Community, officers to celebrate night out

Community leaders in the Northeast will hold a march and four large public gatherings in conjunction with the annual National Night Out for Town Watch groups next Monday and Tuesday. Organizers also encourage residents to gather informally in smaller, more localized settings to show their advocacy for public safety and solidarity with police.

“With the recent violent tragedies that have swept our nation, now more than ever, the purpose of this event is critical,” said state Rep. Kevin Boyle, whose staff is co-coordinating a gathering at Fox Chase Elementary School on Tuesday. “Creating an ongoing partnership between our law enforcement, emergency responders and the community makes our neighborhood a better and safer place to live.”

The National Association of Town Watch, based in Wynnewood, Montgomery County, created National Night Out in 1984 to raise awareness about police-sponsored programs in communities across the United States and Canada.

Those programs include drug prevention and anti-gang efforts, town watch and its companion neighborhood watch. In most participating locales, the event is held annually on the first Tuesday in August.

The program has been a late-summer staple in Philadelphia for decades. Town Watch is a city-sponsored activity administered through the Town Watch Integrated Services office as well as community relations officers based in each of the city’s police districts. The city has 750 registered Town Watch groups with 23,000 members, according to the TWIS website. Members patrol their neighborhoods on foot or in cars routinely. Although they are prohibited from interfering directly in crimes that they witness, they act as the so-called “eyes and ears” for police, providing officers with first-hand information that may prove valuable in criminal investigations. The presence of Town Watch patrols in a neighborhood may also deter individuals and groups from engaging in nuisance activities, like loitering and public drinking.

Neighborhood Watch or Block Watch organizations don’t patrol on the scale of Town Watch. Instead, members keep an eye on things from the safety of their own homes. But as is the case with Town Watch, communication with police is critical to neighborhood watch.

This year, TWIS will hold National Night Out kickoff rallies on Monday at four locations around the city, including the Target Shopping Center, 7400 Bustleton Ave., from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Individual Town Watch groups will share their membership details, while public officials will distribute information about government programs and services. The rallies also typically feature appearances by local police and firefighters, music and free stuff from business sponsors.

The actual National Night Out will be on Tuesday.

In the 15th Police District, organizers have made some major modifications to their annual activities. They will start at 7 p.m. with a parade of community organizations from Torresdale Avenue and Rhawn Street (New Foundations Charter School), south on Torresdale to Russo Park at Cottman Avenue. Inside the park, there will be an anti-crime and vendor fair. The organizing committee hopes to strengthen community spirit and unity, foster partnerships with police and raise awareness about crime prevention. Last year, the same group paraded from Frankford Avenue and Welsh Road in the 8th district to Abraham Lincoln High School in the 15th.

The primary gathering this year in the 8th district will be at the police station at Academy and Red Lion roads from 6 to 9 p.m. Organized by the 8th Police District Advisory Committee, it will feature tables occupied by local businesses, elected officials and service providers. The PDAC promises free food and refreshments, appearances by special police and fire department units and DJ entertainment.

The Fox Chase gathering, at Fox Chase Elementary School from 6 to 8 p.m., promises to again be among the largest in the city. Co-presented by Boyle’s office and the Fox Chase Town Watch in partnership with the 2nd and 7th Police Districts, the event traditionally draws 2,000 people or more to the schoolyard for a vendor fair, musical performances and demonstrations by local dance troops and martial arts students.

High-ranking police, such as Fox Chase resident Richard Ross, the police commissioner, may stop by, joining local police and fire units. Local businesses and organizations will offer free snacks and refreshments.