Sometimes it falls upon the shoulders of private citizens working in concert with the police to keep a community safe. Neighborhood watch associations keep track of everything that goes on in local communities by patrolling the streets and reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement.
If you’re interested in protecting your neighborhood, you should think about starting a neighborhood watch. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Your first step should be to hold a local meeting to determine the community’s level of interest in starting up a neighborhood watch program. Be mindful that your community watch doesn’t just have to be made up of homeowners.
You should include everyone within the community — local business owners, renters and even teenagers. Try to get as many people as possible to show up at your first meeting. After all, a neighborhood watch wouldn’t be possible without the support of the vast majority of the local community!
Additional tips: Invite a police officer to attend your meeting. They should be able to provide insight into what the group can and cannot do. Inviting a representative from law enforcement will also help to build a good relationship with your local police department.
When it comes to picking your meeting location, ensure it’s disability accessible so every interested member of the community can attend.
Also, promote your meeting at least one week in advance by going door to door with flyers. You can follow up with an email or phone call the day before the meeting.
It’s a known fact that neighborhood watch organizations tend to run smoother when the organization has an established chain of command. Therefore, you should elect a captain.
This position should be filled by a member of the community who is responsible and who can delegate tasks to other members of the watch. The candidate should be someone who voluntarily takes the position and seems eager to perform their task.
You can also enlist block captains who will be in charge of their particular block. This will help strengthen the chain of command and keep your organization orderly. Even if you have members who have not been elected to a specific position, try to get everyone in the community involved in one fashion or another. It’s easy to overlook the elderly and younger people, but they can just as easily report suspicious activity as anyone else.
Block captains also serve as go-betweens for the police and the community. It’s their job to keep the local police updated on meeting dates and suspicious incidents. It’s also their job to deliver important information from the police to the residents of the community.
It’s important to keep in constant contact with each member of the community watch to deliver information. Therefore you should have phone numbers and emails to stay in constant communication. You can even create a Facebook page where the community can easily be kept apprised of new updates.
Hold workshops where a law enforcement officer can teach the community how to protect their homes from intruders properly. They can also increase their crime reporting and observation skills.
During these workshops, residents can also be made aware of the most common crimes that plague their area. For example, many communities are plagued by instances of grand theft auto. Thus, knowing this information will prompt community members to keep an eye out for car thieves during their daily and nightly patrols.
A neighborhood map should also be prepared to keep members organized. This map should contain the names, addresses and phone numbers of all households who are active members of the neighborhood watch. It’s the job of the block captain to keep this information updated by checking in with members regularly.
Finally, you shouldn’t post neighborhood watch signs without checking in with local law enforcement. You can only post signs if you meet all eligibility requirements such as meeting the minimum number of participating households.
Another benefit of contacting law enforcement is they may be able to provide the signs for your organization. If not, they can direct you to where you can purchase them.
Should you perform background checks on members of the neighborhood watch?
This may have been a difficult question to answer prior to February 26, 2012. This was the date Trevon Martin was shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Though Zimmerman has been acquitted of all charges brought against him, this incident has raised a major debate across the country — should neighborhood watch associations require their members to undergo criminal background checks?
Though neighborhood watch organizations exist for the sole purpose of keeping the neighborhood safe, there’s also a fear that such organizations may attract the type of individuals who may be a bit too overzealous and attempt to take the law into their own hands. Even worse, there may even be volunteers who have a criminal record.
Take George Zimmerman for example who reportedly had a violent past. A simple background check might have uncovered this information and influenced the decision to make him a member of the community watch. Politics aside, it can’t be argued that background checks would prove to be beneficial to every neighborhood watch organization.
With that being said, always remember that your job as a member of your neighborhood watch isn’t to stop crime, but to report suspicious activity to the police. Also, be aware your organization doesn’t just have to focus on crime prevention.
You can also band together to clean up the community. Promote a cleanup of the neighborhood and beautify unsightly areas in the community, such as abandoned parking lots or rundown buildings.
Get to know your fellow neighborhood watch members. It’s much easier to communicate with a friend rather than a stranger. This is especially important if you encounter a situation where you need to call in another member of the neighborhood watch as backup (though your first reaction should always be to call the police).
Work regularly to grow your ranks. It doesn’t matter if your members are young, old, renting, married or single. The more members you have, the safer the neighborhood will be. It certainly helps to have as many eyeballs as possible on the lookout for crime.
Don’t try to do everything on your own. Reach out to your local citizen’s association or housing authority when you need a meeting place for your organization. You can also reach out for supplies such as signs, paper and so on. You might be surprised by the amount of support you may receive.
Don’t forget to give recognition where recognition is due. Honor good deeds and hard work with awards and banquets. Nothing feels better than to be recognized for one’s efforts!
Keep your neighborhood safe by organizing a neighborhood watch
It might take some work to get a neighborhood watch started, but your efforts will be worth it as you patrol the streets and deter crime. Consider getting a background check for your members and remember to work closely with law enforcement. If you do everything by the book, you’ll be able to build a successful neighborhood watch organization.