Author : Lowell Bradford

Let’s face it—we are living in a time in which burglary, car theft, and other types of vandalism and crime do not only occur—but in some cases, are quite prevalent. While some towns and cities rely on their police department for protection from criminals, others have turned to the use of a neighborhood watch to provide safety and security. Neighborhood watches are traditionally defined as programs in which residents monitor the activity of a specific area or zone, and report unusual behavior to law enforcement officers. While neighborhood watch programs are sometimes viewed “with a grain of salt,” many metropolitan police departments believe that they have been instrumental in recent drops in nation-wide crime rates. Individuals who are interested in starting a neighborhood watch program should start by holding meetings, electing group leaders, and creating marketing materials. Working with local city leaders, officials, and law enforcement officers can also be an effective way to ensure the success of a neighborhood watch program.

Why Start a Neighborhood Watch?

Community members may be interested in starting a neighborhood watch program for a number of reasons. Traditionally, the most common motives for starting a program such as this include decreasing crime rates, preventing home vandalism, and limiting car theft. In addition, neighborhood watch programs can be an effective way to provide assistance to residents during medical emergencies or natural disasters. Finally, neighborhood watch programs can also deal with lesser problems, such as rambunctious pets, loud parties, and ill-managed lawns or vehicles.

Steps in the Implementation of a Neighborhood Watch

To ensure a successful, high-quality neighborhood watch program, leaders must be willing to put in plenty of time and hard work. Fortunately, though starting a neighborhood watch program may be time-intensive during the early stages of program implementation, a well-developed organization will eventually begin to manage itself. Individuals who have never participated in the development of neighborhood watch may want to consult with program leaders in nearby towns or cities. Generally, for best results, neighborhood watch leaders must start by holding meetings, electing “captains,” and creating resources.

In most cases, neighborhood watch programs can be run successfully with only one or two meetings per year. During early meetings, program leaders should review topics of concern in the neighborhood, identify interested participants, and establish neighborhood watch boundaries. Once the program has become more established, yearly meetings can focus on events and trends in the organization and/or neighborhood. With any luck, criminal occurrences will decrease as a result of the implementation of the neighborhood watch program.

Electing “captains” is also an important part of creating an effective neighborhood watch. Generally, neighborhood watch “captains” are the individuals who will create schedules, serve as police department contacts, and answer emergent calls. For best results, an open election to identify neighborhood watch “captains” should be held once per year. While one “captain” may be adequate for a small group of 20 people of less, larger groups may require two or three “captains.” In the event that a “captain” moves from the neighborhood, another replacement should be elected as soon as possible.

Effective neighborhood watch programs also rely on adequate amounts of resources to ensure optimal results. In general, these resources include phone trees with the names, phone numbers, and other contact information of current neighborhood watch participants. In addition, a map of the neighborhood, newsletters, and safety tips can also prove to be effective. Templates for these items can often be downloaded from Internet sources.

Getting Out the Word

While recruiting adequate numbers of neighborhood residents is essential for the success of a neighborhood watch program, civilians should not be the sole members. Most experts agree that an effective neighborhood watch program should also be recognized and supported by members of the fire and police department, as well as elected city officials such as the mayor or city planner. Program leaders or “captains” should contact these individuals in the early stages of the development of a neighborhood watch program. Letters, post cards, flyers, or other similar items can be an effective way to gain the attention of these important community leaders.

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