Town watch groups prepare for a big night out

For Joanne Petroski, leading a town watch group in her Fishtown neighborhood has been way to connect with neighbors and make her community safer for nearly three decades.

"The whole purpose of a town watch is to get to know your neighbors," said Petroski. "Too many people are insulated inside their houses, especially in this kind of weather. People sit inside their houses in the air conditioning and they never look out their front door or back door."

On Tuesday Aug 3, Philadelphia will join cities and towns across the country in marking the 27th National Night Out, an evening in which town watch groups, police and others encourage neighbors to turn on their porch lights and come outside to engage in activities that celebrate their communities and help deter crime.

To help make Philadelphia's National Night Out a success, Town Watch Integrated Services, a city program which coordinates town watch groups in Philadelphia, will host its annual National Night Kick Off event on Monday Aug. 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart at 1601 Columbus Blvd. The event features music, refreshments and prizes.

"The goal is to encourage more people to join town watch groups, to get more involved in their community," said Anthony Murphy, director of Town Watch Integrated Services. Murphy said Philadelphia has about 730 town watch groups with a total of about 20,000 volunteers who serve as eyes and ears of their neighborhoods.

"What we try to do in Philadelphia on National Night Out is get more people engaged in more than just turning their lights on," said Murphy. "We want to get them to do something outdoors."

Murphy said some town watch groups in the city will host barbecues, bike rides, neighborhood walks and other activities.

"The significance of a town watch is that it organizes a community." Murphy said. "And when you have an organized community, you have less criminal activity.… It's also a way of helping young people understand their role as good citizens because it teaches civic values."

For more information about town watches and National Night Out call Town Watch Integrated Services at 215-686-1965.