Chestnut Hill Town Watch seeks block captains

by Barbara Sheehan
Posted 4/1/21

Concerned about the increase in crime in our area, Chestnut Hill residents Lynn Selhat and Jeff Meade have joined forces to organize a town watch for the neighborhood and are looking to recruit others to join. 

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Chestnut Hill Town Watch seeks block captains

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Concerned about the increase in crime in our area, Chestnut Hill residents Lynn Selhat and Jeff Meade have joined forces to organize a town watch for the neighborhood and are looking to recruit others to join.   

The venture grew out of an animated discussion among Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy residents that popped up on the social network Nextdoor in mid-January.

Selhat, an academic editor and 30-year Chestnut Hill resident, attended training sessions provided by Philadelphia’s Town Watch Integrated Services (TWIS) Program, with about 20 other neighbors. 

At this time, the organizers do not feel prepared to set up a patrol program. “We would need a critical mass of volunteers to do patrolling,” said Selhat, “and it is time intensive.”

Instead, she and Meade opted for the “Eyes and Ears” program, where Block Captains keep their neighbors informed of any criminal activity in the area, and neighbors report any activity they see as questionable to Block Captains or the police.  Block Captains help to build neighborhood cohesiveness, which aides in crime prevention, among other benefits.  TWIS-trained block captains have also helped with beautification programs such as sweeping streets, removing graffiti, and planting flowers and trees. 

Selhat emphasized that those who sign up for town watch should not put themselves at risk. “The trainers,” she said, “reiterated again and again – never approach anyone who is in the process of committing a crime.”

Selhat and Meade are looking to recruit additional Block Captains. They currently have six Block Captains who alert each other about crime statistics as well as prevention tips.  The network of Block Captains can also be used in emergency situations.

Meade, also a 30-year resident of Chestnut Hill, was motivated to get involved because of the uptick in crime, especially armed car jackings and armed robberies. A journalist and former emergency medical technician, he participated in a town watch organized by Chestnut Hill resident Richard Martin over twenty years ago.  Selhat was also involved in that effort.  He and Selhat “were especially concerned about the use of firearms in neighborhood crime,” he said.

While he admitted that the problem of gun violence in this district is not as pronounced as in other Philadelphia neighborhoods, the increase in criminal activity is still of concern.

The Block Captain’s first step in organizing a block is to distribute fliers to their neighbors asking them to “opt in.”  Neighbors can then share their contact information, and alert the Block Captains when they have a concern.  In turn, the Block Captains will disseminate information about criminal activity of which their neighbors should be aware, as well as effective prevention tips. 

In order to keep track of official police updates, Meade has started to attend the 14th District Public Safety meetings, currently held virtually and led by Administrative Lieutenant Demetrios Pittaoulis, of the Philadelphia Police 14th District, Police Service Area (PSA) 4.  During the Zoom meeting, Lt. Pittaoulis provides a synopsis of criminal activity in the service area and then responds to questions and concerns from neighbors. (Recent meetings ran from 30-45 minutes each.)

At the most recent PSA 4 meeting, held on March 24th, concerns brought up included the presence of ATV vehicles on the streets in Mt. Airy, partying in the woods near the Water Tower Recreation Center, the shooting of a DoorDash driver at Easton Road and Wadsworth Avenue, and the destruction of area ATMs.  PSA 4 covers the region from Northwestern Avenue to Allens Lane (North to South Borders), Cheltenham Avenue to Germantown Avenue (East to West Borders), and Chestnut Hill west of Germantown Avenue.

Some residents worried that their questions were not of primary importance to the Philadelphia Police, who, they think, must have more important crimes to pursue. One resident was apologetic about bringing up the increase in the number of drivers who exceed the speed limit and run through red lights.

Pittaoulis acknowledged that officers have seen a lot of reckless driving in recent months.  He assured the resident that his problem “is not a back burner issue. If it is important enough that you come out [to a meeting], we will do something about it.”  For example, noting that the corner of Stenton Avenue and Upsal Street has seen frequent traffic violations, he has asked his officers to have more of a presence there.

The PSA 4 meetings are held monthly and are open to the public. To participate in the PSA 4 or other 14th District Police Service Area meetings, citizens can email Raubert.Hicks@Phila.gov.  

To inquire about becoming a Block Captain for the Chestnut Hill Town Watch, residents may contact Jeff Meade at irishphilly@gmail.com.

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