Whether you’re new to town or you’ve lived in the same neighborhood for years, you want to be part of a community. You want to feel safe in your neighborhood, and you want your neighbors to feel the same way. Keeping an eye out for strange characters or suspicious behavior is next to impossible on your own, though. You need commitment and support from everyone else who calls your neighborhood home. Learn how to start a neighborhood watch program and discover how everyone can benefit from keeping your community safe.
Talk With Neighbors
To start a neighborhood watch program, you need the support and involvement of several people in your area. Get the ball rolling by talking with your neighbors about the state of the community. If you don’t know your neighbors well, start out with a casual conversation. Ask them how safe they feel in the community and if they have security concerns.
Whether they’ve been victims of crimes, they know someone who has, or they’re simply concerned for the neighborhood, your neighbors may be interested in taking an active role in a community watch program. In follow-up conversations, ask select neighbors about their interest in forming a planning committee and making the watch program official. Try to identify neighbors with an interest in helping to lead the group.
Do Your Research
It isn’t always easy to form an official neighborhood watch program or get community support if your area doesn’t have any issues with crime. That’s why it’s important to do your research before you take the process too far.
Start by searching online for data about your community. Your local newspaper and community police reports are good places to begin, and you can also use online tools like SpotCrime, which shares details about crimes in your neighborhood. Next, search online databases or registries to find out if there are any sex offenders in the neighborhood, since this could affect the nature of your crime prevention tactics.
Finally, check with your local police precinct for up-to-date statistics in your area. These hard numbers will tell you how serious your area’s crime problems really are and can help you focus your efforts appropriately. Remember that your neighbors may have perceptions about area crime based on what they’ve heard or experienced, but the statistics may offer a better guide for preventing crime.
Connect With Law Enforcement Officers
Whether or not you connected with local law enforcement officers during the research phase, you should talk with your precinct before moving forward with a neighborhood watch group. After all, your group won’t be very effective without the help of local police officers. Working with area law enforcement can create a helpful information exchange that leads to reduced crime. Developing a relationship with local law enforcement can also help ensure that the police prioritize your neighborhood’s concerns.
Many neighborhood watch groups involve police officers in visible ways. Consider inviting officers to your neighborhood watch meetings. Ask them to make presentations about local crime, lead workshops on crime detection and prevention, or simply introduce themselves to community members.
Hold a Meeting
Find a time that works well for your neighborhood, such as after work or on a weekend, and schedule your first neighborhood watch meeting. Remember that if your neighborhood has a homeowners’ association, you may need to work together for support and promotion. At the next HOA meeting, talk with board members about the neighborhood watch initiative or linking the groups in a mutually beneficial way.
Advertise the meeting every way you can to ensure that as many neighbors as possible know about it. Post flyers throughout the neighborhood, call or text those you know well, and ask everyone to spread the word. After all, you want as many people to participate as possible, since more community involvement generally means better results.
At the first meeting, make the benefits of a neighborhood watch program clear. This type of initiative enables neighbors to look out for one another, keeping people and property safe and making your community a better place to live.
No matter the size of your neighborhood, you’ll need representatives to monitor crime and report on prevention efforts in different areas. Though wide-ranging participation is essential, you’ll need to rely on these key players to keep the group active and on track.
At your first meeting, establish roles, such as a chairperson, committee heads, and block captains. Typically, the chairperson is responsible for maintaining higher level communication with law enforcement, while block captains ensure that nearby residents get the information they need, communicate with elderly residents, and serve as liaisons with local groups. Committee heads may be charged with tasks like organizing regular meetings, overseeing partnerships, or implementing technology.
Posting flyers and delivering information by hand aren’t the most efficient ways to convey information about ongoing neighborhood watch initiatives. Instead, zero in on one or two methods of communication that work best for your neighborhood. Consider creating a closed Facebook group to share information and concerns, start a text message or What’s App group to send messages, or use a listserv or email group to communicate.
You can use technology to increase safety or improve monitoring, too. For instance, if there are a few crime hotspots in your neighborhood, consider setting up a wireless camera that sends alerts to committee members’ or block captains’ mobile devices. When an incident happens, you can take action right away.
Running a neighborhood watch program can be a lot of work, but with the right partners, this type of initiative can be incredibly successful. In addition to law enforcement officers, reach out to community activists, local politicians, and civic leaders. Ask them to give your neighborhood watch group a little extra publicity to increase local awareness and generate buzz and excitement.
Launching a neighborhood watch group isn’t something you can do overnight, but your commitment to your community is bound to pay off. When you take the time to get to know your neighbors, work together with other members of your community, and involve local law enforcement, everyone in your neighborhood will feel safer and more secure.