When we first moved into our suburban neighborhood 20 years ago, I was delighted to see cars slowly cruise around our block during the afternoon when most of the street was away at work or on vacation. Turned out, I had moved onto a block with an active Neighborhood Watch, civilian crime stoppers who keep an eye out for danger and, if they see something unusual, call the police.
Neighborhood Watch — aka Block Watch, Crime Watch, something-attached-to-Watch – is the bedrock of community crime prevention and often the true first responders to neighborhood emergencies.
Neighborhood Watch, today sponsored by the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), dates back to colonial days when citizens volunteered to patrol the streets. Modern watch groups developed to help local police, who can’t be on all streets all the time, keep an eye out for crime — most often burglaries and break-ins. By 2000, roughly 40 percent of the U.S. residential population was covered by some sort of block watch program. Programs were credited for an overall 16 percent decrease in crime in patrolled communities, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
However, Neighborhood Watch groups don’t reduce crime in all places, and some studies say their affect on other places is hard to measure accurately.
In high-crime areas, “Many people refuse to host or attend community meetings, in part because they distrust their neighbors,” according to a 2002 National Institute of Justice and University of Maryland study. “Middle class areas, in which trust is higher, generally have little crime to begin with, making measurable effects on crime almost impossible to achieve.”
Although the numbers don’t crunch definitively, it seems only logical to conclude that neighbors looking out for neighbors aids crime prevention. Do you want to start a Neighborhood Watch group? The National Crime Prevention Council provides these tips on how to start your own community patrols.
1. Form a Planning Committee:
If you’re part of a homeowners association, you’ve got a head start on spreading the word. If you don’t, publicize the new group through your neighborhood listserve or by spreading fliers around town. The planning committee should discuss crime prevention needs and likely challenges.
2. Reach Out to Local Authorities and Security Experts:
Tell your local police or sheriff’s department that you’re starting a watch group and invite a representative to speak about local crime threats and prevention tips. Also, contact home security companies, which may send representatives to your meetings to discuss ways to stop crime. Guardian Protection Services offers this service for free in neighborhoods they service.
3. Plan and Publicize a Meeting:
Select a date and accessible meeting place, then spread fliers. Stress that the watch is a group of concerned neighbors looking out for each other and working with local police.
4. Select Block Captains:
These folks will schedule patrols and keep neighbors informed about crime in their neighborhood.
5. Train Neighborhood Watchers:
With help from local authorities, train watch patrols in home security techniques, observations skills, and what to do if they see a crime in progress.
6. Work With Police:
Organizers should stress to patrols and the community that Neighborhood Watch participants are not vigilantes and do not act like or replace police. Rather, they are extra, caring eyes looking out for crime, which they report immediately to law enforcers.