Town Watch interest is taking off again

by Pete Mazzaccaro
Posted 2/11/21

One of the first assignments I ever had as a writer for the Local many years ago was a Town Watch ride-around with the long-time head of Chestnut Hill’s watch, Dick Martin. I recall a …

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Town Watch interest is taking off again

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One of the first assignments I ever had as a writer for the Local many years ago was a Town Watch ride-around with the long-time head of Chestnut Hill’s watch, Dick Martin. I recall a relatively boring nighttime drive around a dark Chestnut Hill with Martin describing the typical routine of a Town Watch patrol, which ultimately boiled down to looking for something unusual and alerting the police. At that time, Martin had a CB radio in his car. Another volunteer was on the other end to coordinate the patrol.

Martin had been a key organizer of Chestnut Hill’s Town Watch from when a crime wave in the 80s galvanized local awareness in public safety and a robust group of volunteers who patrolled neighborhood streets in cars or on foot. He led what came to be the Public Safety Committee of the Chestnut Hill Community Association. In addition to organizing Chestnut Hill’s Town Watch, Martin would travel to the 14th Police District headquarters on Haynes St. in Germantown to collect the Local’s crime report every week. He did this until his death about six years ago.

By that time in the 2010s, crime throughout Northwest Philadelphia wasn’t what it used to be. A perusal through Local crime reports in the 80s will demonstrate that the rate of crime had dropped very low from what it was in the 70s and 80s, where property crime and some violent crime was not unusual. Violent crime today is nearly nonexistent and property crime consists almost exclusively of thieves stealing things left in the cars of people taking a stroll in the Wissahickon.

As crime rates sagged in Chestnut Hill, so did interest in Town Watch. One notable exception is the Mt. Airy-Nippon-Bryan-Cresheim Town Watch, led by Steve Stroiman, which marked its 30th anniversary in 2018. But otherwise, the volunteer levels for neighborhood public safety networks have mostly vanished, an unsurprising development given the low levels of crime. When Martin died, no one was around to take his place.

That is until last month when a rash of armed robberies in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and the suburbs have rekindled interest in public safety. In an announcement this week on page 2, area residents Jeff Meade and Lynn Selhat are asking people in both Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy to come forward to establish a Town Watch network under the existing Philadelphia structure. In addition to Stroiman’s group, other small groups of neighbors are likely participating in small Town Watch groups in their own neighborhoods.

We were lucky. Over the last two weeks, there were no recurrences of the armed hold-ups from January. Still, it’s likely a better idea to be proactive when it comes to public safety. Coordination of such groups across both Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill and the rest of the city might be just what both neighborhoods need. If you are part of a Town Watch, contact Meade and Selhat to let them know what you’re doing. You can let us know at the Local. I can be reached at pete@chestnuthilllocal.com

In the meantime, be safe.

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