Safety should be one of the major concerns anyone has before moving to a new area. Even when you’re situated, there’s reason to be concerned about a rising criminal element in your neighborhood, especially if you’re someone with kids to worry about. A home invasion is violating—in addition to the financial losses—and that basic feeling of safety in your own space is difficult to recover.
Law enforcement agencies have also cut costs over time. Many can’t afford to cover areas in their traditional fashion, even though neighborhood policing is now more in demand than ever. Resources, especially in major urban areas, are stretched too thin for street-by-street patrols. The unofficial system of citizens looking out for one another has never been more important. Here are some of the methods you can check for police incidents in your local area.
Look for Key Indicators
Visually, you might have noticed a few key indicators that crime has increased. Don’t ignore these signs and be sure to talk with neighbors. Take a walk in the morning or during the day and become more familiar with the area.
If you notice a high density of homes for sale, it could mean that the neighborhood increased in value or has become a dangerous place to live. You may want to consult a realtor or a website for researching home values to see how property values have changed historically. Matching this data can help pinpoint downturns in the market and, if used with other indicators, can form a clearer picture of why the market might consider the neighborhood lower value.
Other indicators are more obvious, like bars over windows or broken glass on the sidewalk. If you notice glass on the ground, it could be related to a recent break-in. Check for other signs. Bars over windows are a dead giveaway that a neighborhood isn’t safe. However, not every safety measure is bad. For instance, floodlights that illuminate a driveway offer excellent security and deterrence but don’t necessarily indicate a bad neighborhood.
Walking or driving through the neighborhood, you may notice a high police presence. This can be either a good or bad thing depending on several of the factors listed above. However, you can also perform a crime lookup for a neighborhood online to see recently reported crimes and get a feel for where the hotspots are.
Often, it’s a combination of these indicators that help to tell a complete story of the neighborhood.
Check National Databases
Local crime maps are very useful tools because they can help you understand what kind of crime is happening around you. The occasional car theft may not be as dangerous or concerning as a violent crime or a sex offender living near you. However, these databases fall woefully short of providing hard data on the goings on around you. You may find names and last known addresses, but little else.
A background check can help you locate these criminals and provide a more detailed profile of their criminal history pulled from publicly available data. With a background report, you better understand the specific threats you and your family may face. You can then make a more informed decision about where you want to live. You also don’t need much more than a name and a last known address to get basic information about someone’s criminal history. With the affordability of a background check, it’s worth trying out if you’re concerned about a potentially dangerous individual living near you.
One excellent and free database is the Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website, which allows users to search by their own address to see if any offenders live in their midst. A radius of up to 3 miles will provide detailed background information and profiles for any offenders in the area, as well as a description of their offense and a score assessing their risk of recurrence.
Utilize Online Resources
Crime databases can be a good source to check when you’re considering relocation or if you just want to check in with your neighborhood. However, there is one small flaw. These databases aren’t automatically updated by some benevolent force. They rely on input from communities, scraping existing crime databases and other publicly available information.
As a result, they may not be 100% accurate. What they can do is give you a pulse of the crime in your area and provide some heat maps that signal where crime is most prevalent. Here are a few places to begin a search:
•Crime Reports: The website pools data from more than 1,000 reporting agencies and citizens. It claims to provide hourly updates, but may not reach your local area if you’re not near a major metropolitan city.
•My Local Crime: Checks crime by your address. Similar to Crime Reports, My Local Crime is a more user-friendly version of another site known as “SpotCrime.” The trouble with SpotCrime is that it relies on user data, which may mean false or incorrect reports.
•Area Vibes: Area Vibes is a more general website used to help you figure out where to move next. It can also highlight opportunities and interesting statistics in your local area, including rates of crime.
If you’re looking for a safe place to move, these resources are a good start. You can also speak with the local police departments, who can point to specific neighborhoods with low crime incidents or provide some information that is relevant to that area. The internet is always a great place to start and even a good place to find more information, but it should never be where your search ends. Make sure you’re willing to explore more resources if you want to know the true story behind crime in your local area.
Boots on the Ground
Real estate agents will frequently advise clients moving to a new area to do a drive-through of the neighborhood at various times of day. Not only will you get a feel for the flow of traffic, identifying any unforeseen setbacks like a local school or church you might have missed, you might meet people. If you see a lot of neighbors out working on their homes, it’s a good sign the neighborhood is safe and the standards of living are high.
You should also walk around the neighborhood and introduce yourself. This is especially important once you have moved into your home. Not only will you meet new friends and hear some stories about the area, but you will also make valuable contacts. In an emergency, your neighbors will be looking to each other for support and vital information.
Talk with the people you meet and get to know them. Ask how long they’ve lived in the neighborhood and if they have had a good experience. Ask them what they wish they’d known before moving in and make sure you emphasize your own friendliness.
If you get out and talk to people, you’ll learn a lot more than any database can tell you.
Much of crime prevention comes down to simple vigilance. Make sure you’re trimming hedges and adequately lighting alcoves where someone might hide at night. You should have a spare set of keys and you should make sure you have a safe space to store them. Beneath a floormat or above the doorway are not safe spaces, because they are predictable. Invest in a lockbox you can screw onto a fence, or leave a set with a trusted neighbor.
Another popular method of crime deterrence is the outdoor camera. Security cameras require some logistics on your part and a bit of maintenance to make sure footage is stored properly, but you can deter thieves with a camera that is visibly pointing toward the street. Doorbell cameras are a popular entry-level device, but there are several options available that connect to any basic WiFi network. A security company can offer some of these services and may be worth the cost, but there are solutions you can do yourself as well.
The safer you and your neighbors keep your spaces, the less likely you are to see a high rate of a car or home break-in. Establishing a neighborhood watch program is another great idea, but it does require dedication. If you happen to already be involved, be sure to designate safe houses in cases of disaster. Encourage preparedness and look out for your neighbors.
Don’t forget about natural disasters as well. During a disaster, you have to deal with the elements and potential looters. At times like these, relationships built with neighbors can make all the difference. In an emergency, you may be cut off from water or power for days or even weeks at a time. Lead by example through the accumulation of water and canned goods and encourage pooling resources when the time comes.
If you’re looking for an easy way to meet neighbors, try a neighborhood potluck during an important holiday. The 4th of July is a great day to have an outdoor barbecue and get sociable, but Halloween and the day after Thanksgiving also work well (especially for offloading leftovers). These occasions are low-stress affairs that allow everyone to get to know each other and form an easy bond.
One important fact to consider is that crime can often trace its source back to someone you know. As you’re getting to know neighbors, practice guarded optimism. Keep your expensive items under wraps during these initial gatherings and avoid discarding big ticket item boxes in the trash during the holiday season. Also, don’t post your vacations publicly to social media or announce it to neighbors. Keep this information restricted to the few who need to know.
If you practice these tips, you’ll have a good feel for the neighborhood and ideas on how to keep yourself safe from potential crime.