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Starting a Neighborhood Watch

Phase One: Getting Started -- Meetings, Block Captains, and Maps

  • Form a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs, the level of
    interest, possible challenges, and the Watch concept.
  • Contact the local police or sheriffs' office to discuss Neighborhood Watch and local crime problems.
  • Publicize your meeting at least one week in advance with door-to-door fliers and
    follow up with phone calls the day before.
  • Select a meeting place that is accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Hold an initial meeting to gauge neighbors' interest; establish purpose of program;
    begin to identify issues that need to be addressed. Stress that a Watch group is
    an association of neighbors who look out for each other's families and property,
    alert the police to any suspicious activities or crime in progress, and work together
    to make their community a safer and better place to live.

Phase Two: When the neighborhood decides to adopt the Watch idea, elect a chairperson.

  • Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for relaying information to
    members on their block, keeping up-to-date information on residents, and making
    special efforts to involve the elderly, working parents, and young people. Block
    captains also can serve as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police and
    communicate information about meetings and crime incidents to all residents.
    Establish a regular means of communicating with Watch members—e.g.,
    newsletter, telephone tree, e-mall, fax, etc.
  • Prepare a neighborhood map showing names, addresses, and phone numbers of
    participating households and distribute to members. Block captains keep this map
    up to date, contacting newcomers to the neighborhood and rechecking
    occasionally with ongoing participants.
  • With guidance from a law enforcement agency, the Watch trains its members in
    home security techniques, observation skills, and crime reporting. Residents also
    learn about the types of crime that affect the area.
  • Organizers and block captains must emphasize that Watch groups are not
    vigilantes and do not assume the role of the police. They only ask neighbors to be
    alert, observant, and caring—and to report suspicious activity or crimes
    immediately to the police.

Tips for Success

  • Hold regular meetings to help residents get to know each other and to collectively
    decide upon program strategies and activities.
  • Consider linking with an existing organization, such as a citizens' association,
    community development office, tenants' association, housing authority.
  • Canvas door-to-door to recruit members.
  • Involve everyone -- young and old, single and married, renter and homeowner.
    Gain support from the police or sheriffs' office. This is critical to a Watch group's
    credibility. These agencies are the major sources of information on local crime
    patterns, home security, other crime prevention education, and crime reporting.
  • Get the information out quickly. Share all kinds of news -- quash rumors.
  • Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check police reports, do
    victimization surveys, and learn residents' perceptions about crime. Often
    residents' opinions are not supported by facts, and accurate information can
    reduce fear of crime.
  • Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant lots contribute to
    crime. Sponsor cleanups, encourage residents to beautify the area, and ask them to
    turn on outdoor lights at night.
  • It's essential to celebrate the success of the effort and recognize volunteers'
    contributions through such events as awards, annual dinners, and parties. To help
    meet community needs, Neighborhood Watches can sponsor meetings that
    address broader issues such as drug abuse, gangs, self-protection tactics, isolation
    of the elderly, crime in the schools, and rape prevention.
  • Don't forget events like National Night Out or a potluck dinner that gives
    neighbors a chance to get together. Such items as pins, t-shirts, hats, or coffee
    mugs with the group's name also enhance identity and pride.
    For more information, visit www.ncpc.org.

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