Crime in your neighborhood is one of the most unsettling experiences. Your home should be your sanctuary and the place where you feel the most safe. But in our modern society, security is increasingly hard to come by. A good neighborhood can become questionable, seemingly overnight, when undesirable elements move in. And while cities still try to recover from the financial challenges of recent years, local police budgets may not be getting the funding they really deserve. Before you give up on feeling safe at home, there is a way to take back your streets: band together with your neighbors to create a Neighborhood Watch Program. It may sound like a major undertaking, but it’s really not as difficult as you might think.
The most crucial part of creating such a program comes from putting the neighbor into Neighborhood Watch! Security and electronic surveillance programs have gotten incredibly advanced and high-tech, but they still can’t match the effectiveness of a band of vigilant neighbors watching out for each other.
These days, a lot of us don’t know our neighbors anymore. But even if you have lived on the same street for a decade and still don’t know who lives next door, it is never too late to get out there and say hello. Therefore, it makes sense that one of the first important steps in creating a Neighborhood Watch program is to put out a call to get your neighbors together to start talking.
Find a couple like-minded neighborhood residents to make sure the interest level is there. Talk to your local police department for advice in creating the group watch and to see if any officer can attend the meeting or offer tips and resources. Plan a time when it is likely neighbors will be able to gather, such as after the dinner hour or on the weekend. To make sure the meeting is well attended, it is a good idea to put up signs about a week in advance of the meeting.
Once you know there is enough interest to create a neighborhood watch program, you have to plan how to go about making it happen. Make sure that the members understand that neighborhood watch programs are about remaining alert to things that happen in the neighborhood and to learn about how to reduce the risk of being a crime victim, but the programs are not about being an vigilante. It’s not your job to “go after the bad guys,” just to make the bad guys more aware that they are being watched when they come to your neighborhood.
Because a lot of neighborhood watch programs begin in response to an uptick in crime, you will want to obtain a crime map of incidents that have recently occurred in your neighborhood. Having a map of recent incidents will help your group know where to focus their efforts and make sure there is more frequent observation of those areas taking place. If those crime maps are not publicly published in your local newspaper or online, you should be able to get that information from your police department.
Put Someone in Charge
Most groups of people need a leader to keep things organized, and a Neighborhood Watch program is no exception. It’s really important to elect a willing leader for your group so that everything that needs to get done will be. Unfortunately, no matter how important the work of a Neighborhood Watch program is, it is all too easy for members to forget about their part of the efforts, especially when careers and family responsibilities take up so much time.
A good Neighborhood Watch captain should be someone who is both dedicated to the cause and well organized. In addition to planning meetings and working to determine a schedule of whom should cover which areas of the neighborhood and when, the group captain should also be outgoing enough to follow up. Unfortunately a lot of grassroots groups fall apart over time — not because of a lack of interest, but just because people get busy and forget. It’s the group captain’s job to follow up with the members on a regular basis, because those regular check ins will make it less likely that interested members who fall away over time.
Remember as well that working with your police department is crucial. Your job as a neighborhood watch group is not to enforce laws or take crime fighting into your hands; your job is only to report suspicious activities to the authorities.
Make Your Presence Visible
Keeping an eye on the neighborhood doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that you have to become creepy lurkers. In fact, you should do just the opposite! The reason that neighborhood watch groups are effective is because they create a bubble of community around the streets. Bad guys are less likely to bother people who are working together as a group.
As a group, you can reach out to the whole neighborhood, even those residents who don’t necessarily want to participate in the group, per se. Organizing group activities like National Night Out or even an informal summer block party can be a great way to meet your neighborhood and make sure everyone is on the same page about wanting to make sure your streets are a safe place to live.