Passing the baton


If such things were done in the police department, South Division Inspector Evelyn Heath might have received a 21-gun salute this week.

As she prepared to move on to another post, the Philadelphia Police Department’s first female chief inspector was warmly congratulated and assured she would be remembered for programs she established to benefit the local districts.

Heath will become chief inspector of the Police Academy’s training bureau.

Homicide Capt. Thomas Lippo has been promoted to inspector and has taken over the South Division job.

For Heath, of Fox Chase, working at the academy in Northeast Philly means a shorter commute, as well as career advancement.

"I think it’s a great opportunity," she said. "At the Police Academy, you are molding the future of the police force. I’m really looking forward to it and looking forward to implementing new programs and initiatives."

Heath ascended the ladder the old-fashioned way — she earned it. Upon graduating from the Police Academy, Heath was assigned to the Fifth District in Roxborough. From there, she made detective and worked for Northeast Detective Division. When she was promoted to sergeant, Heath was transferred to the 19th District in West Philly, left for a while and returned when she made lieutenant. She also worked as a lieutenant in North Philly’s 39th District before making captain. Heath then was assigned to night command at Police Headquarters.

In late 2001, she became inspector of South Police Division. One of her first actions was to establish the South Division Task Force, a special crime-fighting unit comprised of two sergeants and 12 police officers.

The task force deals mostly with quality-of-life issues and violent crime, noted Heath.

"The whole purpose of the task force was to put together an elite group of people to target high-crime areas in each district," Heath said. The police districts that serve South Philly are the First, Third, Fourth and 17th.

The inspector appointed Sgts. Dante Coccia and Anthony Buchanico to head the force. The sergeants then hand-picked police officers from each district. Marlana Caprara, who was plucked from the 17th, is the only female on the force — and one of the best officers at that, Heath said.

Officers Jerry Passalacqua, Chris McGraw, Joe Henderson, Pat Cavalieri, Jamie Stermel, Dave Andrews, Timmy Maher, Mike Pascucci, Martin Vinson, Tommy Martin and Robert Spadaccini are also members of the group. A bike unit of five officers completes the task force.

Oh, and of course, there’s the mascot — Walter — one of the inspector’s 11 bulldogs.

Buchanico said all the officers on the force either live in South Philly or have strong community ties.

He and his fellow sergeant on the force said they are sad to see Heath move on.

"We’re losing a very good leader," Coccia said. ‘The Police Academy is very lucky to be getting her."

Added Buchanico, "She made it easy to come to work."

South Division Task Force statistics speak for themselves: 408 arrests, broken down into 166 for narcotics, 31 for firearms offenses, 33 for car theft, 10 for burglary, 26 for assault, 67 quality-of-life violations and 49 bench warrants. The initiative recovered 42 guns and more than $70,000 in cash from drug seizures.

One of the recent success stories from Heath’s task force is the Stolen Auto Initiative. Lt. William Walls of the Third District coordinated and supervised the effort, which targeted the Third and Fourth districts because of the prevalence of car thefts in those areas, Heath said. As a result, 40 unoccupied stolen vehicles were recovered.

Last summer shaped up as one of the bloodiest in recent memory with a rash of shootings in the First and 17th districts. Six of the 16 shootings were homicides. Heath’s task force went to work, which led to a 70-percent reduction in shootings, she said.

One of the biggest weapons in the task force’s crime-fighting arsenal is intelligence gathering. Buchanico said officers analyze various crimes, like homicides and burglaries, that occur in South Division. The team then meets with other police divisions and district captains in an effort to detect a pattern and nail the offenders.

"[The officers] have really been a key and integral part in keeping crime under control in the South Division area," Heath said.

The inspector considers South Division Task Force her best and biggest achievement to date. And she said she’ll miss all of the officers involved.

"They’ve been a godsend. I owe them most of the success of the division," the inspector said.

Of the area she served for the past year-and-a-half, Heath added, "I would really like to thank the South Philly community. They’ve been really wonderful to me and made me feel really welcome."

Meanwhile, Lippo, a 25-year veteran of the Philadelphia police force, assumed his new post Tuesday. Lippo began his career in 1978 as an officer assigned to West Philly’s 18th District and then the 19th. He made detective and was assigned to Southwest Detective Division (then known as West Detective Division), where he spent three years. After making sergeant, Lippo returned to the 19th District for another three years.

While working in the Advanced Training Unit, Lippo was promoted to lieutenant. In June 1997, he was bumped up to captain. In that capacity, he worked in police radio for a short time before becoming commander of the 12th District. Lippo spent three years at the Southwest Philadelphia district and another three as captain of the Homicide Unit.

Regarding his recent promotion, Lippo said, "It’s an honor. I’ve never worked in South Philly and I’m looking forward to being commanding officer of South Division. I look forward to meeting all the officers and getting to know the people of South Philly."