What Is a Neighborhood Watch?

Safety Team
Updated Apr 21, 2021
3 min read
A neighborhood watch sign warns theives they are being oberved.

Walking through your neighborhood, you may enjoy seeing the familiar faces of your neighbors on their porch or strolling the streets. That way, you know there are eyes on your community and home whenever you’re out of town or away from home. If suspicious activity or a crime occurs near or on your property, you have the extra peace of mind that your neighbors are there keeping watch. 

Neighborhood crime watch groups are just that — a group of neighbors coming together to make everyone feel a bit safer. Plus, the more eyes watching means your neighborhood is less appealing to target for crimes. Read on to learn how these neighborhood watches work, how to join one, and how to start a neighborhood crime watch if one doesn’t exist in your neighborhood.


Why Were Neighborhood Watches Created?

In 1972, the United States’ National Sheriffs’ Association was worried about rising crime rates, so it enlisted the help of ordinary citizens in preventing criminal activity. The National Sheriffs’ association created the National Neighborhood Watch to increase feelings of neighborhood safety while building positive, effective relationships with law enforcement that could help police officers in crime prevention.


Why Are Neighborhood Watches Important?

Social scientific studies have noted connections between high-crime hot spots and neighborhoods where people moved in and out a lot and lacked social connection. This research led to the idea that neighbors knowing each other well and looking out for each other would make it harder for criminals to commit crimes unnoticed. Researchers suspected that eventually, this connection would serve as a deterrent. Neighborhood crime watch programs have extended that benefit by promoting common-sense home security measures, posting signs to remind potential criminals that the community has a neighborhood watch, and participating in efforts to clean up the community.


How Do Neighborhood Watch Groups Work?

Neighborhood watches are characterized by two elements: neighbors connecting over the crime issues they face and connecting with law enforcement to get a perspective on crime in their community. When law enforcement officers visit a neighborhood watch meeting, for instance, they can share what some of the most dangerous situations are in that particular community or can provide insight on which situations warrant a 911 call. Regardless of law enforcement collaboration, community members organize meetings themselves and spread the news to their neighbors when choosing goals for the group.


How to Join a Neighborhood Watch Group

If your community already has a neighborhood watch, you can attend a meeting, call an organizer, or reach out via a social networking app like NextDoor or Neighbors. Many neighborhood watches have leadership roles like block captains who pass along messages to 10-15 homes around their own, making communication easier for the larger neighborhood. Consider volunteering to be your block captain or to learn from the current one.


How to Start a Neighborhood Watch

Starting a neighborhood watch always begins with neighbors themselves: consider picking a place and time to have an interest meeting and passing out flyers or sending messages on NextDoor. At the interest meeting, come up with some of the concerns that your neighbors have about crime or safety in your neighborhood — with a list of priorities, you can also get assistance from local law enforcement.

For future meetings or even the interest meeting itself, coordinate with law enforcement to have an officer visit and discuss a particular topic, usually focusing on how regular citizens can be effective parts of crime reduction efforts. The meeting may also have a practical component: neighbors can discuss raising money to buy neighborhood watch signs, organize a trash pickup along the roads in your neighborhood, or assign communication roles like block captains.

Unless you have a lot of specific issues you want to address, neighborhood watch meetings don’t have to be frequent. However, part of strengthening the neighborhood is also knowing your neighbors, so events that allow individuals and families to socialize and get to know each other without emphasizing crime prevention are a great idea. 


How Successful Are Neighborhood Watch programs?

Many neighborhood watch programs have been studied and resulted in a drop in crime after creating the program. While the results across the board are mixed, and rising crime can be due to a host of factors outside the control of everyday citizens, local law enforcement has information about which community neighborhood safety measures have been effective in your community. 

With busy neighbors, it can be a challenge to keep up a schedule of meetings. In fact, many neighborhood watch groups become informal or inactive over time. The social networking app NextDoor has become like a community bulletin board of sorts, where neighbors can quickly send messages to each other about all safety concerns, like a dog loose in the neighborhood. It enables neighbors who don’t know each other well to share relevant information, such as if someone has broken into local sheds or garages recently and remind each other to protect their possessions.

The key elements of a neighborhood watch are relatively easy to manage within a neighborhood-based app or social media group. The goal is to strengthen neighbors’ connections by keeping communication positive and reduce crime by being upfront about potential threats and criminal activity. Even if you aren’t ready to launch a series of meetings yourself, check out online neighborhood apps to see if you can join an online version of a neighborhood watch.

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Safety Team

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