A neighborhood or community watch program is an organized group of citizens devoted to crime-prevention within a community. Members of a given community agree together to keep an eye on one another’s properties, patrolling the street – and reporting suspicious incidents to the police. The Neighborhood Watch is a community crime prevention program that was launched by the National Sheriffs’ Association in 1972 to encourage citizens to look out for each other, work on neighborhood problems, and make themselves safer. Today, more than 40 % of Americans live in areas covered by some form of a community or neighborhood watch group.
This post will conclude from multiple sources how a neighborhood watch program works within a community, why they exist, and if they are effective in reducing the crime rate in a given area.
Why Do Community Watch Programs Exist?
Community watch is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most well known crime prevention programs in history. The aim of these groups is to promote education for residents of a community on security, safety and achieving safe and secure neighborhoods. In general, when a criminal activity is suspected, members are encouraged to report to authorities, and not to intervene. In general, community watch programs strive to promote awareness and efficiency when acting on suspicious activity. With such large investments and resources from the community, it is important to ask; are community watch programs effective in reducing crime?
How Do They Work?
Neighborhood or community watch programs often go by a various names and include both nationally recognized and small-town organizations. These programs or organizations can be initiated either by the public or the police. The funding of community watch programs is nearly always a joint venture between the local police department and the program members through their fund-raising activities. In the U.S., block watches are usually run by a block captain who is responsible to a block coordinator or block organizer.
What Do They Do?
Once the watch group is up and running, neighbors must remember to keep their eyes open. No matter how many police patrols go through a community each day, no one knows their own neighborhood better than the people who live there. Community watch program members will take turns watching a street or designated area of the community. Upon noticing suspicious activity or an emergency situation, the group will contact the authorities or emergency services to mitigate the issue. Sometimes, community watch members will create the illusion of occupancy for members of the community who are out of town. This includes removing newspapers from outside neighbors’ homes when they are away, mowing the lawn, and filling up trash cans. Such signs of occupancy might reduce crime through the effect this has on potential offenders’ perceptions of the likelihood of their getting caught.
Depending on the scope of the program, watch associations can do everything from encouraging homeowners to get security systems, conduct security inspections and upgrade locks, security hardware and lighting to organizing contact lists for quick neighborhood alerts. Watch groups also ward off potential criminal activity by keeping the neighborhood well-marked with watch signs and stickers on homes—the kinds of things that makes thieves think twice.
How Effective Are They?
According to a study done by The Crime Prevention Research Review, nearly all findings concluded that all areas associated with a neighborhood watch pointed to lower levels of crime in the area. It has been argued that visible surveillance might reduce crime because of its deterrent effect on the perceptions and decision-making of potential offenders. Offenders may notice the spike in community surveillance, and in turn they decide not to strike or possibly target a different area. Additional research is needed to understand factors that contribute to its effectiveness to guide implementation of new or existing community watch programs.
While there are various studies on this topic, meta-analysis found that community watch was associated with a relative reduction in crime of about 16%, which is considered a “small favorable effect”. While any good measure to reduce crime is time and money well-spent, there are more effective ways to ensure the safety of your home and family. Protect America can provide affordable DIY security systems for any home. Our systems use three of the best monitoring facilities throughout the United States to make sure your home is always protected. Defend your home and your wallet with Protect America.