By Clint McClure CMCA, AMS, CCAM
Today’s Neighborhood Watch Groups are much stronger and capable than ever before. Using 2019 technology, California citizens can deter crime and protect neighbors. Learn the benefits of a Neighborhood Watch group and see how easy it is to create one in your area.
The National Sheriff’s Association Administration started the first Neighborhood Watch program in 1972. What started as a pilot program has quickly grown to become a national phenomenon. Citizens gather together, working with law enforcement to fight crime, as well as to empower and enlighten citizens.
In California, property crime affects 1 in 3 homeowners and violent crime affects 1 in 197 (www.neighborhoodscount.com/ca/crime.) Banding together, increasing awareness, and working with law enforcement helps protect your community, reducing these statistics.
Deterring crime today requires a higher level of interaction and alertness. Increased awareness and communication keeps citizens safe. The right Neighborhood Watch program helps citizens:
· Feel comfortable reporting crimes and suspicious activity
· Take preventive measures to protect their family, property, and neighbors
· Work in conjunction with local law enforcement
Starting a Neighborhood Watch Program
Promoting, discussing, and increasing awareness of Neighborhood Watch programs is much easier today. Using the following steps, you too can start a program in your area:
· Assess interest – Talk with neighbors and citizens throughout the community in person and online. Spread the word about the desire to start a program. Choose a meeting place and host an initial meeting for any interested citizen.
· Establish connections with law enforcement – After the initial meeting and with enough interest, contact the local police department to establish a liaison. If your area has a Community Relations Officer, reach out to him/her first. If not, the department itself can point you in the right direction.
· Set a date for the official first meeting – Once the program is official, spread the word about your first meeting. Make the meeting in a place that is convenient and easily accessible, including for citizens without their own transportation.
· Advertise the meeting – Now’s the time to get the word out on a grander scale. Create flyers, share on social media, and send out e-newsletters. Talk about the meeting with local businesses including cashiers, wait staff, doctors, and nurses. Word-of-mouth is often the best form of advertisement.
· Create an agenda – Keep your meeting organized with an agenda. Discuss the important topics with the police liaison. Also, include time in your agenda for the liaison to talk. He/she can highlight the importance/benefits of a Neighborhood Watch program and show ways that all citizens can help. Leave time in the meeting for a question and answer session.
· Create a sign-in sheet – Ask participants to sign in as they come into the meeting. Leave room to collect names, addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. Communication is the key to success in a Neighborhood Watch program.
· Assign captains – Have enough time to assign captains for blocks or pre-determined areas of the town. Using a paper map or projection of an aerial shot of the town on a screen, break the town up into sections according to the people in attendance. Ask for volunteers and even suggest co-captain options if one person doesn’t want to shoulder all of the duty.
· Ask for other volunteers – Every captain needs assistants. Ask for other volunteers within each block or area to help with administrative duties including:
o Organizing data from each homeowner, including new residents
o Set up an alert system
o Continually advertise and recruit new members
o Establish an emergency plan, including a phone (text) tree
o Set up meeting dates
o Set up social media groups, text groups, email blasts, and other technology to keep everyone informed in real-time
o Use online tools to track and report crime, such as Nation of Neighbors or Neighbor Next Door
· Set meeting dates for the group as a whole – Each ‘block’ or group should meet up at least once a year to discuss the crime rates, what’s been done, and ways to help one another continue to fight crime.
Putting a Plan in Place
Once you establish your Neighborhood Watch group, you need a plan. This is when you address common issues in the area, alerting citizens on what to watch for. Your plan should include:
· Define the problem – With the help of the police liaison, you can discuss the most common crimes. Are they property-related, violent, or something else? Give citizens something to pay attention to.
· Look for common denominators – Look at the aspects of each crime. Are they happening during the day or at night? Are criminals targeting certain areas? Are there certain people targeted such as senior citizens or kids?
· Define the appropriate response – Come up with appropriate and safe responses for the citizens. Who should be involved? What can each group do to keep citizens alert and safe? What departments need to be made aware of the issues?
· Evaluating the success – Assessing how the plan is working helps define what to do in the future. Did crime rates fall? Are certain crimes reoccurring? How can you improve things?
Bonded communities fight crime together. A Neighborhood Watch Program brings citizens from all walks of life together with one goal – to keep the community safe. With increased alertness and communication, citizens can watch out for one another, assisting law enforcement in keeping the community safe. The sense of community, safety, and success should be evidence enough to encourage your board to establish a program in your community.
Article originally published in CACM's Vision magazine.