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Neighbors take a Night Out to fight crime

| Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

Even before firing up their grill or cutting the cake, folks in Lawrenceville got right down to business Tuesday night.

Members of the roughly 10 block watch groups that blanket the neighborhood gathered for a roundtable discussion. They were eager to compare notes on their last sightings of drug dealers and prostitutes.

They gathered on National Night Out, a yearly event that supports local anti-crime efforts and sends a message that communities are taking a stand against drugs and crime.

Nationwide, about 33 million people were expected to participate in the 21st annual observance of National Night Out, sponsored by the Montgomery County-based National Association of Town Watch.

In Lawrenceville, residents proudly say they are on guard every night.

"We have a lot of eyes and ears in a lot of places," said Jenny Skrinjar, who lives on Carnegie Street in upper Lawrenceville.

One night two weeks ago when Skrinjar and her 10th Ward block watch members were on patrol, they scared away a pair of men who seemed to be casing the house of an elderly neighbor who lives alone.

The group, equipped with mobile phones and police radios, is on duty from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily.

"We want to call ourselves 'Nighthawks,'" said Skrinjar, "because we have a lot of nighthawks."

In some neighborhoods, where crime is less of a problem, the evening was an opportunity for a fun-filled block party.

As soon as Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Blake got out of his cruiser, he had to dodge the spray of a sprinkler that had drenched quite a few toddlers at the observance on Monitor Street in Squirrel Hill.

Fred Whelan, who was grilling hot dogs, said he hasn't forgotten the true meaning of National Night Out, but "I guess it doesn't apply to this neighborhood."

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