How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program?
Neighborhood safety is everyone’s responsibility. By coming together as a community, you strengthen bonds and create a safer, more secure environment for all residents.
What is a Neighborhood Watch Program?
The Neighborhood Watch crime prevention program was started in 1972 and is sponsored by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA). It works by regular citizens working with local police to form watch groups that keep an eye and ear out for anything suspicious happening in their neighborhoods. Some areas even have night patrols where residents take turns keeping an eye on the whole community at night, which is the most common time for crimes to occur.
Neighborhood watch programs work because they don’t try to change the criminal's behavior or motives but provides obstacles and reduces the opportunity for them to succeed.
Usually, neighborhood watch programs have close connections with law enforcement and even know some officers by name. Whenever something occurs that they find disturbing, they report it immediately to police and the officers investigate.
The National Sheriffs’ Association provides free training to neighborhoods that want to start a watch program. The police do not encourage nor endorse the use of firearms in neighborhood watch programs.
Steps to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program
Putting together a neighborhood watch program only takes a few steps and some planning.
Step 1 - Assess your neighborhood for potential crime issues and make a plan to address each one.
Step 2 - Recruit, as many neighbors are you can and identify roles. Schedule regular meetings to discuss problem areas as they arise.
Step 3 - Schedule a meeting with your local law enforcement agency. They will provide materials and training to get everyone up to speed and prepared. This partnership with law enforcement is critical to the success of your program.
Step 4 - Hold your first meeting as an open forum for residents to express their concerns and highlight potential issues.
Step 5 - Set up a communication plan and social media groups so everyone is on the same page and you can get information out to everyone quickly and easily.
Step 6 - Stay focused and hold meetings and events to keep everyone motivated and invested in the neighborhood watch program.
Some additional tips for a successful neighborhood watch program are:
- Connect with other community agencies like tenants’ associations or housing authorities to strengthen your team.
- Go door-to-door to reach other members and shut-ins.
- Recruit people who don’t leave their homes much to be “window watchers” and report any unusual activity in the area.
- Use translators to reach members of the community from other cultures.
- Sponsor a crime or drug prevention event in your area.
- Commit to clean yards and upkeep of your neighborhood. Wellkept regions are less likely to attract a criminal element.
Remember neighborhood watch groups are not vigilantes and should not try to apprehend criminals themselves. Report any issues to the proper local law enforcement agency.
Are Neighborhood Watch Programs Effective?
Neighborhood watch programs protect more than 40% of America's neighborhoods. A study completed by The Crime Prevention Research Review proved that all areas with a neighborhood watch program in place experienced lower crime rates.
Some of the reason for the success is that when an area is visibly protected, criminals will go where there is less chance of being caught. Overall neighborhood watch programs reduce crime by about 16%. We don’t always hear of these success stories on the news, but there are quite a few.
May 1999 - Glendale, CA
A neighborhood watch participant and resident saw a man wandering around the area and called the emergency number that was given to her by the neighborhood “captain.” The Glendale Police Department responded quickly with a chopper overhead and squad cars. The man was taken into custody and later found to have wandered away from a mental health facility. The neighborhood remained safe, and the man was returned to his family.
March 2009, Cumming, GA
A neighborhood in Cumming Georgia was on high alert after a series of smash and grab events with parked cars. A bunch of residents reported some suspicious activity they noticed, and within a few days, local police caught the criminal. Because of this success story, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office won the 2009 National Sheriff’s Association Neighborhood Watch Award of Excellence.
March 2012, Las Vegas, NV
Crime in the Metro area dropped more than 30% due to instituting more than 625 neighborhood watch programs.
August 2012, Moss Point, MS
A neighborhood watch group helped local authorities find and catch the culprit in a string of recent burglaries. The group’s diligence and collaboration helped to identify evidence, which led to the arrest and conviction.
April 2014, Hilmar, CA
A group of resident farmers were the victims of truck theft until their neighborhood watch group took it to social media and posted images of the stolen trucks online. Their post helped police apprehend the suspect, and the truck was returned 12 hours later.
October 2014, Merced, CA
A mobile home community of 400 people started a neighborhood watch program to get rid of drug trafficking in the area. They were successful in their efforts and called their program “Safe Streets.”
January 2015, Pueblo, CA
When a neighborhood watch requested additional patrol cars because of an increase in theft, police responded and made three arrests in one night, thwarting two separate incidents.
July 2015, Englewood, IL
Police trained 300 residents on conflict resolution and during a 4th of July weekend, which generally resulted in at least one gun-related death, was peaceful with not one incident.
September 2015, Livingston, MO
A neighborhood watch program worked with police to identify residents who were committing home invasions. Their collaboration led to arrests and stopping of crime in the area.
Success stories like these and others are rampant across our nation. The more local law enforcement and residents team up, the lower crime rates fall. The bottom line is neighborhood watch programs work!