National Night Out: An evening for neighbors

Town Watch members and their neighbors will see a very different National Night Out next week when thousands of Philadelphia residents gather at locations throughout the city to demonstrate their support for law and order.

For the first time ever, the citywide NNO kickoff rally will be held in the Northeast thanks to new sponsorship from Target, which will host the block party-style event on Monday, Aug. 6, at Bustleton and Bleigh avenues in Rhawnhurst.

Meanwhile, for the first time in more than a decade, the Northeast’s largest annual NNO celebration, the one always held at Fox Chase Elementary School, will not take place. Neighborhood Town Watch leaders have advised folks to go to the Target event instead.

And finally, for the first time in several years, NNO activities will not be held at any of the three police stations in the Northeast. Rather, everything will happen in more-public venues, including recreation centers and shopping plaza parking lots. Neighborhood-specific events are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 7 and 8.

“This is supposed to be a community event. It’s about neighbors looking out for neighbors,” explained Capt. Len Ditchkofsky, commander of the 8th Police District. “It’s about getting to know each other and talking about problems in the neighborhood.”

People do that all over the United States and beyond.

The National Association of Town Watch created NNO 29 years ago to heighten crime- and drug-prevention awareness, generate support for local anti-crime programs, strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships, and to “send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.”

In 2011, more than 37 million people in 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities and military bases worldwide participated in NNO activities, according to the national organizer.

Many communities have elaborate public gatherings with vendors, police and fire department demonstrations, entertainment and celebrity appearances. Other communities choose to do it differently, where residents turn on their porch lamps, go outside and gather in small groups to show solidarity against crime.

Philadelphia tends to do things more elaborately.

Three days of activity will kick off with the Target rally, as well as a similar rally in Fairhill Square Park at Fourth Street and Lehigh Avenue. They will start at 6 p.m.

Mayor Michael Nutter or his deputy, as well as top police department commanders are expected to attend both events. Selected Town Watch volunteers will receive awards for their service.

“It was always in South Philadelphia for a long time at Wal-Mart,” said Anthony Murphy, director of Town Watch Integrated Services, the city-sponsored agency that certifies neighborhood Town Watch groups.

“The Town Watch groups in the Northeast always supported the kickoff in South Philadelphia. And Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. So this is the next neighborhood [where] we’re bringing it.”

Target has been a longtime sponsor of NNO in individual neighborhoods. But it has become a citywide sponsor for the first time, Murphy said.

Fox Chase Town Watch leaders decided to discontinue their annual gathering, knowing that the Target event would offer Northeast residents a comparable alternative. Steve Phillips, president of the group, told members on July 11 that the combination of increasing costs and declining volunteer support made renewing the event difficult.

“We’ve been looking for a primary sponsor for years,” Phillips said.

The smaller, more localized activities will begin at 11 a.m. on Aug. 7 when the 7th Police District Advisory Council will host a picnic for children at the Lackman Playground, 1101 Bartlett St.

That evening, the Castor Gardens Town Watch will welcome the public to a picnic at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, at Cottman and Loretto avenues, from 6 to 9 p.m. Visitors can meet their neighbors, get a bite to eat and learn valuable information about Town Watch and public safety.

At the same time, Pennypack Woods Homeowners Association will conduct a neighborhood walk and Town Watch recruitment drive starting at 6 p.m.

Also at 6 p.m. on Aug. 7, the Parkwood Town Watch will team with the Millbrook/Chalfont Town Watch for a recruitment drive and expo at the Knights Shopping Center, Knights and Woodhaven roads.

Local businesses, organizations and elected officials will set up booths to share gifts and information. The shopping center’s owner, Marx Realty & Improvement Co., is the primary sponsor.

Later that evening, the Mayfair Town Watch will hold a “flashlight march” on Frankford Avenue starting at 7:30 p.m. Participants will gather at Cottman and Frankford avenues, where vendors will distribute free water ice, balloons and glow sticks for children. Participants should bring their own flashlights.

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com