One of the cheapest and most effective ways to prevent crime is with the time tested Neighborhood Watch program. Also known as that noisy neighbor peeking through the blinds, statistics show that this citizen policing program reduces crime by as much as 16% in some communities. Approximately 12% of the US population is actively involved in a neighborhood watch program. It’s great because it’s generally free, or low cost, and can work in conjunction with other security measures you take, such as adding a home security system.
What is an Neighborhood Watch Program?
Simply put, the Neighborhood Watch is a crime prevention program where neighbors look out for others’ property. If something suspicious occurs, the concerned neighbor can then contact the police department, or the owner of the property in question.
Some people live next to each other for years, and may not even know each other’s first names. That doesn’t work well in a Neighborhood Watch program. In order to be effective, a Neighborhood Watch program relies on community where neighbors know each other well enough to know when something suspicious occurs.
Neighborhood Watch programs often deter crime because citizens take an informed approach to their community.
How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program in 8 Easy Steps
1. Field Interest
You may be sold on the benefits of a Neighborhood Watch program, but that’s not necessarily true for everyone else on the block. Some of your neighbors may not have even thought about implementing such a program, or they may just not know where to start. Everyone lives such busy lives that they may not feel able to contribute to a Neighborhood Watch program.
Your first duty is to gauge interest in your community by going door to door, and asking your neighbors if they would like to join you in a Neighborhood Watch program. It’s a good idea to create a petition and allow your neighbors to sign it. As you go to more houses, you can show the petition, as a social proof that others in your neighborhood would also like a crime prevention program.
It’s a good idea to canvas a large portion of your neighborhood. The greater the amount of homes involved, the greater the protection against criminal activity.
2. Contact Your Local Law Enforcement Office
Most major cities have a Crime Prevention Unit that supports a Neighborhood Watch program. Be sure to check with your local police department or county sherriff’s office.
Many law enforcement offices provide material to help you start and promote a Neighborhood Watch program in your community. They may provide invitations that you can send out to your neighbors, inviting them to attend your first Neighborhood Watch meeting. In some cases, the law enforcement office can also provide Neighborhood Watch decals for your windows and stop signs.
When you contact your local law enforce office, ask a police officer to come speak at your first meeting. You should also find out as much information as you can about crime in your area, especially the types of crimes specific to your area. You’ll use this information to persuade and inform your neighbors of the benefits of a Neighborhood Watch program.
3. Secure a Location to Meet
You may meet in your home, but if you’re expecting a larger crowd than you can host, consider asking a neighborhood church, school, or community center for space. Some police departments also provide meeting space.
You’ll want the location to be easily accessible by all of your neighbors. Don’t choose a meeting place on the other side of town if you’re expecting to draw the majority of your neighbors. Make it easy to get to, to remove any excuses.
Also, it’s important to have your meeting at an optimal time that will be easy for most of your community to attend. Often, this is on the weekend evenings, after work, but before 8pm. Hosting your meeting around 6pm or 7pm will ensure that most people can attend.
4. Create a Flier
Armed with information about crime in your area that you’ve received from the police department, create a flier to promote the benefits of a Neighborhood Watch program in your area. Three to five bullet points with specific information about your community should drive the importance of such a crime prevention program.
Be sure to include your meeting location (and directions on how to get there) on your flier. Avoid making your flier longer than one page. Your flier should be concise and to the point. You just want to include enough information to get neighbors interested enough to come to the initial meeting.
5. Send Invites or Distribute Fliers
Whether you receive invitations from your local police department or not, you can easily give away fliers that promote your upcoming, initial Neighborhood Watch meeting.
It’s often best to hand out invitations or fliers in person. Not only will you get the opportunity to further plead your case for a Neighborhood Watch program, you’ll also be able to gauge how many people may be attending your initial meeting.
If you cannot hand out fliers in person, be sure to hang the fliers on a doorknob. It’s against the law to open and insert items into a mailbox, unless you are a USPS worker.
6. Hold Your First Meeting
Be prepared to present your case for a Neighborhood Watch program. You’ll want to reiterate what’s in the flier, but also provide additional information. If you were able to secure a police officer to speak, allow him or her to share details about crime in your area, and smart ways that a Neighborhood Watch program can reduce crime activity.
During your initial meeting, collect phone numbers, emails, and addresses of the attendees. Compile a list with this contact information so that you may distribute it to the members of the Neighborhood Watch program. This list will enable neighbors to contact each other if they notice suspicious activity.
Also, during your initial meeting, form a watch committee, including a coordinator and block captains.
The responsibilities of the coordinator is to liaison between the police department and the Neighborhood Watch. The coordinator will get information from the local law enforcement office on a consistent basis and pass that information on to the block captains. Coordinators will also buy Neighborhood Watch signs.
The responsibilities of the block captain is to pass on the information to each of the Neighborhood Watch members on their block. They should also collect money for Neighborhood Watch signs. Another duty of the block captain is to distribute packets to new residents that include contact information for everyone on the block.
7. Order Yard Signs and Decals.
If your local law enforcement office does not provide a Neighborhood Watch package, you can also order them online from sites like the National Neighborhood Watch Institute or the National Sheriffs’ Association.
Having signs strategically placed around your neighborhood will deter crime, because criminals do not want to risk being watched.
8. Host Semi-Annual Neighborhood Block Parties
Strengthen the sense of community by hosting block parties. Parties are fun and festive, and give neighbors an opportunity to mingle with each other and meet new residents. Don’t just do an annual party, go for at least two, so that everyone can be involved, at least once.
If you’re excited about a Neighborhood Watch program, start now. It’s free to start, and your neighborhood will be much safer for your efforts.