An Organized Neighborhood Watch Program Is a Crime Deterrent
Neighborhood Watch programs are one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention projects in the country. It brings citizens together with law enforcement to deter crime and make communities safer. It may be the most effective and least costly means to prevent crime and reduce the fear of crime in your neighborhood.
Neighborhood Watch programs teach residents how to observe and report suspicious persons, vehicles, and activity in their neighborhoods. Law enforcement officers want and need the assistance of residents to report suspicious persons, acts of vandalism, abandoned cars, or any other behavior that causes a resident to feel uncomfortable.
How can a Neighborhood Watch program help my neighborhood?
A well organized crime watch program not only prevents crime, but it can:
- be a catalyst for bringing better service;
- restore pride to a once crime-ridden neighborhood;
- provide residents with a means to learn crime prevention methods;
- bring neighbors closer together for problem solving and communication;
- promote belonging and pride in your neighborhood.
How can we start this program in our neighborhood?
- Determine interest. Talk to several of your neighbors to determine their level of interest.
- Choose a coordinator. Once a coordinator is chosen, he/she needs to find interested people to serve as block captains. The coordinator serves as a liaison between the Sheriff's office and the block captains. The block captains take information to the neighborhood residents and then bring feedback to the coordinator to be relayed to the Sheriff's office or community police officer.
- Plan a meeting. Arrange a time and place to meet with the residents of your neighborhood. At this meeting, choose block captains and compile a list of concerns and fears to present to the Sheriff's office for suggestions and recommendations. Then at a second meeting, arrange for a crime preventions specialist (or a police officer) to attend to train your group in various crime prevention methods and to provide ideas for your program.
Advertise, advertise, advertise!
Residents may need a little push to go to a meeting. Hold it at a convenient location and time (Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings are usually well attended). Consider providing simple refreshments.
How to keep interest from waning:
- Create a neighborhood newsletter. To eliminate costs, gather email addresses and email a newsletter monthly or quarterly.
- Include information particular to your neighborhood, such as highlights of achievements of residents, or upcoming neighborhood events.
- Hold a potluck block party and invite your representative police officer to attend and speak for a few minutes on crime in your area.
- Hold a neighborhood clean up and provide treats for those who cleans up the most garbage.
- Consider linking with an existing organization, such as a citizens' association, community development office, tenants' association, or housing authority. They may be able to provide an existing infrastructure you can use.
- Canvass door-to-door to recruit members.
- Ask people who seldom leave their homes to be "window watchers," looking out for children and reporting any unusual activities in the neighborhood.
- Translate crime and drug prevention materials into Spanish or other languages needed by non-English speakers in your community. If necessary, have a translator at meetings.
- Sponsor a crime and drug prevention fair at a church hall, shopping mall, or community center.
- Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check police reports, conduct victimization surveys, and learn residents' perceptions about crimes. Often, residents' opinions are not supported by facts, and accurate information can reduce the fear of crime.
- Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant lots contribute to crime. Sponsor cleanups, encourage residents to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights at night.
- Work with small businesses to repair rundown storefronts, clean up littered streets, and create jobs for young people.
- Start a block parent program to help children cope with emergencies while walking to and from school or playing in the area.
Take it one step further if you choose
Some neighborhoods are content to participate in Watch programs by watching for suspicious persons and vehicles from their home or front lawn. Others want to expand by organizing a Mobile Community Watch effort where trained citizen volunteers drive or walk within their immediate neighborhood to be a visible deterrent to crime after participating in a training put on by the Sheriff's office.
Emphasize that Neighborhood Watch programs should not have a vigilante attitude, nor should they assume the role of the police. Their duty is to ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring—and to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.