East Falls Town Watch tackles blight, graffiti and discarded tires

Mary Jane Fullam believes in the power of one.

As President of East Falls Town Watch, she conducts patrols, coordinates scheduling and personnel, arranges EFTW meetings, acts as liaison to the 39th Police District, and contributes a Town Watch column in The Fallser, East Falls’s community newspaper.

She can also fit thirteen discarded tires in her car.

“And one on the roof, if it’s not too far,” Fullam says, adding, “you might say it’s a moveable feast.”

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Participation in the City of Philadelphia’s Tire Round-Up Program was one of several items on the agenda last night at the East Falls Town Watch Association monthly meeting. The meeting was held at EFTW headquarters – adjacent to the Old Academy Players building on Indian Queen Lane – and began shortly after 7:30 p.m.

Several members of the association were present, including EFTW president Fullam, vice-president Susan Garretson, and treasurer Pat Adams.

Fullam stated that she’s collected over 400 tires by herself since the start of this year’s tire round-up program, an initiative started in 1995 by the Streets Department’s Sanitation Division to combat illegally disposed tires.

“I’ve got it down to a science,” she says, hopeful that she will reach the 1,000 tire – and $500 reimbursement – limit imposed by the program.

Blight is a major concern for EFTW. While crime prevention remains a priority, association member Joan McIlvaine conceded that, “on the whole, we tend to be best at fighting graffiti, broken lights, and litter.”

“We’ve never caught any criminals,” she added, but was quickly rebuffed by treasurer Adams, who pointed out that on a recent patrol she and association member Marijanet Cross had interrupted a graffiti artist in action.

The tagger – whose purported handle is “Wolfie” – was at work with a spray can when they walked up to him.

“He waved to us,” said Adams.

They immediately called police, but are unsure whether he was apprehended.

“Our philosophy is that if you take care of the petty stuff, it will prevent the bigger stuff,” explained Adams, citing the “broken windows theory” of crime prevention.

The broken windows strategy was first introduced in New York City in the 1990’s by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, and is best remembered for its effectiveness against so-called “squeegee men.”

Taking a cue from Adams, Fullam continued. “If you’re out there looking, [criminal activity] will stop,” she said, adding, “when you’re out and about, it makes such a difference.”

At EFTW, making a difference is a team effort. A typical patrol lasts two hours and attempts to surveil the entirety of East Falls. A watch team consists of three people, two of whom are either on foot or in a vehicle and a third – “the radio man” – who tracks transmissions from the mobile unit.

“It’s not just a bunch of vigilantes out there,” says Fullam, “we’re monitored and trained.”

According to Fullam, members are trained by Philadelphia Police over the course of several nights and are then certified by the city’s Operation Town Watch and Integrated Services Department, which operates under the Office of the City’s Managing Director.

All members are issued ID badges and, to increase their visibility on the streets, are issued bright orange “Town Watch” t-shirts.

“It’s so important that people see us out there walking and driving around,” said Fullam. “We’re starting to get smart on that regard.”

For more information, visit eastfallstownwatch.blogspot.com or call EFTW headquarters at 215-848-2033.

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