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Neighborhood Watch signs — a blue eye with white outline — began appearing in neighborhoods in the early 1970s. The local Neighborhood Watch brought together community residents to prevent crime and strengthen communities, and the program has been going ever since. But, after almost 80 years of existence, is it still relevant?
While Brian Watson, an agent in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who completes 27% more sales than the average agent in his area, doesn’t necessarily think the presence of Neighborhood Watch in an area improves a home’s value, he does think that in general “they’re very positive and help keep neighborhoods safe.”
What is Neighborhood Watch?
The National Sheriff’s Association created the Neighborhood Watch program in the early 1970s after an increase in crime in the late 1960s. The intent was to loop local citizens into crime prevention initiatives. Citizens or area residents join Neighborhood Watch groups to improve their communities.
Members might set goals around community safety or improving quality of life, such as reducing the number of garage break-ins or starting a community garden. They’ll discuss these goals at regular meetings.
To help with reducing and preventing crime, groups also have an official local law enforcement liaison who’s an employee of the police or sheriff’s department. This liaison helps train the leaders and members of the group, guide them in how to report suspicious activity, and assists with decision-making.
Sometimes neighborhood watch is also called crime watch, block watch, or business watch. If you live in an area with an homeowners association (HOA), it could fall under the HOA’s covenants or have a similar name.
Check here to find out if there’s a Neighborhood Watch active in your area.
What roles are there in a typical Neighborhood Watch group?
Neighborhood Watch groups have assigned roles. Apart from the law enforcement liaison, a typical group also has a block captain, who serves as liaison and leader for groups of 10 to 15 homes. Under the block captain, a coordinator maintains a list of participants, works with officers and civic groups and block captains, and arranges training programs.
The Citizens Advisory Board assists with starting up new groups in other areas, organizing advisory committees, and fundraising. If needed, they’ll bring issues in the community to the attention of law enforcement and government officials.
Not everyone wants an official title or role with the Neighborhood Watch, but they do still want to help keep their home safe. Members are people who participate in Neighborhood Watch but who don’t want a special role. They may keep an eye out and report suspicious activity to block captains, or attend meetings to offer input and advice.
What does Neighborhood Watch do?
Neighborhood Watch facilities communication between people who live in the community, helps prevent crime, and facilitates safety initiatives. It will also fundraise to help cover the costs of activities.
The Neighborhood Watch group creates phone and email trees for communicating within the group. Members exchange contact information so that they can quickly connect on issues.
When Watson lived in Atlanta, Georgia, he was a part of a Neighborhood Watch that linked to his homeowners association. Members sent out messages about speeding cars, mischief or suspicious activity, and made sure kids didn’t play in the street. “We tied into our city police department,” he says. “They would come to the HOA and give talks on safety.”
The relationship with the local authorities is one of the biggest advantages that Neighborhood Watch has over Nextdoor or a neighborhood Facebook group. Regular meetings with the law enforcement liaison keeps these ties strong.
Neighborhood Watch and crime prevention
While a Neighborhood Watch can, and does, bring more to the community than crime prevention, this is still one of its core goals. Citizen safety patrols keep an eye on the neighborhood and identify problem spots — such as suspicious activity in a park — either handling it with the authorities or with responsible adults.
Under the banner of Neighborhood Watch, Triad brings together law enforcement, members of the Neighborhood Watch, and the elderly with the goal of preventing crime perpetrated on isolated seniors. They check in on them, sponsoring reassurance efforts, and involving them more in the community.
Improving neighborhood safety
By looking out for their neighbors, members contribute to a neighborhood’s overall safety.
If there are concerns about child abuse and neglect, members might coordinate safe houses for children. Stickers on the windows of participating houses tell kids where to go for help. Members might also offer first aid, or the group could sponsor first aid training.
Neighborhood Watch groups also tackle fire prevention, such as cleaning up dry, flammable brush, or establishing a community arson watch program.
In monthly meetings, the group might cover ID theft prevention. Classes educate members on how to identify potential scams. Everything the Neighborhood Watch does contributes to creating a sense of community, where members look out for each other.
Stepping in during hard times
What could go wrong? A fire, crime, or natural disasters. Neighborhood Watch seeks to address all three.
If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, or wildfires, then your local group might hold disaster preparedness seminars. Through their communication channels, they’ll pass along news about where to buy sandbags, or where to go if your home loses power due to extreme weather.
And once the immediate threat has passed, they’ll step in to support disaster relief efforts.
What is Neighborhood Watch supposed to report?
While Neighborhood Watch liaises with the police, they do not have the ability to take action on what they observe. They’re only supposed to prevent and report crime.
Members of the Neighborhood Watch can report suspicious activities, such as unfamiliar vehicles cruising streets, for example. Due to the ties they build in their area, they’re responsible for knowing who’s who and which truck is always parked in their neighbor’s driveway. If a member sees signs of forced entry, broken doors or shattered windows when out walking their dog, they call their community liaison.
They’ll also watch out for people peering into car windows, or loitering around schools, parks, secluded areas, all of which could indicate either current or intended illegal activity.
And, of course, they’ll report any illegal activity that they directly observe, as well as unusual events or dangerous situations.
What can the Neighborhood Watch not do?
Members of the Neighborhood Watch can’t arrest people — they are not law enforcement. They’re only supposed to report, not intervene. They aren’t trained as law enforcement personnel and could be hurt or injured if they take action on what they observe.
Even though they have no legal authority, Watson thinks that “it’s very helpful to know what’s going on in and around my neighborhood.” He lives in Santa Fe now, where the Neighborhood Watch has created sub-areas of downtown Santa Fe to “bring us all together to keep an eye on each other.”
If you’re home shopping, you probably looked at an area’s crime statistics when narrowing down your search. While you may not have searched for the presence of Neighborhood Watch group, their presence can be a positive thing.
Header Image Source: (Bruno Martins / Unsplash)