The Value of Neighborhood Watches
In the 1970s, the National Sheriffs Association helped launch the National Neighborhood Watch, a program intended to increase communication between law enforcement and neighborhoods during a period of increased crime. Now, neighborhood watch programs — on and offline — serve as a communication tool for communities and an active crime deterrent.
Many neighborhood crime watch groups have been associated with a drop in crime. They also help individual citizens have increased peace of mind when they’re out of town or living alone. Having an extra set of eyes on the neighborhood can make crime harder and riskier, eventually reducing how many people will attempt burglary or vandalism.
Step-by-Step: How to Start A Neighborhood Watch
Each neighborhood has unique challenges, but this process will help you determine the best way to start a neighborhood watch based on your community’s needs.
Step 1: Gauge Interest Through a Meeting, Poll or Conversations
Start by sending out a message to your neighbors by text, signs, NextDoor, or even the Neighbors app. If you send a mass message digitally, include a poll to gauge interest or consider hosting an interest meeting at a local park or gathering place. You can also have individual conversations with your neighbors as you run into them. Whatever route you take, you’ll want to ensure that at least a few other people are passionate about neighborhood safety and starting a neighborhood watch group. Being the only champion for a new neighborhood watch can be exhausting. Finding at least one or two other people to start spreading the word will make your job a lot easier.
Step 2: Contact a Law Enforcement Officer to Learn More
Most police departments have a community liaison or another role that focuses on education and conversations with regular citizens. Set up a meeting with the appropriate person to talk about what neighborhood watch efforts have looked like in your community in the past and what structure the law enforcement agency can support. They may be too busy, for instance, to attend biweekly meetings, but could easily spare an officer to give a talk quarterly. They may also be able to do some “myth-busting” about which crimes are common and rare in your community.
Step 3: Plan an Accessible Meeting and Promote It
In your chats with people, consider a few different factors: What location is convenient to everyone in your neighborhood? There may be a park, shelter, local church, restaurant, or community center willing to host your group. What is the best time to host your meeting? If your neighborhood has many working people, consider hosting an evening or weekend meeting. If there are many families, consider providing childcare or some activities to occupy kids who come along. The ultimate goal is to make the meeting comfortable and appealing to all.
Once you’ve got your meeting set, you need to get the word out. Ask everyone who is already involved to help you distribute flyers — a simple design with a meeting date and time and a brief description of the event can go a long way. You can also hang the flyers around your community and send messages on NextDoor or Neighbors.
Step 4: Assign Roles and Delegate Tasks
Once you’re at the meeting itself, explain the tasks and roles that come with a neighborhood watch. This could include leadership roles that require quite a lot of time and organizing or a block captain who is willing to get the word out about new activities.
If particular neighbors are excited about specific efforts you want to make, empower them by putting them in charge of that activity. For example, people who already enjoy taking walks around the neighborhood may be particularly interested in picking up trash along their route. You’ll sustain your neighborhood watch longer if many people feel like they have an important role.
Step 5: If Possible, Create Some Social Events
One of the most important aspects of a neighborhood watch program is the connection between neighbors. An increased sense of community means extra peace of mind, knowing your neighbors have your back even when you’re not around. Consider setting up a community picnic, field day, or another gathering to increase social cohesion. It can be an effective way to build trust and friendships.
Step 6: Periodically Evaluate How the Program Works
Each community will find different levels of interest and uptake of the program, so be willing to reevaluate. For instance, if your online polls get good results but few people come to meetings, consider making your program online-only with periodic social events to keep everyone engaged and connected.
Focus on getting people involved and consider collaborating with law enforcement to keep your community as safe as possible. And remember that social ties only strengthen a neighborhood watch. Get to know your neighbors, build a sense of community, and share in the added peace of mind.