Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
Have you seen increasing graffiti in your neighborhood? Perhaps you have heard of an uptick in car thefts on your block, or maybe a child’s bicycle was stolen off a porch. Incidents like this can cause anxiety and frustration among a community’s residents, and may lead you to consider forming a Neighborhood Watch Program.
The United States Department of Justice defines a Neighborhood Watch as “a group of people living in the same area who want to make their neighborhood safer by working together and in conjunction with local law enforcement to reduce crime and improve their quality of life.” The agency states that Neighborhood Watch programs go back nearly 70 years, but truly came into prominence in the 1970s and 80s.
Many communities already have such programs in place, but what are the best ways to establish one if you don’t? Here’s what to do if you want to start a Neighborhood Watch in your area.
1. Gauge Neighborhood Interest
The first step is to talk to neighbors and try to gauge interest. During these conversations, it might help to mention that these programs can help with crime reduction, improved community relations, better harmony with law enforcement, and ultimately, better quality of life. Talk to the neighbors you know first, and then, if you feel inclined, go door-to-door. Distribute flyers at local businesses to promote the idea.
2. Plan An Initial Meeting
Once you find enough interested parties, organize a meeting with the people who responded favorably to the idea. Try a local coffee shop, library, or community center as a potential location. As you plan, it is important to get local law enforcement involved. Ask the local police department to send a liaison to the initial meeting. Their involvement can help formalize the Neighborhood Watch, and they can help provide information and resources to get the group started. The Department of Justice also recommends registering the group with USAonWatch, the national organization for Watch groups.
3. Establish Leadership, Goals, and agendas
During your meeting, establish leadership for the Neighborhood Watch program. Establish Block Captains, which are generally recommended to oversee a proximity of 10 to 15 houses. The Block Captain maintains relations with neighbors and checks in about their concerns on an ongoing basis.
Your group also needs a Neighborhood Watch Coordinator, who organizes the list of members, acts as a liaison between members, officers, civic groups, and block captains, and continues to arrange meetings and trainings for the group. It is also vital to have rank and file members to hold leadership accountable and voice the needs of the community at large.
You’ll also want to determine some key objectives for the group, and establish times for training programs with help from local law enforcement. The group can also decide if it wants to focus on neighborhood patrols, clean up days, crime prevention seminars, or other activities.
4. Raise Awareness And Maintain Momentum
As you kick off your Neighborhood Watch Program, be sure to raise awareness about the group to the community. You can host a launch event, create a website, or circulate newsletters. Make sure to maintain communication with other leaders and the law enforcement liaison.
Once you’re up and running, set a regular meeting time for the community at large to participate in the Neighborhood Watch. In these meetings, your area’s residents can raise any concerns or suspicious activities. From there, your group can use tools like BeenVerified to track down information on persons of interest in the neighborhood, and follow up on any known problems.
With that, your Neighborhood Watch is ready to go. These groups can be a great way to bring your neighborhood together and also greatly improve quality of life.