What is Neighborhood Watch?
Neighborhood Watch is a crime prevention program that stresses education and common sense. It teaches citizens how to help themselves by identifying and reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. In addition, it provides citizens with the opportunity to make their neighborhoods safer and improve the quality of life. Neighborhood Watch groups typically focus on observation and awareness as a means of preventing crime and employ strategies such as promoting social interaction and "watching out for each other". Most neighborhood watch groups are organized around a block or a neighborhood.
All Neighborhood Watches share one foundational idea: bringing community members together to reestablish control of their neighborhoods promotes an increased quality of life and reduces the crime rate in that area. In fact, collective action by residents has proved one of the most effective strategies in reducing crime. The reason for this effectiveness is rather simple: Involving community members in watch programs decreases opportunities for criminals to commit crime rather than attempting to change their behavior or motivation.
"Neighborhood is the key to maintaining successful relationships."
Types of Neighborhood Crime Prevention Groups
Neighborhood watch programs generally followed one or both of two approaches: "opportunity reduction" or "social problems."
Whereas the "opportunity reduction" approach focuses on crime reduction through observation to restore informal control and a sense of "neighborhood", the "social problems" approach typically revolves around addressing certain issues in the neighborhood that may be linked with higher levels of crime. To address these social problems, 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 provide them with opportunities to increase their skills and their self-image.
Starting and Maintaining a Neighborhood Watch
What does it take to start and maintain an effective Neighborhood Watch Program? There are five fundamental steps that make this possible:
- First, strategies that address the problems in a given area must be mapped out. From the beginning stages of a Neighborhood Watch effort, it is essential to incorporate neighborhood involvement and identify ways to deal with the crime patterns of that area.
- The second step involves building 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.
- The third step is to assess the needs of a given 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 a problem that the neighborhood is not concerned about, such as attempting to address major crimes throughout the city. On the other hand, community members may be more concerned about 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.
- Next, selecting and training an active body of volunteers that are led by organized and motivated leaders is critical. Without motivation and organization, volunteers may be uninspired to participate and quit out of frustration.
- The fifth and final step is to develop meaningful projects. Often, after a Neighborhood Watch has addressed its original issue, members lose interest. It is important for leaders to remain enthusiastic. One way to accomplish this is to 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.