Anyone can be a victim of burglary or other crimes. Despite our best precautions, we often feel alone and vulnerable to crime. But there is a vital protection tool available --- something residents in a community can do by banding together, in connection with local law-enforcement agencies, to prevent crime before it happens. THE NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH
THE NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH PROGRAM
This is a community based program that has been proven to deter crime. Thousands of these programs have been developed around the country, breaking down the isolation of neighbors as they work together and with law enforcement officers. It is a remarkably successful anti-crime effort, as participants work together as a true community --- neighbor looking out for neighbor. Any community resident can take part; young, old, single, married, renter and home owner. All it takes to get started are a few concerned residents.
WHY HAVE A NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH
Whether you live in a high crime area or not, a comprehensive Neighborhood Watch program offers numerous benefits for your area. Such programs instill a greater sense of security, well-being, and reduce the fear of crime in your neighborhood. In a word, Neighborhood Watch helps instill a greater "sense of community," by putting the neighbor back into neighborhood. Here are some of the other benefits you can expect by participating in a Neighborhood Watch program:
HOW TO GET STARTED
- A very good way to get to know your neighbors
- Reducing the risk of being a crime victim
- Being better prepared to respond to suspicious activity
- Increased information on issues that impact your neighborhood
- A powerful voice in getting city services
- A way to improve your area and property values
- An avenue for leadership development
- A way for you to control your own destiny
- Possible business contacts
- Personal growth
- A sense of accomplishment
- Civic Pride
- Public recognition
- A feeling of community belonging
- Reducing the fear of crime and as a result making your neighborhood more livable
Neighborhood Watch helps build pride and serves as a springboard for efforts that address other community concerns. If you don't start a Neighborhood Watch program in your area, perhaps no one will. But if you do, you may be amazed at how easy it is to organize the program. First, contact as many of your neighbors as possible and ask them if they would be willing to meet to organize a Neighborhood Watch. Form a planning committee. Plan an initial meeting. Contact your local police department and request that an officer come to your meeting to discuss your community's problems and needs. Ask him for information on local crime patterns. Also ask him if information is available for local and national contacts that will assist you in organizing and maintaining your program.
Once your program is beginning to get under way, the following steps should be taken.
Once you get started in organizing a Neighborhood Watch, there is virtually no limit to the innovative ways you can combat crime and increase involvement of members of your community. Your neighborhood will not only become safer and more secure, but will have the added benefit of neighbors brought closer together, with opportunities to rekindle the sense of community that many areas of the country have lost. A strong, healthy, united community is one of the strongest deterrents to crime! But it all has to start somewhere. It can start with you --- beginning today!
- Appoint officers (president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary). They will be responsible for organizing meetings, forming committees, collecting dues, etc. As the organization grows you may want to have an election for these positions.
- Form a committee to develop bylaws. This will be necessary to maintain order of your Neighborhood Watch. You can look at our bylaws for an example.
- Begin recruiting new members. The watch groups in Del City charge only $12.00 a year for membership.
- Get the word out. The best way is by using a newsletter. Depending on the size of your watch group, you may want to have district representatives and block captains. They will be responsible for distributing the newsletter. Deliver a newsletter to every household in your area. Be sure to have an application form as part of the newsletter. Contact local printers to see if you can get a special rate. Photocopies of newsletters (under 300) can be the cheapest and quickest.
- Periodic meetings should be used to develop programs. Speakers from law enforcement and other organizations can be recruited to speak. As your watch group grows you will need a bigger meeting place. Contact your area schools and churches. One of them will usually be willing to let you have a meeting room. You may need to schedule frequent meetings to get your watch group started. After that, meetings can be held as necessary. Hartsdel has monthly meetings at a local church.
- Work with your local city government to put up highly visible Neighborhood Watch signs. These alert criminals that community members will watch and report their activities.
- Work with police to organize citizen patrols, on foot or in vehicles. (If you do, you will need a patrol captain as one of your officers. See "The Patrol" later in this article).
WHAT NEIGHBORS SHOULD BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR
These are problems that you should not investigate on your own. Report them to your local law enforcement personnel. Alert your neighbors.
- Screaming or shouting for help.
- Someone looking into windows of houses or parked cars.
- Unusual noises.
- Property being taken out of houses or buildings where no one is at home, or the business is closed.
- Cars, vans, or trucks moving slowly with no lights or apparent destination.
- Anyone being forced into a vehicle.
- A stranger running through private yards or alleyways.
- A stranger setting in a car or stopping to talk to a child.
- Abandoned cars.
TOPICS THAT CAN BE DISCUSSED AT MEETINGS
Periodic meetings should be used to develop programs to heighten citizen awareness. Speakers from law enforcement and other community organizations can address such topics as:
Once you get your Neighborhood Watch organized, your neighborhood will not only become safer and more secure, but neighbors will be brought closer together.
- Recognizing suspicious activity and learning how to report it.
- Organizing victim assistance programs.
- Establishing "safe houses"for children in trouble.
- Developing neighborhood "youth escort services"that can accompany older people and children on errands.
- Organizing a "Crime Stoppers"program that allows individuals to offer information on crimes, anonymously.
One of the best and most effective deterrents to crime in your neighborhood is the neighborhood patrol. Check with your Neighborhood Watch members and see if they are willing to participate in a mobile patrol that will keep a watchful eye on your area. If they are interested, you need to form a patrol committee with one person as chairperson. Funding is one of the most important parts at the beginning because you will need equipment (magnetic signs, revolving lights, CB radios or other means of communication, base stations, antennas, spot lights and other items). You will need an equipment coordinator to keep track of the equipment. All patrollers must have identification badges of some sort. You should publish a patrollers' handbook with rules and regulations/procedures for the patrollers. (See note below)
The volunteer patrollers will have to be trained. Contact your local law enforcement personnel and see if they will set up a training class for your new patrollers. Remember, the patrollers are "the eyes and ears" of the police and they have no authority to make arrests.
Some patrol procedures you will want to enforce:
Many patrollers may want to purchase their own equipment. In our neighborhood many have their own lights, cell phones and CB's. It is amazing what a difference a patrol can make. Crime in areas with Neighborhood Watch Patrols will drop significantly. Just seeing the "blinkie" light will drive many potential criminals out of your area. You will never know what crime you have prevented just by being out there and visible.
- Always use the magnetic signs and revolving lights to identify your vehicle. (We use amber lights. Check with your local law enforcement authorities for what is legal.)
- Drive the neighborhood slowly. Watch for anything out of the ordinary or suspicious.
- Use your headlights.
- Do not try to follow close to suspicious vehicles. Try to get the make and tag number.
- Carry pad and pencil at all times.
- Light up parks and school yards.
- Call police to check out suspicious activity. Keep your distance.
- Do not develop a pattern to your patrolling. Set up zones. Vary your route.
- Park and observe occasionally.
- NEVER TRY TO MAKE A CITIZEN'S ARREST.
- NEVER CARRY A WEAPON. You are not a police officer.
- If you use CB radios, remember, anyone can be listening in. Be careful what you say. Don't inform the whole neighborhood.
NOTE: The patrol handbook should cover topics such as - the mission statement; description of the patrol; purpose of the patrol; how the patrol is organized; qualifications to be a patroller; rules of conduct; equipment required and how to use it; the area the patrol will cover; patrol procedures; and, training (training cannot be overemphasized).
The Hartsdel Neighborhood Watch Association, and members of the Hartsdel Patrol hope this information will be helpful. All it takes is a little initiative, a lot of planning and coordination and a desire to make your neighborhood safe again. Good luck.
For more information you can contact:
National Neighborhood Watch Program
National Sheriffs' Association
1450 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3490
contact your local law enforcement agency
If you are in Oklahoma City and the surrounding area you can contact:
South Oklahoma City Council of Neighborhoods
2200 SE 59th
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73129