In Philadelphia, some 150,000 citizens regularly participate in police-sponsored anti-crime patrols.

In Oakland, the Senior Patrol - a group of people 60 and older - walks the streets of their neighborhood and reports street crimes to police via walkie-talkies.In other communities, citizen groups monitor law enforcement or attend trials seeking to make sure judges get tough with habitual criminals.

The trend, as the Independent News Alliance reports, is clear: "In more and more cities and suburbs, organized citizens' groups are aiding the constabulary in fighting crime."

While precise figures are not available, communities with such Neighborhood Watch groups, as they are often called, consistently report declining crime rates.

That's an encouraging development at a time when more and more cities are becoming strapped for funds and have to get by with fewer lawmen.

Anyone wanting to form a Neighborhood Watch group can get some helpful information by writing the national Sheriff's Association, 1250 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 320, Washington, D.C. 20036

Among other things, such groups are told not to let their members challenge an armed criminal and to do only certain things:

- Keep watch on nearby homes and businesses, individually and through neighborhood patrols.

- Report immediately any suspicious activity.

- Safeguard your own premises with effective locks and alarms and encourage others to do the same.

- Identify valued personal property with engraved serial numbers.

- Help crime victims and witnesses get to court and testify.

- Monitor the work of police and courts for toughness in dealing with crime.

- Plaster homes, trees and utility poles with ID emblems that warn of surveillance.

- Hold classes, instructing individuals in how to spot crime and how to give a helpful description of a criminal.

The bottom line is that the individual citizen can make a difference in fighting crime without resorting to vigilantism.