Vince Lattanzio, NBC10.com
A town watch group accepts an award for their community service at Philadelphia's National Night Out Kickoff Rally along Buselton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia Monday night.
Communication is the key to stopping crime.
That's Bernadette Townes' feeling. The South Philadelphia mother of three and grandmother of the same says when the neighborhood doesn't talk, its residents can't beat criminals.
"Nobody wants to live in the neighborhood with violence, we want to live in the neighborhood where it's safe for everybody. So it's good to come out and meet people to see what we can do to keep everybody safe," she said.
Townes was among about 100 other like-minded residents who took part in one of the city's two National Night Out Kickoff Rallies Monday evening.
Complete with food, games and giveaways, the events act as a appetizer to Tuesday night's official National Night Out -- where 16,000 communities across the United States and Canada come together to meet their neighbors and the law enforcement that serve their community in an effort to reduce crime. This year, marks the event's 30th anniversary.
"This rally is to engage people to come out and be supportive and neighborly and we found that when you do that, people are apt to combat crime in an efficient way," said Carmetta Dickerson. A town watch community liaison, she along with the city's Town Watch Integrated Services department, brought together police, fire, elected officials and, most importantly, residents at Sacks Recreation Center at 4th Street and Washington Avenue.
"Can we get some of those abandoned buildings taken down? The drug users are using them," Kensington resident Wesley Gillard asked Mayor Michael Nutter as he made his way through the park to deliver remarks.
After asking for the locations of the homes, Mayor Nutter promises to look into the problem.
"We can't be on every block, on every street, in front of every house, 24 hours a day, seven days a week so community engagement is an integral part of how you make neighborhoods a safer place for all of us," Mayor Nutter said.
Ten miles north at the second National Night Out Rally outside Target at Buselton and Bleigh Avenues, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says his department is much more effective when the community communicates.
"We've gotta get back to neighbors knowing neighbors. In today's world, unfortunately, that doesn't happen to the extent that it happened at one time. But we can do it," he says.
The work being done so far, has been positive. So far this year, homicides are down nearly 30-percent over 2012, according to police crime data. Violent crimes overall have dropped seven-percent. But Commissioner Ramsey says the reduction isn't enough.
"We still have too much crime in this city and we're going to continue to do everything we can to continue to drive it down," he says.
For social worker Shanita Riley-Miles, having officials like Commissioner Ramsey and other men and women in uniform present in the community for a non-crime event has an effect.
"A lot of the younger people don't know who the elected officials are, they don't know who the police commissioner is and the police and fire department and those who serve us in the community. It's a good way to introduce them to those people," she said.
And build trust between police and the residents -- a crucial part of the crime-fighting strategy says Commissioner Ramsey.
"It's knowing the police officers and having trust to give them the call when something's going on," he said.
Town watches, the backbone of the effort, were also honored as part of the events.
"Keeping their outside lights on from dusk to dawn, that's our motto," testifies Ruth DiCicco of her crime-fighting crew, the Three Streets Block Watch.
The spry senior, from the Castor Garden's section of Northeast Philadelphia, happily touts the group's effectiveness.
"We have stopped many things, we have found many things," she said. "Somebody's house was being burglarized and the neighbor saw it happening and they caught them in the driveway."
DiCicco says members regularly call each other when someone, or something, looks out of place. She adds they're not afraid to call 911.
"We keep 911 busy, letting them know we're a town watch," she said.
Holding the framed certificate thanking the group for their hard work, fellow member Jerry Noe jokes: "Unfortunately, you don't get any money with this."
But, DiCicco says they take part in the town watch and National Night Out because it's what's necessary to make the city safer.
"The 2nd District cops are phenomenal, but unfortunately there's not a enough of them to go around so that's why we do what you do," she says.
For a full list of National Night Out events happening in Philadelphia Tuesday, click here.