A Permanent Force in the Community

Neighborhood Watch has long been the most widespread crime prevention effort in the United States with a long track record of success. It is so well respected that major authorities do not undertake studies of whether it works or not. The bottom line is it just works. Like any other organization it has to have good leadership, nurtured, and maintained. It must have a succession plan or it will die.

Individual communities and neighborhoods have demonstrated over time that this simple concept of neighbors working together to reduce neighborhood property crime through programs like Operation Identification, and implementing home security recommendations from local law enforcement work. Training in how to identify and report suspicious activity, how to help each other, how to be a good neighbor, and how to partner with law enforcement is the foundation of the program.

Watches have been set up to bring together residents of city blocks apartment buildings, businesses, schools, campgrounds, and other settings. Neighborhood Associations and Crime Watches go hand-in-hand and together form a united effort in deterring all types of criminal activity.

Typically, Neighborhood Crime Watch groups organize to respond to an immediate increase in criminal activity. In most cases, this is increase criminal activity in burglaries, larceny, and robberies. In some cases, homicides, murder, armed robberies, and random gunfire have initiated the creation of area crime watches.  It is unfortunate that when the crisis is resolved, membership and commitment to the Crime Watch start to fade away. After all, is it necessary to continue the effort after the criminal activity has subsided? This short-sighted attitude ignores key benefits of a functional Neighborhood Crime Watch such as:

  1. Crime Watch groups train the community to prevent crime through vigilance.
  2. Crime Watch forges bonds between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
  3. Crime Watch bring together residents, businesses, apartment dwellers, churches, schools, and city leaders as a working permanent force to not only reduce criminal activity but to establish a neighborhood culture of a “no crime” in my neighborhood.
  4. Crime Watch builds a foundation for broader community improvement and can foster other programs such as Volunteers in Patrol, code enforcement, park beautification, and economic development.

Neighborhood Crime Watch is far more than a temporary quick fix for an

immediate crisis. The Crime Watch can be foundation for maintaining a safe environment, improving living conditions, renew economic development, and improve neighborhood pride.  An active Crime Watch is a warning to criminals that the citizen’s in this area are watchful and will report any suspicious activity to the police.

When You Start To Organize

Determine the ethnic groups of non-English speaking residents and what language they speak. Then look to local government agencies, private advocacy and service organizations, religious institutions, mediation services, and other groups experienced in dealing with immigrants for help. A translator is essential when you hold a Neighborhood Watch or crime prevention meeting. Print materials in different languages if possible.

Don’t be discouraged by the anger of the residents attending the formation meeting. In talking about his efforts to organize Neighborhood Watch presentations in ethnically diverse Modesto California, crime prevention officer David Huckaby says, “It’s tough, but Asians, Cambodians, Lao, and Hispanics are very interested in crime prevention information.”

Why Do Some Neighborhood Associations Thrive and Others Die?

In the mid 1980 the Citizens Committee of New York City (CCNYC), with funding from the Ford Foundation, undertook the Block Booster Project, a year study of relationships among block associations, crime, and community development. The study found that active block groups substantially reduced fear of crime, encouraged crime reporting, stimulated members’ involvement in crime prevention, inhibited drug trafficking, reduced graffiti/tagging, and spurred beautification activities.

The Block Booster Project also examined why some groups thrived while other withered and died. Use of resources emerged as the key factor.  Active, healthy block groups had the same resources as inactive ones, but they used them more effectively. Here are key survival tactics discovered by the Block Booster Project:

  • Spell out roles and responsibilities of the association leaders and its members.
  • Adopt bylaws and elect officers.
  • Decentralize planning and work. Delegate tasks and establish standing committees.
  • Keep in touch with members. Use personal contacts, in and outside of meetings. Distribute a newsletter to communicate regularly with members.
  • Plan for and train new leaders. Don’t bum out existing ones
  • Mobilize collective resources and use them.
  • Know members’ and personal and business contacts.
  • Be realistic about how many people you need to do a job.
  • Use outside resources, such as government agencies and community-based organizations.
  • Strike a balance between business and pleasure. Start and end business meetings on time, but have a set time for socializing before or after the meeting.
  • Involve all elements in the community—single parents, renters, home owners, teenagers, senior citizens, business owners and apartment managers.

Extending the Scope of Neighborhood Watch

Successful Neighborhood Watches move beyond the basics of home security, watching out for suspicious activities, and reporting incidents to law enforcement.

1.       Support crime reduction programs such as volunteers in patrol, extended neighborhood patrols, and CERT to name a few.

2.       Build a partnership with the police—residents become the eyes and ears for the police.

3.       Help victims of crime.

4.       Form task forces that influence policymakers.

5.       They sponsor community cleanups.

6.       Reclaim playgrounds from drug dealers.

7.       Find solutions to local traffic problems.

8.       Collect clothing and toys for homeless families.

9.       Organize after-school activities for young people.

10.    Tutor teens at risk of dropping out of school.

They can even start a safe house program for children or block parent program, which are reliable sources of help for children in emergency or other frightening situations. After a number of natural disasters in the Midwest, Neighborhood Watch Groups there have designed Family Emergency Preparedness plans. The scope of Neighborhood Watch continues to grow; however, its fundamental mission still remains the same—people helping people.

Looking for leaders:

A Neighborhood Watch’s effectiveness depends heavily on its leaders. Good block captains are leaders who possess the following qualities:

  • Get along well with people.
  • Have good communication and negotiating skills.
  • Do not view the position as a power trip or a chance for personal gain.
  • Are willing to delegate tasks.
  • Listen to the opinions of others.
  • Are organized and can conduct meetings efficiently.
  • Are not easily discouraged.
  • Learn from failures.
  • Don’t stop at just prevention of crime–They have a long-range vision for community improvement.

Motivating leaders:

  • Look to police departments, community action and social service organizations, religious institutions, colleges, business associations, schools, and youth organizations for help.
  • Establishes realistic goals.
  • Emphasize success instead of fear.
  • Communicate with members often.
  • Keeps volunteers informed.
  • Is able to recognize and prevent volunteer burn out.
  • Does not overwork the volunteer force.
  • Provide public recognition through awards and articles in newsletters and newspapers.
  • Always looking for emerging issues that could affect the community’s quality of life.

Motivating Residents:

While the motivation of leaders is critical in volunteer management, the average participant is what crime watch programs are all about.

Some communities are harder to organize than others.  High crime areas can be difficult due in part to fear and suspicion. In these neighborhoods, encourage interested citizens to work through organizations they trust, such as churches, ten- ant groups, and community law enforcement programs. Emphasize the opportunity to address community needs and the importance and effectiveness of reporting crime and any suspicious activity. Encourage residents to know their immediate neighbors, have contact information, and to look out for each other.  A nosy neighbor is the best deterrent for potential criminals.  In other works—-be neighborly.

Members are the strength of any organization and are motivated by factors like:

  • Achievement, recognition, responsibility, and pride in their work and in the goals of the group.
  • Knowing that there is an action plan to solve issues.
  • Trusting in the leadership of the organization.
  • Being kept informed of crime watch achievements/results.
  • Knowing that their concerns will be taken seriously.
  • Keeping programs convenient and in the neighborhood.
  • Having well prepared and interesting speakers at meetings.

Mobilizing Community Resources:

Community businesses and organizations offer numerous resources for crime prevention programs.

Look to:

  • Religious institutions for meeting space, copying services, and access to volunteers.
  • Service clubs and businesses for partnerships in fundraising initiatives.
  • Libraries for research materials, videos, computers, and meeting space.
  • Printing companies for free or discounted service for newsletters, fliers, and certificates.
  • Parent groups, volunteer centers, and labor unions for advice on organizing and recruiting volunteers.
  • Local media for publicity.
  • Senior centers and schools for facilities and equipment.

When Your Neighborhood is Multicultural

The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in cultural and ethnic diversity in the last decade. An estimated 19.7 million persons, just under 8 percent of the population, were foreign born.  Never before have so many immigrants lived in this country.

Organizing a Neighborhood Watch in a multicultural community poses unique challenges. Recent immigrants may not speak English, and many may still be adjusting to life in this country. Disputes or misunderstandings can erupt between neighbors of different cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural conflicts arise because two groups of people have established different values, different standards of acceptable behavior, different traditions and communication patterns, and different ideas about such things as dress and attitude. Often, the hardest thing for everyone to learn is that different does not always equal wrong or improper.

When dealing with individuals raised in different cultures, you need to consider such things as:

  • Their length of time in the United States.
  • English or other language
  • Possible distrust of law enforcement, stemming from a fear of people in uniform and in government offices based on experiences in their native country.
  • Educational level and social class (especially the social class in the native country for immigrants and first-generation residents).
  • Role expectations for males and females, parents, grandparents, and children.
  • Religious and ethical values.
  • Rules and expectations for interpersonal relationships.


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