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