When he launched the first National Night Out in 1984, Matt Peskin of Philadelphia envisioned an event in which people across America would turn on their lights and sit on their porches in a symbolic gesture to fight crime, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Now, he says that about 11,000 communities will celebrate National Night Out on Aug. 7. Millions of Americans will participate. Peskin has obtained federal subsidies of $2.7 million in the last 10 years. His organization, the National Association of Town Watch, devoted about a third of its budget in 2005 to pay Peskin a $255,000 salary and $42,000 in benefits. The NonProfit Times, a business publication covering nonprofit management, says the average salary for a charity with less than $1 million in annual revenue – the size of Peskin’s organization – is about $70,000. Peskin, 53, is paid more than any federal official other than the president, who makes $400,000. While the grants for National Night Out are a small fraction of the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s annual $1.5 billion budget, the money continues to flow even as violent crime is increasing and local law enforcement officials complain about reductions in federal assistance.
Town watch has “no effect on violent crime,” said Lawrence W. Sherman, director of the Jerry Lee Center of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. “And events like National Night Out – one night of marching and protesting – there’s zero evidence that works.” Peskin’s group spends $77,500 each year on a Washington communications firm, APCO Worldwide Inc., whose primary function is to secure the annual grant. “Neighborhood block clubs are making their blocks a better place to live,” said John Bauman, who manages community crime-prevention programs for the Minneapolis Police Department, whose Night Out programs last year drew 40,000 people. “Sometimes the studies miss that kind of qualitative stuff.”