Fox Chase Town Watch relaunches National Night Out

Na­tion­al Night Out to re­launch on Aug. 6.

A look back: In this file photo, Dav­id Curry eagerly ac­cepts a pret­zel from Eileen Himes of the Rotary Club dur­ing the 2010 Na­tion­al Night Out cel­eb­ra­tion in Fox Chase. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Cyn­ics might say that the Fox Chase Town Watch picked the wrong year to re­launch its an­nu­al Na­tion­al Night Out cel­eb­ra­tion.

After all, the du­bi­ous deeds of self-pro­claimed neigh­bor­hood patrollers like George Zi­m­mer­man and Dav­id Toledo (the al­leged May­fair tire slash­er) are still fresh in pub­lic con­scious­ness.

Yet, the pres­id­ent of the Fox Chase group, along with two state law­makers who serve the neigh­bor­hood, ar­gue that the tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter to re­new the once-pop­u­lar com­munity event after a one-year hi­atus. In the past, thou­sands of res­id­ents would gath­er in the Fox Chase Ele­ment­ary School park­ing lot to meet loc­al mer­chants and elec­ted of­fi­cials, along with the po­lice and fire­fight­ers who pro­tect their fam­il­ies and prop­er­ties every day of the year.

Or­gan­izers are hop­ing for a sim­il­ar turnout on Tues­day, Aug. 6, from 6 p.m. to dusk, at the same ven­ue. The Fox Chase event will be one of many held that night around the North­east, throughout the city and across the na­tion.

“I like it be­cause it’s a com­munity spir­it day,” Steve Phil­lips, the Town Watch pres­id­ent, told the Times re­cently. “It gets neigh­bors out of the house and it’s a way to say ‘thank you’ to the people who do the real patrolling, the po­lice and fire­fight­ers.”

Res­id­ents and po­lice have been team­ing up to com­bat crime in Fox Chase for al­most 19 years. A killing equally as shock­ing as the Trayvon Mar­tin case was the cata­lyst for the Town Watch group’s 1994 form­a­tion. That Nov. 11, a group of sub­urb­an teens chased and beat to death a loc­al boy, Ed­die Polec, on the front steps of St. Cecil­ia’s Church.

The Town Watch formed al­most im­me­di­ately and hos­ted its first, mod­est Na­tion­al Night Out event the fol­low­ing Au­gust.

“They did it very in­form­ally in the park­ing lot of Fox Chase bank,” Phil­lips said.

Un­der the dir­ec­tion of John Duffy, the Town Watch’s vice pres­id­ent, the event grew to be­come the biggest of its kind in the city. But due to dwind­ling fin­an­cial sup­port from the city and area busi­nesses, as well as a short­age of vo­lun­teers, the Fox Chase group de­cided not to hold the event last Au­gust. Then last winter, Duffy had some sud­den med­ic­al prob­lems from which he’s still try­ing to re­cov­er. This year’s ef­fort has been ded­ic­ated to Duffy.

State Rep. Kev­in Boyle and his broth­er, Rep. Brendan Boyle, each rep­res­ent por­tions of the neigh­bor­hood and stepped in with fund­ing and lo­gist­ic­al sup­port. Kev­in Boyle’s aide, Jeff De­mp­sey, has been the law­maker’s point man on the pro­ject.

“I was up­set as a Fox Chase res­id­ent that we didn’t have Night Out last year,” Kev­in Boyle said. “I went to it as a teen­ager. It was the mar­quee fam­ily event in Fox Chase. I pledged last year with my staff to bring it back.”

Phil­lips also cred­ited Linda Trush, an aide to City Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill, with get­ting the ef­fort off the ground. About 40 mer­chants and pub­lic of­fi­cials have booked tables for the event and will hand out re­fresh­ments, snacks and pro­mo­tion­al knick-knacks. The Town Watch does not al­low mer­chants to sell any­thing.

Phil­lips is look­ing for­ward to the op­por­tun­ity to edu­cate the pub­lic about the le­git­im­ate motives of Town Watch and the strin­gent reg­u­la­tions ob­served by its mem­bers.

“For the av­er­age per­son who’s nev­er been in­volved in Town Watch or doesn’t have one in their com­munity, [the Zi­m­mer­man case] can cer­tainly cre­ate a black eye,” Phil­lips said.

Town Watch mem­bers are pro­hib­ited from car­ry­ing weapons while on patrol, they are pro­hib­ited from fol­low­ing or pur­su­ing sus­pects and they are re­quired to fol­low the dir­ec­tions of po­lice and po­lice dis­patch­ers.

“These reg­u­la­tions have been in place for a long, long time,” Phil­lips said.

Fox Chase Town Watch goes great lengths to en­sure that its par­ti­cipants fol­low the rules and have the prop­er mind­set for neigh­bor­hood patrol. At one time, the or­gan­iz­a­tion had 60 to 70 mem­bers on act­ive patrol. Now, there are about 30. In­di­vidu­als usu­ally patrol one night per month. If someone wants to join, but doesn’t live in the neigh­bor­hood, that’s a red flag. If someone used to be part of an­oth­er Town Watch group, that’s an­oth­er pos­sible is­sue. If someone wants to patrol too much, it may be a sign that the per­son may be a bit too gung ho.

“I try to get to know the per­son. It’s a vo­lun­teer thing, but I like to know what their mo­tiv­a­tions are,” Phil­lips said.

Kev­in Boyle con­tends that a prop­erly trained Town Watch is a com­munity as­set.

“We have a largely safe com­munity and we want to keep it that way,” he said. “I’ve nev­er seen an is­sue with any of the loc­al Town Watch or­gan­iz­a­tions in North­east Phil­adelphia. They’re well-trained to be eyes and ears for po­lice and not try to ap­pre­hend sus­pec­ted crim­in­als.” •• 

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