by Sue Ann Rybak
“Walker to base,” the man’s voice on the radio said. “Go ahead,” replied base.
Sugar, Spice, Ginger, Walker, Sprint, and Nitro are just some examples of the aliases used by Carpenter Woods Town Watch patrol members as they checked in with base on Tuesday, July 28.
Heather Pierce, president of Carpenter Woods Town Watch, said everyone uses an alias to protect their identity.
It’s a humid and hot night, and she is worried about her patrollers. Nineteen residents have turned out to safeguard their neighborhood.
As she hands out bottles of cold water, she reminds them to take a break and sit down if they feel tired or overheated.
“We are blessed to have a group of really dedicated people,” said Pierce, who has lived in the neighborhood for almost 45 years. “I just want to make sure they don’t overdo it because they will. That’s how dedicated they are to keeping our neighborhood safe.”
“We are out here all year long,” she said. “In the dead of winter we are out here walking.”
Carpenter Woods Town Watch area covers roughly 50 blocks.
“Our area is bounded by Wissahickon Avenue, Hortter Street, Lincoln Drive and Allens Lane,” Pierce said. “We patrol at different times during the day and night. Our main goal is to be a deterrent. That is the purpose of Town Watch: to deter people from doing things wrong in our community.”
Pierce said the police were involved in everything they do and had the ability to listen in on their conversations on the radio.
“We never confront anyone,” she said. “All we do is observe and take notes. The great thing about the 14th District is that they will share information with us. There have been times when we have been out patrolling and they have asked us to look for stuff.
“For example, if there is a report of a vehicle missing. Most of the time there is more of us [patrolling] then them. We aren’t the police, but they know they can rely on us to be the eyes and ears of the community because they can’t be everywhere and you can’t expect them to be.”
Pierce said people are often hesitant to join Town Watch because they worry about being confronted by someone.
“In all the years we’ve been doing this we haven’t had any problems.” she said. “We always have someone patrolling in a car because safety of the patrol is priority. Your job is just to show a presence and let them know you’re watching – that’s all you need and that usually is enough.
Dina Pierce, Heather’s sister, said residents were often reluctant to call the police.
“What we tell people is, ‘Don’t you determine how suspicious something is, call the police and they will decide whether something is suspicious or not,” she said. “It’s an important aspect we try to tell people. We need to work together to keep our neighborhood safe.”
Heather Pierce said Carpenter Woods Town Watch was started in 2007 after a neighbor was savagely beaten and his dog was shot during a burglary.
“Sadly, it took an incident like that to get it going, but it takes a lot more to keep it going,” she said.
“When something happens people are all up in arms. Everybody wants to do something, but people only want to do something for a short period of time. You need to come out even when things are good because crime is going to continue to happen.”
Carpenter Woods Town Watch began patrolling on Mischief Night in 2007. Shortly after, the Town Watch started hosting a Halloween parade.
“On Halloween, that’s when you hear, ‘Oh, my gosh there are so many Town Watch people,’ and that’s what we want,” she said. “We want people to know because we don’t want people coming into our neighborhood. This is our home and we want people to feel comfortable and safe.”
Michael Blum, 77, of Andorra, formerly of Mt. Airy, has been a member of Carpenter Town Watch since it began in 2007. He no longer lives in the neighborhood but continues to volunteer regularly.
“I am retired, so it’s a little something I can do to provide moral support to the neighborhood,” he said.
It’s a terrific neighborhood. We moved here in 1963 and brought our kids up here. In 2009, my wife and I decided to move to Cathedral Village in Andorra.”
He added that it’s a great way to stay fit and catch up with former neighbors.
“This is a great team and they really keep it going,” Blum said.
But Pierce explained that Town Watch is not just about patrolling. It’s about knowing your neighbors.
“In addition to our patrols, we also have an annual barbecue,” she said. “Because we have so many different patrollers and people come out at different times, neighbors might not have the chance to meet each other. And we want neighbors to know each other because that’s how you keep your neighborhood safe.”
Pierce added it takes a lot of work to keep a patrolling Town Watch going.
“You have to keep recruiting because you can’t expect the same people to do it forever,” she said. “It’s not a forever thing. That’s why it’s important that you keep recruiting new people.
She said that even if people can only patrol one hour a month that one hour makes a difference.
“If everybody did one hour a month, your whole neighborhood would be covered,” Pierce said. “As a whole, we are blessed to have such a great group of people whose goal is to keep the neighborhood safe and you know that you can count on them.”
Douglas Evans, supervisor at Northwest Town Watch Integrated Services, said Town Watch is about neighbors helping neighbors. He noted there are other types of Town Watch besides patrolling.
“People don’t have to have a patrolling Town Watch,” Evans said. “You can have what we call an Eyes and Ears Town Watch. As you go through your normal routine, if you notice something usual or suspicious then you report it.”
“Our goal is take back Philadelphia, block by block,” he said.
Evans encouraged people to be proactive when it comes to crime.
“We all own umbrellas and it doesn’t rain everyday,” he said. “We all own snow shovels and it doesn’t snow everyday, but we know we might need them, so we keep those things.”
He said its the same thing with Town Watch.
“Just because nothing is going on, doesn’t mean you stop locking your door,” Evans said.
“We just ask communities and their neighbors to be organized and have a platform to voice their concerns.”
He said it was not enough to just know the neighbors across the street from you or beside you. He explained that you have to know the people who live behind you because that’s where most burglaries happen.
“Just think how strong a city we would have if every block had a Town Watch,” he said. “We would have the criminals on the run simply by having neighbors watch out for neighbors.”
For more information about Town Watch call Douglas Evans at 215-685-4524. For more information on Carpenter Woods Town Watch go to www.cwtownwatch.org.