Town-Watch Skaters Keep Criminals in Line

DANZO PERRY skates through the dark streets of Philadelphia like a bee in a field of flowers - fluttering in and out of alleys, rolling through crowded intersections, and stopping, just for a moment, from time to time.

When he stops, it's always for a reason - to search bushes for suspicious characters, to check car doors for tell-tale scratches.

He and his five-person squad of in-line skaters are the latest evolution in citizen crime prevention - a blading version of the traditional Town Watch, equipped with flashing lights, cellular phones, and four-wheeled skates.

National experts say Mr. Perry's effort is the first of its kind, and local police say it has cut crime.

Since June, 40 skaters taking turns three nights a week have been cruising downtown streets, acting as the eyes and ears of the local police precinct.

"We haven't done any studies, but we know one thing: When they are working, there is a drop in crime," Officer Val Izzo said.

The rolling Town Watch grew out of a popular weekly group skate that involved up to hundreds of enthusiasts. When city officials talked of banning the spectacle, Perry, president of the Landskaters Inline Skate Club, approached the police with an idea for rolling justice. Eventually, after a few good laughs, the idea was approved.

Concentrating on property crime, the skaters during the past three months, have responded to a gas explosion, helped police catch a church vandal, and reported dozens of suspicious characters.

"It's the next best thing to cops," said Neil Gutman, of the Pine Street Civic Association Town Watch. "They're a very prominent, physical presence."

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