Watch Organizer's Guide
People Working Together Can Make a Difference!
Crime and fear of crime threaten a community's well-being -people
become afraid to use streets and parks, suspicion erupts between
young and old, businesses gradually leave. Crime in turn feeds on
the isolation it creates. Today's lifestyles -many homes where both
parents work, more single-parent families, and greater job mobility
-can contribute to community isolation and weaken civic ties.
You and your neighbors can prevent or break this vicious cycle,
and in the process, build your community into a safer, friendlier
and more caring place to live. Statistics tell the story. Police
and sheriffs' departments in cities, small towns, and suburbs throughout
the country report substantial decreases in crime and fear because
of local crime prevention efforts.
Start with a Neighborhood Watch or block club to address immediate
crime problems, focus on home security, and build neighborhood cohesion.
Then move into other areas such as educating residents about child
protection, drug abuse prevention, victim services, and domestic
violence prevention and intervention. Explore circumstances in the
community that might contribute to crime-such as the physical design
of buildings, traffic patterns, drug trafficking, few jobs or recreational
opportunities for teenagers, lack of affordable housing-and look
for long range solutions.
The First Building Block - Neighborhood Watch
Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch, Town Watch, Apartment Watch, Crime
Watch-no matter what it's called, this is one of the most effective
and least costly answers to crime. Watch groups are a foundation
of community crime prevention, they can be a stepping stone to community
Getting Started-Meetings, Block Captains, and Maps
- Form a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs,
the level of interest, possible challenges, and the Watch concept.
- Contact the local police or sheriffs department, or local crime
prevention organization, to discuss
- Neighborhood Watch and local crime problems. Invite a law enforcement
officer to attend your meeting.
- Publicize your meeting at least one week in advance with door-to-door
fliers and follow-up with phone calls the day before.
- Select a meeting place that is accessible to people with disabilities.
- Hold an initial meeting to gauge neighbors' interest:
establish purpose of program: and begin to identify issues that
need to be addressed. Stress that a Watch group is an association
of neighbors who look out for each other's families and
property, alert the police to any suspicious activities or crime
in progress, and work together to make their community a safer
and better place to live.
the neighborhood decides to adopt the Watch idea it should:
- Elect a chairperson.
- Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for relaying
information to members on their block, keeping up-to-date information
on residents, and making special efforts to involve the elderly,
working parents, and young people. Block captains also can serve
as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police and communicate
information about meetings and crime incidents to all residents.
- Establish a regular means of communicating with Watch members-
e.g. newsletter, telephone tree, e-mail, fax, etc.
- Prepare a neighborhood map showing names, addresses, and phone
numbers of participating households and distribute to members.
Block captains keep this map up to date, contacting newcomers
to the neighborhood and rechecking occasionally with ongoing participants.
With guidance from a law enforcement agency, the Watch trains its
members in home security techniques, observation skills, and crime
reporting. Residents also learn about the types of crime that affect
If you are ready to post Neighborhood Watch signs, check with law
enforcement to see if they have such eligibility requirements as
number of houses that participate in the program. Law enforcement
may also be able to provide your program with signs. If not, they
can probably tell you where you can order them.
Organizers and block captains must emphasize that Watch groups
are not vigilantes and do not assume the role of the police. They
only ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring-and to report
suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.
The Watch concept is adaptable. There are Park Watches, Apartment
Watches, Window Watches, Boat Watches, School Watches, Realtor Watches,
Utility Watches, and Business Watches. A Watch can be organized
around any geographic unit.
Tips for Success
- Hold regular meetings to help residents get to know each other
and to collectively decide upon program strategies and activities.
- Consider linking with an existing organization, such as a citizens'
association, community development office, tenants' association,
- Canvas door-to-door to recruit members.
- Involve everyone-young and old, single and married, renter and
- Gain support from the police or sheriffs' office. This is critical
to a Watch group's credibility. These agencies are the major sources
of information on local crime patterns, home security, other crime
prevention education, and crime reporting.
- Get the information out quickly. Share all kinds of news-quash
- Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check police
reports, do victimization surveys, and learn residents' perceptions
about crime. Often residents' opinions are not supported by facts,
and accurate information can reduce fear of crime.
- Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant
lots contribute to crime. Sponsor cleanups, encourage residents
to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights at
essential to celebrate the success of the effort and recognize volunteers'
contributions through such events as awards, annual dinners, and
parties. To help meet community needs, Neighborhood Watches can
sponsor meetings that address broader issues such as drug abuse,
gangs, self-protection tactics, isolation of the elderly, crime
in the schools, and rape prevention.
Don't forget events like National Night Out (sponsored by the National
Association of Town Watch the first Tuesday in August) or a potluck
dinner that gives neighbors a chance to get together. Such items
as pins, t-shirts, hats, or coffee mugs with the group's name also
enhance identity and pride.
Other Tools That Support Neighborhood Watch Programs
An effective tool for some Watch programs to use is
a citizen patrol. It is up to the community in conjunction with
law enforcement to decide whether a patrol is needed. Citizen patrols
are volunteers who walk or drive an area on a regular basis to report
incidents and problems to the police and provide a visible presence
that deters criminal activity. They have no policing powers, carry
no weapons, are nonconfrontational, and always coordinate activities
with law enforcement. A citizen patrol can cover a neighborhood,
an apartment lobby or complex, a business district, or a park; some
use bicycles, in-line skates, or cars to cover larger areas. They
contact the police dispatcher through two-way radios or cellular
phones donated by a local business. Cameras or video equipment may
be used to record suspicious activity. Many patrols are based in
a Neighborhood Watch program or work closely with one.
A good resource for your citizen patrol is the Community Policing
Consortium (202-833-3305).They will work with your local cellular
phone carrier to arrange for phones to be donated to your program.
Make sure your citizen patrol:
- Undergoes training by law enforcement and have their support;
- Works in teams;
- Wears identifying clothing -t-shirts, caps, vests, .jackets-or
reflective clothing or patches;
- Never carries weapons of any kind — e.g. guns, black jack,
mace, baseball bat, or knives;
- Never challenges anyone;
- Always carries a pad and pencil, and a flashlight if it is dark;
- Is courteous and helpful to residents of the area being patrolled:
- Keeps logs and files reports with the local law enforcement
Remember that citizen patrols can take on extra duties, such as
escort services, crowd and traffic control at community events,
identifying neighborhood nuisance concerns, monitoring graffiti
sites, checking on homebound residents, and reporting abandoned
Marking personal property indelibly with a unique number
allows for positive identification if items are lost or stolen.
Watch groups can help initiate this process for their communities.
Numbers are engraved onto metal objects or marked with indelible
markers on other materials. People who mark their property have
a greater chance of recovering it.
How To Keep Your Neighborhood Watch Going and Growing
When crime drops or the neighborhood problem is alleviated, Some
Watch programs slowly lose momentum. To keep a Neighborhood Watch
program vital, blend crime prevention into other community concerns.
Have your Watch group identify the neighborhood's strengths and
problems and then brainstorm on what members can do to improve the
quality of community life. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Encourage schools to teach crime and drug prevention in the
- Cooperate with parent associations, recreation departments,
and schools to organize after-school programs for children and
- Start a block parent program to help children cope with emergencies
while walking to and from school or playing in the area. These
programs can be a reliable source of help for children in emergency
or frightening situations. Volunteers must meet specific standards,
including a law enforcement records check. Programs are established
locally as a partnership among law enforcement, schools, and community
- Spearhead a Gang or Violence Prevention Task Force to assess
these problems and develop prevention strategies or solutions.
- Translate crime and drug prevention materials into Spanish or
other languages needed by non-English speakers in your community.
- Get a local Boys Girls Club or other youth organization to help
the elderly with marking valuables, enhancing home security, or
going to the store. In turn, senior citizens can help youth with
such needs as tutoring or recreational programs, oral history
projects, or cooking classes.
- Turn a vacant lot into a park, playground, playing field, or
- Work with small businesses to repair rundown storefronts, clean
up littered streets, and create jobs for young people.
- Link up with victim services to train your members in assisting
victims of crime.
- Recruit utility workers, cab drivers, and other people with
two-way radios or cellular phones to extend your Neighborhood
- Ask people who seldom leave their houses to be 'Window Watchers,"
looking out for children and any unusual activities in the neighborhood.
- Encourage businesses to hold lunch-time crime and drug prevention
seminars and special events for employees and their families.
- Sponsor a crime and drug prevention fair at a shopping mall
or community center.
- Get banks and other businesses to include crime prevention tips
in their statements and bills.
- Work with local media-newspapers, radio, TV stations- to publicize
events and thank supporters.
- Sponsor a seminar for the elderly and others on how to avoid
becoming victims of con games and fraud.
- Get a local theater group to produce a play teaching children
how to protect themselves from violence, drug abuse, or other
- Work with the telephone company or local schools to teach children
how to use 9-1-1 or other emergency numbers.
- Establish a "buddy" system for the elderly and people
with disabilities, in which someone checks with them daily by
phone and summons help if needed.
- Link Neighborhood Watch to efforts promoted by other groups:
drug prevention, child protection, anti-vandalism projects, arson
prevention, neighborhood cleanup, recycling. Share resources and
promote each other's activities. Invite guest speakers to Neighborhood
- Publicize your program and its successes in local media ranging
from civic association newsletters to local radio shows to television.
- Start a community crime prevention newsletter. Block captains
or volunteers (including kids and teenagers) can distribute the
newsletter, which also helps them keep in touch with residents.
- Work with businesses to develop a Business Watch program. Ask
them to help pay for fliers and a newsletter, provide meeting
places, and distribute crime prevention information.
Return to Crime Prevention Tips
Crime Prevention Tips Provided by:
National Crime Prevention Council