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Troy L. Wheeler

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Strategy: Starting Neighborhood Watch Groups

Strategy Organized groups of neighborhood residents who watch out for criminal and suspicious behavior and report it to local . . .

Strategy

Organized groups of neighborhood residents who watch out for criminal and suspicious behavior and report it to local law enforcement help prevent crime and promote cooperation among residents and police.

Community Problem Addressed

Every day, neighborhoods across the United States confront any number of property and violent crimes and threats of crime. This strategy attempts to provide local law enforcement with additional eyes and ears to watch out for all types of criminal activity and promote neighborhood security. Community crime watches can address all types of crime, but their primary focus is typically residential burglary and other crimes around the home, such as larceny and vandalism. Their presence can also help deter criminals who would attempt to conduct drug- or gang-related activities in the neighborhood.

Key Components

The first step is to identify key leaders or persons most concerned about crime in the neighborhood and organize a meeting of these individuals to discuss safety. The police can be invited to a neighborhood meeting to discuss community safety, and volunteers can be solicited to serve as block watch leaders. The neighborhood may be divided by blocks and block leaders assigned to serve as points of contact.  A communication network can be organized to pass along information about crime and security to residents. The police may provide training on recognizing and reporting suspicious activity and on home and neighborhood security. The watch may expand to foot or car patrols.  The watch can provide a variety of safety and security information to residents.

Key Partnerships

Local law enforcement officials and residents form the crucial partnership in this strategy. Training from the police and help with recruitment and communication ensure the watch program's success and provide the basis for a sustained and broad-based community effort to promote public safety. Local media aid watch groups by publicizing recruitment drives and successes in crime prevention through citizen involvement. Involving seniors and youth will also make the program more comprehensive.

Potential Obstacles

Apathy, civic disengagement, and fear are among the most common obstacles to forming a Neighborhood Watch. Education, usually via law enforcement, can overcome such obstacles. The potential for displacing crime to other neighborhoods is a concern for law enforcement; they seek to involve as many neighborhoods as possible to offset the potential for displacement. Also, volunteer momentum can wane if the program is narrowly focused and does not allow for a variety of roles that use residents' talents and respect their varying degrees of comfort with visible involvement in public safety programs.

Examples of Success and Results

In 1994 in Laurel Lake, New Jersey, community residents working with law enforcement founded the Laurel Lake Community Crime Watch in response to an increase in property crime and drug activity in the rural community [population 2,800]. Police calculated that 90 percent of the crimes in the area during that year were property crimes committed by those involved in buying and selling drugs.

The patrol serves as the eyes and ears for the New Jersey State Police and aims to prevent acts of property crime. As a consequence of the community watch group's efforts, there was no more graffiti nor any other acts of vandalism. In addition, when the town began enforcing local ordinances like the late-night juvenile curfew, residents noticed fewer youth on the streets and in trouble.

Since 1981, the National Association of Town Watch has promoted the Neighborhood Watch concept, encouraged community groups throughout the United States to pool resources in crime prevention efforts, shared crime prevention information with thousands of local organizations, and coordinated National Night Out, an annual August event where communities demonstrate their desire for peaceful neighborhoods through parties, cookouts, and crime prevention fairs.

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