A need for watchful eyes in Millbrook

Ken Grow (left) and Mike Lamb (right) say the trouble areas in Mill­brook are right be­hind Rush school, where young people gath­er to drink at night. Both men are try­ing to get more people in­volved with Town Watch. (Maria Pouch­nikova)


Mike Lamb and Ken Grow know where to find trouble in their neigh­bor­hood. One spot is be­hind the Arts Academy at Ben­jamin Rush Arts Academy on Knights Road in Mill­brook.

It’s a little patch high above a track and ath­let­ic field, tucked un­der a few trees. Kids hang there, hide there, drink there, sell and use drugs there. They leave be­hind graf­fiti on a met­al rail­ing, even on the trees. They also dis­card their trash and broken fold­ing chairs.

There’s a park­ing lot hid­den from view be­hind the school build­ing, and the drop to the ath­let­ic field be­low is steep enough that kids can get away quickly when they see someone ap­proach.

Grow and Lamb know all about the site and oth­ers like it not just be­cause they’re long­time Mill­brook res­id­ents, but be­cause they are vo­lun­teers for their loc­al Town Watch.

They’ve been try­ing for a couple years to en­cour­age more people to join the Watch, which patrols the neigh­bor­hood 9 to mid­night on Fri­day and Sat­urday nights. They haven’t had much luck.

Be­sides Lamb, the Watch pres­id­ent, and Grow, the vice pres­id­ent, there are sev­en oth­er mem­bers. That’s just not enough, Lamb said one quiet af­ter­noon last week as he and Grow talked be­hind the school. A bet­ter num­ber for the group would be at least 20, he said.

The few cur­rent mem­bers of the Chalf­ont/Mill­brook Town Watch rep­res­ent a range of age groups, Grow and Lamb said. One mem­ber is in his 30s; an­oth­er is 70, they said.

About a quarter of the na­tion’s res­id­ents vo­lun­teered their time last year, ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics. Only 1.3 per­cent of those, however, vo­lun­teered in pub­lic-safety or­gan­iz­a­tions.

People ages 35 to 54 are the most act­ive vo­lun­teers, ac­cord­ing to the bur­eau. In 2011, 31.8 per­cent of the people ages 35 to 44 vo­lun­teered in their com­munit­ies. The num­ber was 30.6 per­cent for ages 45 to 54. Mar­ried people vo­lun­teered at a slightly high­er rate — 32.3 per­cent. A big chunk of col­lege grads — 42.4 per­cent — vo­lun­teered.

More wo­men — 29.9 per­cent — gave up their free time than men, 23.5 per­cent. Em­ployed people (29.1 per­cent) vo­lun­teered more than un­em­ployed people (23.8 per­cent.) Older people spent more hours vo­lun­teer­ing than young­er people did, the bur­eau re­por­ted.

So how did all those vo­lun­teers be­come in­volved?

About 42 per­cent of them ap­proached or­gan­iz­a­tions on their own to ask about vo­lun­teer­ing, the bur­eau stated, but about the same num­ber said some­body asked them to join. That’s what Grow and Lamb are do­ing.

“All that’s needed is about an hour or so,” Grow said dur­ing the Sept. 25 meet­ing of the Mill­brook Civic As­so­ci­ation.

Both men peri­od­ic­ally have put out calls for more mem­bers. They’ve got­ten re­sponses, but they just haven’t got­ten last­ing par­ti­cip­a­tion.

Town Watch mem­bers have no po­lice powers and they’re really not sup­posed to get in­volved in stop­ping any­thing they spot go­ing on as they patrol their neigh­bor­hood.

They ob­serve and re­port what they’ve seen to po­lice. That’s it, Grow and Lamb said. That’s a big help to the po­lice be­cause it tells them what’s go­ing on, they said.

That’s the whole idea, said Jack Tol­chin, pres­id­ent of the nearby Park­wood Town Watch.

“We can pin­point for po­lice where something is hap­pen­ing,” he said.

The Park­wood Watch has one more than the 20 mem­bers Grow and Lamb said they want.

Tol­chin said the Park­wood Town Watch formed about eight years ago in re­sponse to grow­ing prob­lems with neigh­bor­hood youth.

“Kids were ac­tu­ally start­ing to take over the neigh­bor­hood,” Tol­chin said in an in­ter­view. “I tried to make people un­der­stand we were go­ing to get over­run if we don’t start do­ing this.”

Tol­chin sees one of the Watch’s suc­cesses in what it pre­vents.

A patrol once spot­ted two ju­ven­iles who had over­dosed on drugs.

“If we wer­en’t there to call the po­lice to get them to a hos­pit­al, they might have died,” Tol­chin said.

Park­wood’s patrols look for trouble in that neigh­bor­hood’s many woods and try to alert po­lice to fights be­fore they start.

“If we see kids start­ing to gath­er some­where, we call in the po­lice to break them up,” Tol­chin said.

And just as Lamb and Grow stressed, neigh­bor­hood patrols don’t re­quire a lot of time or much ef­fort, Tol­chin said.

Park­wood’s group has someone in his or her own home act­ing as a base while two oth­ers patrol the neigh­bor­hood by car for an hour or so dur­ing the Watch’s 8 p.m. to mid­night shifts on Fri­days and Sat­urdays.

“I try to break it up to make it easi­er for them and less bor­ing,” Tol­chin said. “We have one car out, two in a car for an hour each patrol. … We have people go out every oth­er week.”

Tol­chin said the patrols call in what they see by ra­dio to the base op­er­at­or, who then calls the in­form­a­tion in to 911. The per­son work­ing the base can be go­ing about his or her nor­mal routines while at home oth­er than not­ing and call­ing in what patrol mem­bers see.

Get­ting mem­bers isn’t easy, Tol­chin said.

“I don’t think people un­der­stand the im­port­ance of what it is to vo­lun­teer today, to keep their neigh­bor­hood safe,” Tol­chin said.

“Any Town Watch that’s out there patrolling is suc­cess­ful,” Tol­chin said. “We just don’t have enough of them.” ••

Eyes and ears

Any­body who wants to be­come an act­ive mem­ber of the Chalf­ont Mill­brook Town Watch can call Ken Grow at 215-637-6861 or Mike Lamb at 215-612-2399.

Mem­bers meet at the Cal­vary Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation, 4330 Deer­path Lane. Vo­lun­teers can go along on patrols to get a feel for what is done and then de­cide if they want to go through with four hours of train­ing with Town Watch In­teg­rated Ser­vices.

End­Frag­ment End­Frag­ment

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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