In addition to a DIY home security system, you may also reduce the likelihood of becoming a burglary victim by starting a neighborhood watch program. Doing so raises your community’s awareness about crime as all of your neighbors work together to reduce the number of vandalisms, burglaries and other unfortunate events in your area. Starting a neighborhood watch program is not too difficult, but it does require a proper amount of planning and communication with others in your community.
The following steps do not have to be followed in this exact order, but serve as a general outline for starting a neighborhood watch program in your area:
1. Contact Your Local Law Enforcement Agency
It is very likely that your local police department has already identified an officer or two to act as a neighborhood watch liaison. This person is a central resource for identifying crime trends and statistics, as well as providing useful information for crime prevention. In many cases, a neighborhood watch officer will even attend your meetings in order to answer questions and address concerns, as well as distribute pertinent and reliable information about crimes in your area.
2. Select a Meeting Time and Location
Increasingly, neighborhood watch members are able to maintain contact with one another and learn about happenings in the community via websites and digital forums. However, it will be necessary, at least initially, to periodically meet in person in order to address crime in your neighborhood. It is, therefore, important to select a central location for your meeting place. Depending on the expected size of your group, some venues to consider are:
- Restaurants that offer private and reserved meeting areas
- Community recreation centers
- A member’s home
When targeting a location, be sure that it offers adequate and convenient parking. You may also want to select a location with an appropriate amount of electrical outlets and that offers wifi service if you plan to use a projector, a computer or a video device.
Be sure to also select a date and time that will be the most convenient for your neighbors to attend.
3. Identify Boundaries
Define the boundaries that your program will cover. For example, you may want to address the issue of crime within a four block radius or, if you live in a planned community, you may want to include the entire development. Your neighborhood watch program can be as small or as large as you think is necessary to be effective.
4. Invite the Neighborhood
After you’ve defined your neighborhood boundaries and have secured a meeting location, date and time, begin advertising your group and inviting your neighbors to participate. Some of the means by which you may choose to do so include:
- Distributing flyers door-to-door
- Posting information on community bulletin boards
- Publishing a press release in your local newspapers
- Advertising in local newsletters
Remember that it is illegal to place flyers or other items in private mailboxes. Also, if you live in an organized community with a homeowner’s association, be sure to check your bylaws for rules about distributing information.
You may also want to consider starting a private blog or a website where members can do things like view meeting calendars, access important contact information, read and share articles about home security, and stay abreast of agenda topics discussed at each meeting. This doesn’t have to be a costly endeavor as many free options for blogs and websites exist. You may, however, want to recruit an Internet-savvy neighbor to be responsible for the overall design and upkeep of your site or blog.
5. Prepare a Brief Presentation and Your Meeting Agenda
Prior to your actual meeting, it is important to draft an agenda that includes a brief presentation. You may lead the presentation yourself or you may find another member who is willing to do so. Schedule permitting, your law enforcement liaison may also offer a brief presentation. Be advised, however, that work-related duties may result in a liaison’s late cancellation, so it always helps to have a backup presentation ready just in case.
Topics that you may want to adddress in each meeting include things like:
- Current crime statistics affecting your area
- Current crime trends taking place in your area
- Group concerns about crime
- Crime prevention and home security tips
- DIY home security (burglar alarms, security lighting, alarm monitoring, etc.)
6. Ask For Help
It helps to start your neighborhood watch program with others in your community. Even if you’ve spearheaded it alone, however, don’t plan on doing everything yourself in the future. Instead, at your first meeting ask others to volunteer for duties like:
- Administrative support
- Spokesperson (at other community events, press events, etc.)
- Technical support
- Organizing meetings
Busy schedules may cause people to shy away from volunteering for key group positions, so consider asking for short-term commitments like three month or six month terms.
7. Schedule Future Meeting Dates
Whether your group will meet weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly, it will help to have a calendar prepared and ready to distribute at your first meeting. This will help keep your group organized and keep its momentum going.
8. Provide Members With a Contact Roster
At your first meeting (and at all subsequent meetings) invite members to share their contact information. Provide a sign-in sheet that asks for two telephone numbers and an email address for each household. This way, if neighbors need to contact one another to question or point out suspicious activity in the neighborhood, they have a way of quickly, discreetly and conveniently doing so. After you’ve collected this information, prepare a roster that can be distributed at your next meeting. If you will feature this information on your group’s blog or website, be sure to feature it in a private section of your site that is password protected so that members are the only ones with access to this list.
Tell Us What You Think
Have you ever started a neighborhood watch program? Are you a member of a program in your area? What are your most pressing questions or concerns about neighborhood watch programs, in general?