For more than 40 years, Neighborhood Watch has enabled private citizens to join with law enforcement to help keep their communities safe. Watch groups keep track of neighborhood goings-on and maintain a responsible, around-the-clock presence. And, it works. Their work is credited with being among the nation’s most effective programs to prevent crime, according to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).
The NCPC (aka the “Take a Bite Out of Crime” folks) have mapped out a process for launching a group:
Phase One—Getting Started
- Form a planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs, level of interest, challenges, and the watch concept.
- Contact local police or sheriff’s department or a local crime prevention organization to discuss Neighborhood Watch and local crime problems. Invite a law enforcement officer to attend an initial meeting.
- Pick a meeting place that is accessible to people with disabilities. Publicize the meeting at least a week in advance with door-to-door fliers, and follow up the day before with phone calls and/or emails.
- Hold the meeting to gauge neighbors’ interest, establish the purpose of the program and begin to identify which issues you’ll address.
- Elect a chairperson and enlist block captain volunteers to relay information to members on their block, keep up-to-date information on residents and work to involve the elderly, working parents, and young people. Block captains also serve as liaisons to police and communicate information about meetings and crime incidents to residents.
- Establish a regular means of communication with members: telephone tree, e-mail, printed newsletter, blog, Facebook group, etc.
- Prepare a neighborhood map showing names, addresses, and phone numbers of participating households and distribute it to members. Block captains keep this up to date, touching base periodically with members and contacting newcomers.
- With guidance from local law enforcement, train members in home security techniques, observation skills, and crime reporting. Residents should also be aware of the types of crime that affect the area.
- Before posting Neighborhood Watch signs, check with law enforcement about eligibility requirements, such as the number of participating households. Law enforcement may be able to provide the signs or suggest where they can be ordered.
Tips for Success
- Remember that watch group participants are expected only to be observant and to report to police—not to act as police themselves.
- Schedule regular get-acquainted meetings to decide on strategies and activities. Involve everyone—young and old, single and married, renter and homeowner. Conduct door-to-door membership drives.
- For help with meeting places, office supplies, and other organizing needs, consider allying with a citizens’ association, community development office, tenants’ association, or housing authority.
- Sponsor cleanups and other beautification efforts for overgrown vacant lots. Ask residents to turn on outdoor lights at night.
- Keep track of rumors about crime in your neighborhood, and see to it that the facts get out quickly.
- Celebrate success and recognize volunteer efforts with awards, annual dinners, and parties.
For more on Neighborhood Watch and NNO, check with the National Crime Prevention Council and the National Association of Town Watch.