In an era of changing home security, community watch programs have been a surprisingly divisive topic. Those against them often cite the resulting vigilantism of members, while proponents are quick to point out that community watch programs certainly spread awareness of local crime. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, it cannot be denied that such programs are growing rapidly in the ever-changing landscape of American crime.

Entering the Digital Realm

Taking into account the considerable potential for benefit enhanced communication could offer, it’s something of a surprise that community watch programs haven’t yet made a strong entrance into the digital realm. That may be the thought process behind a new program currently being beta tested in Arizona and Minnesota. Reports from CNN indicate that The National Sheriff’s Association and a company called ICE Blackbox have been working on a mobile neighborhood watch application for over two years.

The application, known as ‘Neighborhood Watch NOW’, allows users to record and upload video, audio and their current GPS coordinates to a police-monitored cloud server. This process allows police to receive leads from residents regarding criminal activity while still affording civilians the ability to stay a safe distance from a potentially dangerous situation. The mobile platform also allows users to contact 911 and a customizable list of personal contacts through its interface.

Of course, any application of this magnitude will require an acclimation period. Civilians and law enforcement professionals alike will need to be trained to become effective users of the app, and there are almost certainly still bugs that will arise from beta testing. Nonetheless, supporters of the new mobile platform remain confident of its potential to change the face of community safety programs. As John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriff’s Association, told CNN, “It’s going to be the future of neighborhood watch.”

When It Doesn’t Have To Be Right ‘NOW’

While Neighborhood Watch NOW offers the opportunity for law enforcement officials to receive tips of crime happening in the moment, a new application called Nextdoor offers an alternative for less urgent communication. Originally intended as a network for neighborly communication pertaining to security issues, Nextdoor has expanded to add forums covering everything from childcare tips to community events.

The network presents a unique service and, according to The Huffington Post, already has over 33,000 registered neighborhoods. Nonetheless, like all watch-centric programs, it is what the neighborhood makes of it. CNN has reported, for example, that each Nextdoor neighborhood in San Diego is assigned a group relations officer who uses the platform as a tool to communicate with the community and field questions, concerns and complaints from residents. This sort of moderating presence is well suited to the Nextdoor application given that it’s security forums are typically used to report small, non-urgent crimes such as graffiti or minor theft

Cover photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.