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Porch Light Solidarity Varies Widely In National Night Out

August 14, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Participation ranged from the ecstatic to the apathetic as neighbors sought to exorcise the specter of crime from their streets by burning porch lamps and occupying their lawns in the second annual National Night Out.

New York Mayor Ed Koch led a sparkler brigade in a Brooklyn neighborhood, while Minneapolis teen-agers break danced at a block party during Tuesday’s nationwide 8-9 p.m. show of solidarity against crime.

But in Detroit, where Police Chief William Hart sought participation from 41 citizen radio patrol groups and 5,000 block clubs, virtually no turnout was reported for the anti-crime sit-out.

The National Association of Town Watch, based in Wynnewood, Pa., which organized the effort, had predicted communities in 45 states would participate.

Organization leader Matt Peskin said he spent the hour outside his condominium in Wynnewood and driving around the neighborhood to count lighted porches. ″It was much better than last year, from the little I saw,″ he said.

Awaiting word of nationwide activities was ″like an election, waiting for the wards to report,″ he said. ″From the ones (neighborhood groups) I’ve talked to, they’ve done well so far.″

About 12,000 Minneapolis residents were believed to have joined in the National Night Out, including the few dozen gathered in the yard of Joan and Gene Piersa. The parents brought food, while kids from the block spent weeks planning their break dancing exhibition, the Piersas said.

″We’ve been good about looking out for one another, but when there’s been a burglary or something, we generally hear about it after it’s happened,″ said neighbor Jerry Schaefer.

In New York City, the Police Department’s civilian participation unit helped coordinate some 500 local events sponsored by community organizations, block associations and church groups.

″Tonight we’re out on the streets. We’re celebrating people taking back the streets throughout the city,″ Koch told a crowd of several hundred who lit flashlights, candles and sparklers to kick off the event.

Three reporters for the Detroit Free Press who canvassed the city found no out of-the-ordinary activity. ″We had shift people at the police departments laugh at us when we brought it up,″ said night city editor David McKay.

Elsewhere in Michigan, organizers reported a high turnout in places where they’d made a special effort to solicit participation, said Frank S. Bublitz of Saginaw Neighborhoods Inc.

″In the neighborhoods we targeted, some were 100 percent,″ he said. ″They came out even when they didn’t have outside lights to turn on. But in some areas of town we had no participation at all.″

Residents in a privately secured neighborhood in Houston said they thought the National Night Out was a good idea, but they wouldn’t be participating. The 1,200 homeowners of the posh Tanglewood neighborhood have a security squad.

″We probably have less crime than any other metropolitan area in the country,″ said Lt. Wayne Hankins, who heads the Tanglewood security.

More apathy was found in Oregon, where newspapers in Portland, Eugene and Salem found little if any community activity planned. As Kay Black, Corvallis Gazette-Times city editor, put it: ″Are you kidding? There’s no crime here 3/8″

But one Boston neighborhood activist reflected the opposite view.

Vicky Gallen of the South End Street Safe group said hers is ″not a particularly high crime area. But the citizens don’t feel that should preclude any street watch. We have a regularly running street safe, neighborhood crime watch patrol.″

And Ohio police said the success of the National Night Out should not be judged by the number of porch lights and lawn parties but by the number of people thinking more about crime prevention.

″I think too often the problem we have with the public is they either are unaware of some of the things they can do or assume crime isn’t going to affect them,″ said Toledo Lt. Tom Vetter. ″Usually the best people that practice crime prevention are the previous victims of a crime.″

In Seattle, 300 Block Watch captains representing 6,500 homes planned to take part in the Night Out, said Ruth O. Hansen, a community organizer for the police crime-prevention divison.

In Orange, N.J., neighbors feted police with a barbecue to show their appreciation. ″We were ecstatic,″ police Sgt. Don Wactor, who stopped by for party, said of participation in the city of 32,000.

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