On Facebook, there are over 1,700 members of the Port Richmond Town Watch page, but it’s just 12 men and women who hit the streets to volunteer their time to making the neighborhood a safer place.
Founded after the 1989 murder of Port Richmond resident Sean Daily, the Town Watch is a community tradition. Last Friday, Star joined the Port Richmond Town Watch on a weekly patrol.
Ken Paul, president of Port Richmond on Patrol and Civic (PROPAC), does his patrol by driving through Port Richmond, street by street, looking for suspicious activity. Other residents on foot patrol carry walkie-talkies and will report hot spots of activity to Paul.
“It’s not a bad neighborhood,” Paul says of Port Richmond.
But he and other Town Watch regulars are dedicated to keeping the neighborhood safe through regular patrols.
The Town Watch has a set of simple rules. Never patrol by yourself. Never approach anyone suspicious. The Town Watch is just there to observe, report, and contact the Philadelphia Police Department if they see something that merits police attention.
Those rules are important because things can get very dangerous without warning. Town Watch member Amy Frey recalled one patrol when she was at Cedar and Madison streets and heard the sound of fireworks. Then she realized it was gunfire, and immediately fled the scene, while calling police.
The Philadelphia Police Department was out and about in Port Richmond last Friday night. That night, PRTW saw a group of police cars blocking the street off to arrest teenagers who had gotten into a fight with baseball bats.
For the most part that night, though, the activity the group witnessed that night was underage drinking – groups of teenagers congregating at places like Campbell Square and Powers Park, many of them carrying backpacks full of beer. Teenagers were sitting on stoops in front of closed stores with silly, inebriated expressions, and some teenagers were just stumbling around, clearly drunk.
Maryann Trombetta, president of PRTW and regular patroller, said that she can’t call the police over and over about underage drinking. The police, she said, have more serious things to worry about.
“A cop should not be somebody’s babysitter,” Trombetta said.
The members of the group get more concerned – and do call the police – when they see teenagers going into some of the dangerous, debris-strewn vacant lots around Port Richmond. After repeated calls about one crumbling, hazardous warehouse at Richmond and Tioga streets, where teenagers were constantly going to drink, the building was demolished.
Town Watch also reports fresh graffiti and abandoned garbage to city authorities. During the Friday patrol, the group came across a likely stolen Jaguar X16 abandoned on a street in Port Richmond’s northeastern industrial section.
PRTW members know all the suspicious sites around their neighborhood — there’s a drug-dealer’s house, there’s an abandoned house used for parties, there’s a graffiti tag in tribute to a dead drug dealer.
Since none of these things represent active illegal activity, the police aren’t able to crack down on these signs of illegal activity.
But just the fact that PRTW is keeping its eye on them makes everyone in the neighborhood a little safer.
“We have this quality of life stuff, bandit signs, abandoned houses, pot holes. You’ve got to call them in and tell the city, because the cops don’t always know,” Trombetta said.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.