Port Richmond’s eyes and ears

How the Port Rich­mond Town Watch con­trib­utes to neigh­bor­hood safety, in light of con­cerns about lack­ing po­lice and abund­ant crime.

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 sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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