Special to the Ledger One local mother is concerned city police could improperly use a stop-and-frisk policy the police chief supports as a way to tackle gun violence.Elizabeth Montijo, who lives in Valley and regularly drives her children to daycare in the city, said Friday she is afraid the chief's plan could have negative effects.
"I'm afraid that this could lead to something else," Montijo said. "I'm afraid of being dragged out of my car and being frisked in front of my kids."
Under Police Chief William Matthews' new crime initiative, which he announced last week, the department will use a stop-and-frisk procedure in high-crime areas.
Police officers can legally pat down a person if officers reasonably believe a person is involved in a criminal activity at the moment, if the officers believe their safety is in danger and if the officers believe a person has a weapon, according to Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll.
Matthews said Thursday some residents may be concerned with the department's new approach. But he stressed officers will frisk in a proper fashion consistent with their rights.
"I certainly want them to know we're going to be very careful," Matthews said. "We're also going to take into consideration civil rights. We recognize their trust in us is at risk every time we use this technique, and we will use it appropriately."
But Montijo is skeptical police will only frisk when necessary and legal.
Montijo said she was pulled over by Valley police on Feb. 6 for running a stop sign. She said she stopped at the sign. Now, in the event city police stop her, Montijo is concerned an officer will try to frisk her and cite the department's new approach.
"So now I'm going to be pulled out of my car and frisked? Basically it's your word against an officer's word," Montijo said.
City Councilman Kurt Schenk said Friday he fully supports the chief's new plan - including frisking - to overcome gun violence. But he said there is a fine line between proper and improper pat-downs.
"I'm in support of it, but we have to be careful not to take away people's civil rights. I think if it's used properly, it will be an asset to the city. But obviously if it's used improperly, it could be a detriment," Schenk said.
Elwood Dixon, an NAACP member and lifelong city resident, said he is OK with pat-downs if they are done appropriately and minorities are not the target.
"I know they want to get rid of guns, and that to me is fine. But what I don't want is police targeting a certain area or a certain race," Dixon said. "The guns and shootings need to stop. But I just hope they do it properly and legally."
Matthews' public safety initiative also includes bringing in roughly four officers from the county Municipal Drug Task Force. The officers will be patrolling city streets three nights a week, Carroll said. And additional manpower will be provided if needed, he said.
The extra officers will help the understaffed department, which is short roughly 10 officers. Several new officers selected through a provisional hiring process are expected to join the force in March. But more resignations and retirements are expected by June.
In the meantime, detectives are working to make arrests in numerous shooting incidents. In January, four people were shot on three separate occasions. Also, city and West Goshen police are searching for an area man who led police on a high-speed chase on Feb. 2.
Josiah Desmond Robertson, 20, of East Fallowfield, is accused of attempting to run down a West Goshen officer while fleeing from police. Investigators believe Robertson was driving a car involved in a drive-by shooting in Coatesville earlier that day.
Robertson sped down West Chester Pike to Route 202 in East Whiteland, where the chase ended after police set out road spikes. Robertson's vehicle hit the spikes and crashed near Route 401, police said.
Robertson then ran away, and police are still searching for him. Police said he is a person of interest in several city shootings and is considered armed and dangerous.