While it’s important to have a home security and safety plan for your house and your property, it’s really worth considering your neighborhood as well. Especially, during an economic downturn, neighborhood watch groups are proving to be a first line of defense in battling property crimes. Matt Peskin, Executive Director of the National Association of Town Watch, estimates that there are about 20,000 neighborhood watch groups nationwide, and reports that there has been an increase in requests for information on starting groups from all over the country including urban, suburban and rural communities.
Martin Floss, Director of the Institute for Law and Justice at Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York, said that as the economy worsens, property crimes tend to increase. “Well-trained neighborhood watch groups can be great assets to local law enforcement,” Floss said. “If you can get people to organize, to look out for each other and to work closely with the police, that is only going to do good things,” he said.
Neighborhood Watch provides citizens with the opportunity to make their neighborhoods safer and improve the quality of life. All Neighborhood Watches share one basic idea: that bringing community members together to reestablish control of their neighborhoods promotes an increased quality of life and reduces the crime rate in that area. The reason for this effectiveness is rather simple: Involving community members in watch programs decreases opportunities for criminals to commit crime. Neighborhood Watch programs generally follow one or both of two approaches: opportunity reduction or social problems.
THE OPPORTUNITY REDUCTION APPROACH focuses on crime reduction through observation to restore informal control and a strong sense of neighborhood. Neighborhoods can post signs showing a Neighborhood Watch is in effect, and can make its presence known through public meetings and local advertising. These public statements help de-victimize neighborhoods and broadcast citizen-readiness to potential criminals.
THE SOCIAL PROBLEMS APPROACH typically addresses certain issues in the neighborhood that may be linked with higher levels of crime. Programs that target youth, such as athletic activities, drug programs, tutoring, etc., are often offered. The main goal of these programs is to provide young people with alternative and positive activities that not only occupy their time, but also prove them with opportunities to increase their skills and their self-image—and to become assets—not threats–to their neighborhoods.
Starting and Maintaining a Neighborhood Watch
What does it take to start and maintain an effective Neighborhood Watch Program? Here are five fundamental steps:
- MAP OUT STRATEGIES that address the problems in your area. From the beginning stages of a Neighborhood Watch effort, it is essential to involve the neighborhood and identify ways to deal with the specific local crime patterns.
- BUILD A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS AND RESIDENTS. This is not always an easy hurdle to overcome since citizens are often angry with law enforcement for not doing anything about the crime problem in their community. For a Neighborhood Watch program to be successful, it is essential that officers understand the needs of a neighborhood and work as role models for neighborhood crime prevention efforts.
- ASSESS THE NEEDS OF YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. In many cases, law enforcement and community members do not have the same focus. For instance, law enforcement may be focusing their attention on addressing major crimes throughout the city while community members may be more concerned about local crimes such as bicycle thefts or graffiti, which are considered minor from a police standpoint. Effective Neighborhood Watch programs unite law enforcement and residents and encourage them to collectively determine what problems should be addressed and how.
- SELECT AND TRAIN AN ACTIVE BODY OF VOLUNTEERS led by organized, motivated and locally respected leaders. Without motivation and organization, volunteers may be uninspired to participate and will quit out of frustration.
- DEVELOP MEANINGFUL PROJECTS. Often, after a Neighborhood Watch has addressed its original issue, members lose interest. It is important for leaders to remain enthusiastic. Constantly create and embark upon new projects so that there is always a goal towards which the team is aspiring. Projects may include building a neighborhood playground or painting over graffiti, for instance.
Even with all of these steps in place, success does not happen overnight. Creating truly effective Neighborhood Watch programs takes patience, planning, and enthusiasm. Since studies show that once a Neighborhood Watch program deteriorates, criminals notice and quickly resume illegal activities, there is certainly motivation to strive towards success.
There are many ways in which the Neighborhood Watch concept can be put to use. One of the most important elements is to make sure that every person involved knows what to do when suspicious activity is noticed. For more details on how to start and maintain a successful Neighborhood Watch program in your area, see USAonWatch.org, a program of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the national site for neighborhood crime watch information.