Neighborhood Watch programs started in the 1960s and have become very popular. According to the Campbell Collaboration, 40% of residential neighborhoods in America now have Neighborhood Watch programs in place.
One of the most helpful things about Neighborhood Watch programs is a reduction in home burglaries. The most recent statistics on home burglaries according to the 2010 Uniform Crime Report by the FBI show about 2.2 million burglaries in the USA. This is down two percent from the year before. It seems the recession caused home burglaries to rise to unprecedented levels, which peaked in 2008. Now they mildly subsided. Still, the rate of home burglaries in 2010 is 2% higher than the rate reported in 2001, so the trend shows an overall increase in home burglaries during the past decade.
Burglaries represent about one-quarter of all crimes related to residential properties. Seventy-four percent of all burglaries are homes. The value of stolen items was $4.6 billion during 2010, with the average loss per home of $2,119. During 2010, forced entry existed in 60.5% of all burglaries, 33.2% were unlawful entries not requiring force, and 6.3% were attempted forcible entries which failed.
Home invasion, a robbery while occupants are in the home, represents an increasing part of the burglaries. Occupants received injuries during 47% of home invasions. Some are killed. Burglary during the daytime is increasing and is up by 8.3%. Despite the fact there is a greater chance of being identified during the day, 63.1% of home burglaries occur in the daytime.
The explanation for this is, the greater ease of identifying burglary targets by seeing no cars at the premises and no one answers either the phone or the door. This goes against the common perception of homes being more vulnerable to burglary at night. Cases have occurred where criminals use moving vans to remove the entire contents of homes. This is one of the areas where a good Neighborhood Watch program is helpful, because unauthorized moving vans are quite conspicuous.
A 2011 study by National Insurance Crime Bureau shows a total decrease for auto theft in the United States. This is good news except for a few hotspots, which show an increase, such as the top five U.S. cities for auto theft (all except one are in California), which are Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield, Spokane (in Washington), and Vallejo-Fairfield.
The overall reduction in auto thefts comes from alarms, steering wheel locks, and shut-down/retrieval systems which give the GPS location of stolen vehicles. Nevertheless, automobile break-ins have not gone down. The FBI reports $1.2 billion of item value, stolen from autos during 1.85 million successful thefts. Reducing auto break-ins is one of the opportunities for Neighborhood Watch programs.
Drug Dealing, Physical Assault and Rape
Street crimes vary significantly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Depending on the area, drug dealing in the street is a significant problem which Neighborhood Watch programs reduce. The FBI reports a decrease in violent crime since 2007 through 2011. The highest percentage of violent crimes are aggravated assaults at 62.4%. Next is robbery at 29.4%. Forcible rape accounts for 6.9% and murder is 1.2% of violent crimes. Neighborhood Watch programs are vital to help law enforcement in areas with a history of violent crime.
Child Molestation and Abduction
Neighborhood Watch programs are vital for the protection of children. Criminal sex offenders must register their location in the National Sexual Offender Registry. Successful Neighborhood watch programs make careful observations of children. Volunteers may station themselves at parks, near playgrounds, and as cross-walk guards for schools. It is useful for volunteers to be identifiable by some type of uniform so both parents and children recognize them as safety monitors for the neighborhood.
Benefits of Neighborhood Watch Programs
In 2008, the U.S. Justice Department conducted a meta-analysis of research on the effectiveness of Neighborhood Watch efforts, called Does Neighborhood Watch Reduce Crime? The study concluded Neighborhood Watch programs reduce crime an average of 16%. The study found some interesting results. Neighborhood Watch programs worked better in middle class neighborhoods, which had less crime to begin with, than in high-crime areas. The cause was, high-crime areas had more difficulty organizing Neighborhood Watch programs, because people did not trust their neighbors.
Increase Property Values
Areas with less crime are more desirable places to live. CBS News reports safety is a more important consideration of new home buyers than price. An unusual phenomena is a rise in crime in a nearby town, increases the property values of neighboring towns. As an example, in 2008, San Bernardino, California had a reduction of 13% of its police force and crime increased 25% causing property values to decrease by 15%. During the same period, nearby Ontario, which had previously had lower property values than San Bernardino, did not experience such increased crime rates and properties values increased by 13%. The result was in 2009, property values in Ontario exceeded property values in San Bernardino. The relationship between property values and crime rates in Ontario, California can be seen on Neighborhood Scout. Neighborhood Watch programs, when they are successful in reducing crime rates, have a positive effect on property values.
Lower Insurance Rates
Insurance companies set the rates of insurance using actuarial analysis of the incidences of claims of a certain type in a certain area. When Neighborhood Watch programs are successful in reducing crime rates, the results are lower insurance premiums for homeowner’s insurance and auto insurance.
Create a Sense of Community
A Neighborhood Watch program helps everyone to know their neighbors, which creates a sense of community. All Neighborhood Watch programs need to coordinate their efforts with local police. These efforts help the police do a better job in protecting the neighborhoods.
How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program
The National Neighborhood Watch (NNW) has an excellent brochure (pdf format) on How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Program which gives five steps:
1) Recruit as many neighbors as possible – Neighborhood Watch groups are as small as the residents of a single apartment building or may extend themselves widely into the surrounding community. Success depends on achieving active participation by as many neighborhood residents as possible. Going door-to-door to talk with neighbors about concerns in the neighborhood is one way to begin the process. This is a way to find the most serious issues facing the neighborhood and to recruit volunteers for the Neighborhood Watch program.
2) Contact local law enforcement – All police and sheriff departments have officers trained to work with Neighborhood Watch programs. To be successful, a Neighborhood Watch program must coordinate efforts with law enforcement. Gather a core group of Neighborhood Watch leaders and member, then meet with law enforcement officials to set up a formal program. Official registration of Neighborhood Watch groups is on the National Neighborhood Watch Association website.
3) Have the first meeting – Discuss the concerns of the community and invite local law enforcement to attend. Let everyone who wishes to speak have a turn, so everyone’s opinion is heard. Make a list of the neighborhood concerns. Select top priorities from the list to use as goals for improvement and to develop an action plan. One of the most important things for success of Neighborhood Watch programs is to have a clearly defined mission and goals.
4) Set regular meetings – Give regular updates on progress and any instances of crime which occur in the neighborhood. Email is very useful for non-emergency updates. It is good to offer training in citizen action skills, which help make Neighborhood Watch programs more successful.
5) Set up a phone tree structure and begin the action steps – Phone trees disseminate information quickly and are very useful in an emergency. A list of the names and phone numbers of all neighborhood residents needs to continually updated. Phone trees work by having one person as the designated contact with the law enforcement liaison. In an emergency situation, after calling 911, each person has an ordered list of other Neighborhood Watch members to call. They call the next person on the list until they find an adult at home. Then this adult calls the next person on the list until the entire list receives a call, The final person calls the team leader to confirm the list is fully notified.
Phone trees are very helpful in emergency situations. such as a prowler in the neighborhood or broken gas-mains. Action steps focus on the highest priority items the community has chosen as goals. They include such things as neighborhood clean-up days, or discouraging drug dealing in the streets using group presence, video surveillance, and police notification.
How to Make a Neighborhood Watch Program More Effective
Inform Others about Vacations
Notify a neighbor when you will be away so they can collect mail and newspapers, cut the grass, put trash out, and make it appear the home is still occupied. As an alternative, put mail and newspapers on a vacation hold, and engage the services of a house sitter. Home exchange programs are great ways to trade care for your home with the ability to stay in another person’s home. Be sure the Neighborhood Watch program is notified of the name and contact telephone of a house sitter or home exchange guest, so they are not mistaken for an intruder.
A dog good protection because of their sensitive hearing. Loud barking discourages intruders. Larger dogs, trained as support animals, are very useful to take on Neighborhood Watch walking patrols. A typical walking patrol consists of two people as the buddy system and seems stronger when accompanied by a trained dog.
State-of-the-Art Technological Advancements
Mobile phone video surveillance is now possible with a simple application called the Ice Blackbox®. This free software turns any mobile smart phone, with a camera, into a tool to capture evidence. For crime watch starting when some activity looks suspicious, an emergency button activates the phone. Then a record of photos, sound, and video of the event automatically uploads to a permanent record on a cloud-server, along with the precise time and GPS location of the phone making the recording. Law enforcement officials view the recordings in real-time, in the case of a 911 emergency call, made at the same time using the same phone. This system is Neighborhood Watch Now. Signs to announce the use of this system in the neighbourhood watch serve as an additional deterrent to would-be criminals.
Other Steps to Take
Neighborhood Watch programs not only help deter crime, they are also an essential part of an emergency response system in the case of natural emergencies or terrorist attacks. Just having the information about the people who live in the neighborhood is extremely helpful. Knowing who is elderly, and those who may need extra assistance in the case of a natural emergency is another facet of a successful Neighborhood Watch program.
Identification Marking of Valuables
One helpful initiative for Neighborhood Watch programs is to conduct a permanent marking campaign for valuable items so they are easily identified when recovered from theft.
Home Security Systems with Intrusion Detection Notification
Advanced home security systems add an extra layer of security. Some of the best ones include notification by mobile phone of any intrusion or suspected intrusion and the ability to view the premises using remote video surveillance.
Physical barriers to entry such as window bars, door bars, and rolling metal slat security covers make it harder for criminals to gain entry to the premises.
Neighborhood Watch programs have been well-established in the United States and UK. There are plenty of examples of successful programs. They became revitalized as part of the American Homeland Security efforts not only to fight crime but to stay on guard for possible terrorist attack and prepare for any potential natural disasters. For more information please review the details of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Watch program run by the LAPD.