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A woman's call for help and a lesson in city policing

Kirsten Young was stopped at a red light on City Avenue on Saturday night when a phone sailed across her windshield.

Kirsten Young was stopped at a red light on City Avenue on Saturday night when a phone sailed across her windshield.

It landed, glowing, in the road. Young, a mother of two who lives in West Mount Airy, glanced at the car next to her.

Someone inside was screaming.

The woman in the driver's seat was yelling for help, clutching her face, and begging for her phone back, Young recalled. She could just make out a man in the passenger seat.

"I heard the screaming through her closed window and my closed window," Young said. She put her hazard lights on and approached the car next to her.

"I said, 'Do you need help - do you want me to call 911?' And, still screaming, she drove off through the light," Young said.

Young picked up the cellphone, pulled into a nearby gas station, and called 911. The result would be a crash course in how Philadelphia can be different from West Chester, from which she had recently moved.

She figured officers would show up, take a report, examine the phone, and try to find the woman, who, Young was convinced, was in some kind of trouble.

Instead, Young said, she spent the weekend trying to find anyone who would listen to her. From the officers who arrived on the scene that night to the officer answering the phones at Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey's office, no one seemed to take what she had seen seriously, she said.

All the while, Young said, she could not stop thinking of the woman in the car.

"At every single turn," she said, "I'm being met with, 'We can't do anything about this.' "

The 19th District officers who arrived that night - district officials would provide The Inquirer with only their last names, Doe and Johnson - seemed dismissive from the beginning, Young said.

They waved her over to their car rather than approaching hers, made no notes as she told her story, and refused to take the phone, Young said. One told her there was nothing they could do, she said, and suggested she drop the phone off at the gas station's convenience store. Maybe, they said, the woman would come back to pick it up.

"I looked at him and I said, 'So you're not going to try to help her?' And he shrugged," Young said.

"Welcome to Philadelphia," she said she cracked, frustrated, and walked into the store. "The next thing I know, both officers were in the store, in my face, shouting at me, asking if I wanted to make something of this."

Shaken, Young said, she handed the phone to the gas station employee behind the counter and explained what she had seen. The officers left the store, she said, and she drove home.

Young said she spent the next two days trying to report the incident. At the 19th District, she said, a corporal screamed at her on the phone and then hung up when she asked for the officers' names. Internal Affairs officers told her to call 911 again and re-report the incident, she said.

An officer answering calls at Ramsey's office told Young that the commissioner was about to retire and that she would have to wait until the new year to lodge a complaint with his office, she said.

On Monday, she called The Inquirer, and in turn, Lt. John Walker of Southwest Detectives, who sent detectives to the gas station to find the phone.

"Our base concern was making sure [the woman in the car] was OK," he said. "When you're dealing with domestic violence cases like this, it's always of great concern, because you just don't know what the potential is."

By that night, Walker said, detectives had found contact information for the woman's parents in her phone.

She is safe and staying with her family, Walker said. His detectives offered to help her file a police report about the man she was driving with, Walker said, but she had not yet contacted them.

On Tuesday morning, Young went back to the 19th District to try, again, to file a complaint.

"You can probably tell my blood pressure's starting to slam against the top of my skull," 19th District Lt. Kenneth Kimchuk said five minutes into Young's story.

At some points, he shook his head and laughed - "at the level of incompetence," he explained.

Young paused.

"We can all laugh now," she said, "because that woman's OK."

Kimchuk grew serious. He formally apologized on behalf of the department. He vowed to investigate the incident.

"You were failed enormously. The person in that car was failed enormously," he said. "There was enough information there that there was concern for someone's safety, and we should have looked into it."