to endure this same kind of lousy service. I realize witnessing the day-to-day crime in Philadelphia would likely be desensitizing, but wouldn’t it make more sense to just take a detailed recording of a victim’s statement and information and handle the paperwork later? There has to be a better way to process victims without making them feel like they’re the ones being arrested.