Neighborhood Watch - this most widespread crime prevention effort in
the United States has a long track record of success. It is so well respected
that major criminologists do not generally undertake studies of whether
it works-just how it works.
Individual communities and neighborhoods have demonstrated time
and again that this simple concept -neighbors who reduce their own
crime risks by marking property through Operation Identification
and implementing home security survey recommendations from local
law enforcement, coupled with training in how to be observant, how
to help each other, and how to work with law enforcement-has enrolled
more than 30 million people in its various forms.
Watches have been set up to bring together residents of marinas,
campgrounds, apartment buildings, city blocks, rural counties, suburban
developments, and dozens of towns, and other kinds of settings.
Results: here is a sampling of the effectiveness
studies. Most were performed in the 1980s, but their validity remains
widely accepted by professionals and community residents alike.
- Fifteen neighborhoods in Birmingham, Alabama, were studied by researchers.
Prior to Neighborhood Watch, all but two had experienced burglaries.
After the program was in place, twelve of the fifteen were burglary-
- Lakewood, Colorado, documented a 77 percent drop in burglaries
after implementing Neighborhood Watch.
- Cypress, California Neighborhood Watch cut burglaries by 52 percent
and thefts by 45 percent. Volunteers-a group of real estate agents organized
the program which saved police an estimated $79,000!
Typically, Neighborhood Watch groups organize to respond to an immediate
threat-a series of rapes, a sharp increase in burglaries, rising fear
of street crime. Often, when the crisis is resolved,membership and commitment
to the Watch start to fade away. After all, why keep looking out for criminals
if they've been arrested or gone elsewhere?
This short-sighted attitude ignores key benefits of the contemporary
Neighborhood Watch - a Watch group empowers people to prevent crime,
forges bonds between law enforcement and the communities they serve,
and builds a foundation for broader community improvement. Neighborhood
Watch is far more than a quick fix for an immediate crisis - it
can be a moving force for positive changes that tackle root causes
Why Do Some Neighborhood Associations Thrive and Others
In the mid-1980s, the Citizens Committee of New York City (CCNYC),with
funding from the Ford Foundation, undertook the Block Booster Project,
a two-year study of relationships among block associations, crime, and
community development. The study found that active block associations
substantially reduced fear of crime, encouraged crime reporting, stimulated
members' involvement in crime prevention, inhibited drug trafficking and
spurred beautification activities.
The Block Booster Project also examined why some groups thrived
while other withered and died. Use of resources emerged as the key
factor. Active, healthy block groups had the same resources as inactive
ones, but they used them more effectively. Here are key survival
tactics discovered by the Block Booster Project:
- Spell out roles and responsibilities of the association and
its members. Adopt bylaws and elect officers.
- Decentralize planning and work. Delegate tasks and establish
- Keep in touch with members. Use personal contacts, in and outside
of meetings. Distribute a newsletter to communicate regularly
- Plan for and train new leaders. Don't bum out existing ones.
- Mobilize collective resources and use them. Know members' skills
and personal and business contacts. Be realistic about how many
people you need to do a job.
- Use outside resources, such as government agencies and community-based
- Strike a balance between business and pleasure. Conduct business
meetings on time and efficiently, but have a time for socializing
before or after the meeting.
- Involve all elements in the community-single parents, renters
as well as home owners, teenagers, senior citizens, business owners
Extending the Scope of Neighborhood Watch
Successful Neighborhood Watches move beyond the basics of home
security,watching out for suspicious activities, and reporting them
to law enforcement. They sponsor community cleanups, find solutions
to local traffic problems, collect clothing and toys for homeless
families, organize after-school activities for young people, help
victims of crime, tutor teens at risk of dropping out of school,
reclaim playgrounds from drug dealers, and for task forces that
influence policymakers. They can even start a safe house program
for children or Block parent program, which are reliable sources
of help for children in emergency or other frightening situations.
After a number of natural disasters in the Midwest, Neighborhood
Watch Groups there have designed Family Emergency Preparedness plans.
The scope of Neighborhood Watch continues to grow, however its fundamental
mission still remains -people are helping people.
Looking for Leaders
A Neighborhood Watch's effectiveness depends heavily on its leaders.
Good block captains usually:
- Are reliable.
- Get along well with people.
- Have good communication and negotiating skills.
- Do not view the position as a power trip or a chance for personal
- Are willing to delegate tasks and listen to others' opinions.
- Are organized and can conduct meetings efficiently.
- Don't get discouraged easily.
- Don't stop at prevention - have a long-range vision for community
Motivating leaders(and Other Volunteers)
- Hold special training events. Look to police departments, community
action and social service organizations, religious institutions,
colleges, business associations, schools, and youth organizations
- Communicate with them often. A volunteer will burn out quickly
if he or she feels left out of the action.
- Provide public recognition through awards and articles in newsletters
- Issue certificates of appreciation from the mayor or chief law
- Organize a coalition of Neighborhood Watch captains so leaders
can learn from each other and join forces to address community-wide
- Always look for emerging issues that could affect the community's
quality of life.
While the motivation of leaders is critical in volunteer management,
the average participant is what these programs are all about.
Some communities are harder to organize than others. High crime areas
can be difficult due in part to fear and suspicion. In these neighborhoods,
encourage interested citizens to work through organizations they trust,
such as churches or tenant groups. Emphasize the opportunity to address
community needs and the importance and effectiveness of crime reporting.
Members of any organization are motivated by factors like achievement,
recognition, responsibility, and pride in their work and in the
goals of the group.
- Organize around the positive.
- Personalize involvement.
- Emphasize success.
- Don't emphasize fear.
- Don't make large demands on time.
- Share results.
- Keep program convenient and in the neighborhood.
Mobilizing Community Resources
Community businesses and organizations offer numerous resources
for crime prevention programs. Look to:
- Religious institutions for meeting space, copying services,
and access to volunteers.
- Service clubs and businesses for partnerships in fundraising
- Libraries for research materials, videos, computers, and meeting
- Printing companies for free or discounted service for newsletters,
fliers, and certificates.
- Parent groups, volunteer centers, and labor unions for advice
on organizing and recruiting volunteers.
- Local media for publicity. Senior centers and schools for facilities
When Your Neighborhood is Multicultural
The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in cultural and
ethnic diversity in the last decade. An estimated 19.7million persons-just
under 8 percent of the population- were foreign-born. Never before have
so many immigrants lived in this country. This wave of immigration has
spread unevenly throughout the nation, with the Northeast and West experiencing
far greater increases in foreign-born residents than the Midwest and South.
Organizing a Neighborhood Watch in a multicultural community poses
unique challenges. Recent immigrants may not speak English, and
many may still be adjusting to life in this country. Disputes or
misunderstandings can erupt between neighbors of different cultures,
races, and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural conflicts arise because
two groups of people have established different values, different
standards of acceptable behavior, different traditions and communication
patterns, and different ideas about such things as dress and attitude.
Often, the hardest thing for everyone to learn is that different
does not always equal wrong or improper.
When working with individuals raised in different cultures, you
need to consider such things as:
- Their length of time in the United States.
- English or other language skills.
- Possible distrust of law enforcement, stemming from a fear
of people in uniform and in government offices based on experiences
in their native country.
- Educational level and social class (especially the social class in
the native country for immigrants and first-generation residents).
- Role expectations for males and females, parents, grandparents,
- Religious and ethical values.
- Rules and expectations for interpersonal relationships.
- Ways to share and get to know cultural differences by hosting
international: potluck dinners: youth performances; musicals,
and oral histories by elders.
When You Start To Organize
Determine the ethnic groups of
non-English speaking residents
and what language they speak.
Then look to local government
agencies, private advocacy and
service organizations, religious
institutions, mediation services,
and other groups experienced in
dealing with immigrants for
help. A translator is essential
when you hold a Neighborhood
Watch or crime prevention
meeting. Learn to speak slowly
and to establish rapport with
the translator. Print materials
in different languages if possible.
Don't be discouraged. In talking
about his efforts to organize
Neighborhood Watch presentations
in ethnically diverse Modesto,
California, crime prevention
officer David Huckaby
says, "It's tough, but Asians-
Cambodians, Lao, and Hmong
-and Hispanics are very interested
in crime prevention information."
Return to Crime Prevention Tips
Crime Prevention Tips Provided by:
National Crime Prevention Council