Among the many benefits of neighborhood watch programs are that they help reduce crime, bring communities together and create healthy working relationships between residents and local law enforcement. Other benefits include educating community members, keeping them informed and organizing local residents towards accomplishing the goal of a safer neighborhood. In short, neighborhood watch programs raise the collective consciousness of community members with a focus on helping police solve crimes, as well as work toward the reduction of future crimes.
As a concept, neighbors working together to keep communities safe is nothing new. In the United States, however, organized neighborhood watch programs were deliberately formed towards the end of the 1960s and began to grow in popularity during the early 1970s. Since then, programs have been formed in countless communities throughout the United States as members have taken more active roles in improving and protecting the neighborhoods in which they reside. By keeping an alert, deliberate and watchful eye on the goings on within their neighborhoods, residents are able to more quickly recognize and report crimes in an effort to lower the overall number of burglaries, vandalism and other types of illegal activities in their community.
Provide Education and Information to the Community
Local neighborhood watch programs are also useful for the dissemination of official information from law enforcement agencies to residents. Such information works in heightening individual and collective awareness about crimes being committed in an area. Because neighborhood watch programs maintain a close working relationship with local law enforcement, information tends to be more accurate and useful in terms of identifying crimes and likely suspects.
A Systematic Approach to Raising Awareness
Residents who are unaware of crimes being committed in a neighborhood or who are aware, but have received false or misleading information, cannot be their most effective when helping police solve crimes and prevent new ones. Neighborhood watch programs, therefore, serve to raise the collective awareness of local residents by first educating them about recent criminal activity and teaching neighbors how to discern and report crimes in an area. With a direct relationship with police departments, this systematic approach to raising awareness works well in arming residents with the information needed to be more vigilant. Neighborhood watch members are also taught not to intervene with crimes being committed, but are equipped with the knowledge of how to immediately act in reporting such crimes. This type of awareness serves to help community members feel prepared in safely and effectively responding to crimes even before they actually occur.
Programs Create a Sense of Cohesiveness between Community Members
Neighborhood watch programs require close working relationships between individual neighbors. By viewing the community as an entity that each resident owes a commitment to, neighbors tend to feel a greater sense of responsibility toward one another and the community as a whole. As part of the structure of neighborhood watch programs, neighbors are encouraged to volunteer their personal contact information and agree to use that information to keep the relevant flow of information moving. Also, neighbors who are volunteer members of neighborhood watch programs typically meet at regular intervals to discuss information and activity pertinent to the program’s goals. Regular meetings often result in neighbors getting to personally know one another better than they perhaps would otherwise.
Relationships with Local Authorities
As volunteers, neighborhood watch program members rely on local police departments to assist with the information and education needed in order for programs to be successful in reducing crime. Through this effort, community members and local police departments are able to form closer relationships and create deeper understandings of the barriers each group faces in overcoming crime. With the shared goal of eliminating crime, volunteers and local police departments tend to view one another as team members although one group is comprised of paid civil servants and the other of volunteers.
How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program in Your Community
The precise steps to starting a neighborhood watch program are essentially the same in most communities. To begin with, interested residents should contact the local police department to inquire about starting a new program. Most departments have assigned one or more officers to assist residents with starting programs. Departments may also offer training introductory brochures and information kits to help establish new groups. One or more officers will also usually attend early meetings in order to address residents directly, answer questions and provide guidance in helping a new neighborhood watch program grow and operate most effectively.
While most neighborhood watch programs start with one or more neighbors who share an interest in reducing crime in a community, other neighbors should be encouraged to join the program in order for it to be effective. In addition to addressing recent crime incidents and learning how to work with police to discourage future incidents, early meetings are also focused on organizing residents, sharing contact information and helping to define each member’s role in the group. One or more group leaders are usually selected to act as a facilitator for future meetings, to organize the dissemination of information and to act as a liaison between the group and the police department.
Neighborhood Watch Programs Work
Perhaps the greatest benefit of a neighborhood watch program is that they are often very effective in reducing crime. Members develop habits of paying closer attention to their neighborhood and, in particular, keeping a protective eye out for other neighbor’s homes and personal property. Within these programs neighbors also tend to share home security information and become better educated on security devices and home security options, in general.