Out on the town

Cit­izens, elec­ted of­fi­cials, busi­ness own­ers and po­lice stand to­geth­er to fight crime in their com­munit­ies.

An­nu­al Na­tion­al Night out. Steven Len­zn­er,8, and John Mc­Cloy,8, walk Frank­ford Ave. in May­fair dur­ing Na­tion­al Night out. (Al Schell)

Flash­lights in hand, about 100 people marched a mile along Frank­ford Av­en­ue in May­fair at dusk one night last week, a parade of foot sol­diers in the fight against crime in their neigh­bor­hood.

Up in Mill­brook, about 75 res­id­ents gathered at the Knights Road Shop­ping Cen­ter for a meet-and-greet with Park­wood and Chalf­ont/Mill­brook Town Watch lead­ers.

Across North­east Phil­adelphia’s neigh­bor­hoods, oth­er Town Watch mem­bers joined with po­lice, elec­ted of­fi­cials and busi­ness sup­port­ers on Tues­day night in the an­nu­al event known as Na­tion­al Night Out. Res­id­ents showed up on a sum­mer night to show their op­pos­i­tion to crime and ad­voc­ate for a more united com­munity.

“The ob­ject­ive is to come out here and maybe get ad­di­tion­al people in­volved in the com­munity,” said Capt. Frank Bach­may­er of the 15th Po­lice Dis­trict dur­ing the in­aug­ur­al May­fair march. “We have (a big group) out here to­night, so that’s a good start.”

For the first time in 17 years, however, there was no Na­tion­al Night Out at Fox Chase Ele­ment­ary School. That event had routinely drawn thou­sands to the an­nu­al school­yard fest­iv­al.

The Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Town Watch foun­ded Na­tion­al Night Out in 1984, in­tend­ing to “height­en aware­ness and strengthen par­ti­cip­a­tion in loc­al an­ticrime ef­forts.” The NATW en­cour­ages com­munit­ies to gath­er in porch “vi­gils” or to or­gan­ize more elab­or­ate events such as block parties, cookouts, marches, parades, fest­ivals, fairs or ral­lies. 

In that first year, 400 com­munit­ies in 23 states par­ti­cip­ated, ac­cord­ing to the NATW. Since then, Na­tion­al Night Out has be­come one of the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s sig­na­ture events. In 2011, 37.1 mil­lion people took part, rep­res­ent­ing more than 15,000 com­munit­ies in all 50 states, as well as Ca­na­dian provinces, U.S. ter­rit­or­ies and U.S. mil­it­ary bases.

The of­fi­cial Na­tion­al Night Out is the first Tues­day each Au­gust. In many cit­ies, in­clud­ing Phil­adelphia, as­so­ci­ated events oc­cur throughout the week.

On Monday night, Phil­adelphia’s Town Watch In­teg­rated Ser­vices — the pub­licly fun­ded agency that over­sees neigh­bor­hood-based Town Watch groups loc­ally — con­duc­ted its city­wide “kick­off” rally at a Tar­get store in Rhawn­hurst. Or­gan­izers pro­moted that event as a re­place­ment of sorts for the an­nu­al Fox Chase fest­iv­al, which or­gan­izers dis­con­tin­ued this year due to de­clin­ing spon­sor­ship and vo­lun­teer sup­port.

In the Far North­east’s 8th Po­lice Dis­trict, neigh­bor­hood Town Watch lead­ers pooled their re­sources for a com­munity fair in the busy Knights Road shop­ping plaza park­ing lot.

“We’re try­ing to re­ju­ven­ate (Town Watch),” said Jack Tol­chin, pres­id­ent of the Park­wood group. “Vo­lun­teers are tough to get. It’s a shame we get enough, only if there’s a crisis.”

Re­cruit­ing and de­vel­op­ment have yiel­ded some suc­cess in re­cent months, however.

“We’re about a year old, now, and this year was very pro­duct­ive,” said Ken Grow, vice pres­id­ent of Chalf­ont/Mill­brook Town Watch. “I think crime has de­clined (in our neigh­bor­hood). We just need more vo­lun­teers.”

Their elec­ted of­fi­cials have been on board. City Cou­cil­man Bobby Hen­on and State Rep. Ed Niel­son at­ten­ded Na­tion­al Night Out, along with rep­res­ent­at­ives for Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill, State Sen. Mike Stack and State Rep. Brendan Boyle.

“I think this is an awe­some op­por­tun­ity to con­nect with com­munit­ies, to meet people, en­gage them and get them to join Town Watch,” Hen­on said.

“It’s about bring­ing the ‘vil­lage’ back to the com­munity and get­ting people in­volved,” Niel­son ad­ded.

Capt. Len Ditch­kof­sky of the 8th Po­lice Dis­trict would like to see more cit­izens help fight crime year-round. Town Watch mem­bers do not con­front crim­in­als, but can be a vi­tal in­form­a­tion source to po­lice.

“They’re the eyes and ears,” Ditch­kof­sky said. “They’re the people who tell us in­form­a­tion. They put a lot of em­phas­is on patrol, but what I really need is [for] them to know their neigh­bors, know their neigh­bors’ fam­il­ies and to look out for each oth­er.

“If you see some­body mess­ing with a neigh­bor’s prop­erty, call 911.”

In May­fair on Tues­day, Town Watch mem­bers and non-mem­bers took a sim­il­ar mes­sage to the streets.

“When you see crime, bad be­ha­vi­or, the best way to stop it is to tell po­lice dir­ectly,” said State Rep. Kev­in Boyle.

The march­ers made an im­pres­sion on at least a few bystand­ers. They walked the 12 blocks from the “tri­angle” park at Frank­ford and Cottman to Frank­ford and Har­bison. Those who com­pleted the trip were re­war­ded with a free beer or soft drink at the Grey Lodge pub.

As the throng passed a teen­age girl on one street corner, she pro­claimed, “That’s a lotta people, yo.”

A couple of blocks farther, a wo­man emerged from a tap­room with a ci­gar­ette in hand, ex­claim­ing, “I wish I would’ve known. I would’ve done it with you.”

Oth­er pass­ers-by joined the parade mid-stream, while one teen­age boy with a dog on a leash stepped aside to let the march­ers pass.

“There’s ex­cel­lent sup­port we get from all the Town Watch groups and it’s good to have May­fair out here to sup­port one-an­oth­er and the 15th dis­trict,” Bach­may­er said. ••

For in­form­a­tion about join­ing Town Watch or start­ing your own group, con­tact your loc­al po­lice dis­trict.

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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