Throughout the riverwards, neighborhood organizations and community groups have long strived to make the region a safer place.
Now, many have banded together to create the RiverWards CrimeWatch, a new partnership to curb crime.
On a sunny afternoon on March 15, Neil Brecher, chairman of the new organization, led a walk through the 26th Police District’s Police Service Area 3 — a large swath of the community that stretches from Poplar Street to Lehigh Avenue, and from about Front Street to the Delaware River — to discuss the group’s goals.
“There are a lot of people in this community who want it to be safer,” said Brecher. “Everybody has the same goal, wanting a safer neighborhood.”
Brecher, who formerly served as president of the Fishtown Neighbors Association, said he had been kicking around the idea for this crime-watch group for some time. But it was the shooting death of Shane Kelly — killed by a robber along the usually quiet 1300 block of Hewson St. last November — that in his mind cemented the need for the group.
“I don’t want to just focus on that, but (at a memorial held at Belgrade and Hewson streets for Kelly) you had people there from all over the neighborhood, from every group … groups came together,” he said. “I thought that if we could bring together all the civics into a single organization, it just seemed natural.”
Since then, he said, he has engendered a partnership involving the Fishtown Neighbors Association, the East Kensington Neighbors Association, Fishtown Action, the Olde Richmond Civic Association and the Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 51 to create the RiverWards CrimeWatch.
“Each of these groups has a lot on their plate,” he said. “We can help them help others.”
Composed of about 10 people, the group has been working with the city’s Town Watch Integrated Services to develop ways to divide the large area into manageable sections, thus enabling teams to work as the eyes and ears of the police department.
Members also are going on walk-alongs in neighborhoods around the city to learn what works for other Town Watch groups. Brecher hopes the organization will step in to provide an additional level of support for the police.
“We thought that people could participate where we think the police are stretched too thin,” he said.
The fledgling group has started to implement new ideas. Brecher thought the group could take advantage of area dog parks by bringing dog owners on board.
“Everybody has to go out to walk their dogs,” said Brecher. “At the dog parks, there are already these social groups … the presence of people on the street alone can help stop the persistence of crime.”
In similar fashion, he’s looking to have neighborhood crossing guards join the group. “They are already out there. They know each other and people in the community,” he said. “This is not a war-torn area being run by criminals.”
The anti-crime group has an official Web site — www.rwcw.org — and plans to participate in this year’s annual National Night Out, the crime-watch initiative. The group also is watching the progress of a neighborhood surveillance-camera program in nearby Northern Liberties as a possible project for the future.
Mostly, Brecher said, he hopes the group helps build a sense of community, bringing neighbors together and supporting one another to push out the criminal element.
“We need to educate people, keep people involved and keep people safe,” he said. ••
For more information or to get involved with the RiverWards TownWatch, visit www.rwcw.org.
Managing editor Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org