Olney/West Oak Lane: Town Watch Promotes ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors’

Town Watch programs are used in cities in many different states. The main tenet of all Town Watch programs is, “Observe, Document and Report.” This is the simplest form of guidelines for people who are involved in this program.

Eric Brice is the communications coordinator for the 35th District Town Watch. The 35th District is an area covering Olney and West Oak Lane, both of which are neighborhoods in North Philadelphia. He’s out to change the stigma of “snitching” that has been attached to programs such as his.

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“We have decided to make a shift and use the Town Watch as a broader approach,” Brice said. “We want to make it about quality of life and taking a holistic approach. We’re trying to promote the idea of neighbors helping neighbors.”

The goal of all community programs is fairly similar: Advocate positive changes in some way. That’s no small task. It’s even tougher in a community where residents are faced with issues that threaten the safety and livelihood of those around them.

“Our goal right now is to really change the mindsets of the people who come to our meetings,” Brice said. “We really want them to start thinking differently about not only where we live, but about their role in securing a better quality of life. We have certainly seen a change in the behavior of our residents over time.”

The biggest challenge facing the 35th District Town Watch is not just getting people involved, but finding a way to erase the idea that they will be put at risk by assisting. All tips and/or information provided is done in complete anonymity.

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“We have to find a way to dispel the notion that someone reporting something will put them at risk,” Brice said. “Apathy is the biggest challenge in a grassroots community organization. People either don’t care, don’t want to care, or just think that someone else will take care of it. You have to challenge people’s personal investments.”

Brice works closely with Tonya Bah. Bah is one of the leading members of a group called Concerned Citizens for Change. She is also a member of the Town Watch.

“I’m a real life example of the good this group can do,” Bah said. “I have children and live in this area. It can be rough. These groups are what people need to be involved in.”

The 35th District Town Watch currently has an active membership of around 250 people. Brice knows this number will only rise as word spreads.

The interactive map below shows important community locations for those interested in getting involved.

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– Text, images and map by Kevin Troilo

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