Neighborhood Watch and Its Effect on the Community

12 December 2016

The Neighborhood Watch program is one of the oldest forms of organized community crime prevention in the United States. Its history dates back as far as the late 1960s. As a method of fighting and preventing crime in residential communities, this program has shown to be very effective. This paper will cover the beginning of the Neighborhood Watch program, its growth up to the present day, and a few of its success stories. Neighborhood Watch is one of the oldest and most familiar plans for crime prevention.

While the present-day concept of Neighborhood Watch was started in the late 1960s as an answer to the problem of increasing crime in communities, the general concept of this program can be traced all the way back to the time of the American settlers. In Colonial times, night watchmen walked the streets of the very first communities in this country. In the 1960s, due to a rising number of burglaries in rural and suburban areas, law enforcement officials around the country began searching for a crime prevention program which would allow private citizens to play a role in the fight against crime.

The National Sheriff’s Association, or NSA, set the bar for such a program when they introduced a concept they called the National Neighborhood Watch Program (NNWP) (National Crime Prevention Council). The NNWP received funding in 1972 from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. During the first two years, the program concentrated on providing citizens with information on the nature and volume of burglaries, and also with information on how to make their property more secure and less susceptible to potential burglars.

Gradually, the program shifted its focus towards aiding in the establishment of Neighborhood Watch programs that would allow members of a community to work with local police officers in reducing crime in their respective neighborhoods (National Crime Prevention Council). Most present Neighborhood Watch programs are centered in a neighborhood or block. They rarely have a formal budget or funding source. They are usually operated by local police officers and by neighborhood volunteers that donate their time and resources for the good of the community.

Neighborhood Watch programs are typically found in communities that are made up of single-family homes, that have few to no commercial businesses and/or buildings, and the majority of the residents have lived in the neighborhood for at least five years. Neighborhood Watch programs will often use street signs as a way to broadcast their presence in an attempt to deter would-be criminals from targeting that community (National Crime Prevention Council). The main reason to establish a Neighborhood Watch program is to bring the community together and to allow citizens to take control of their own neighborhoods.

It allows residents to increase the safety and well-being of the community while at the same time reducing the criminal activity. Neighborhood Watch programs are started with the goal of eliminating, or at least reducing, the opportunities people have to commit crimes. It does not attempt to change a criminal’s mentality or motivation to commit crimes, just to stop them from committing crime in that particular neighborhood. There are other reasons to establish a Neighborhood Watch program in your community.

For one, both foreign enemies and domestic terrorists who have shown a complete disregard for American lives have declared war on the United States and its citizens. These criminals have demonstrated that they are willing to and capable of destroying our property and taking lives as a means to their end. Statistics show that 80 percent of Americans will be the victim of a violent crime at least once in their lifetime. A violent crime is committed every 16 seconds. A child is murdered every two hours. A residential burglary is committed every nine seconds.

An effective Neighborhood Watch program is a perfect way for us to prevent ourselves from becoming one of those statistics (National Sheriffs’ Association). Data provided by a national study in 1981 revealed that 12 percent of the population was involved in some form of a neighborhood watch group. By 1986, that number had grown to about 20 percent of the population. In addition, these studies showed that 38 percent of the households whose community a Neighborhood Watch program participated in it (National Sheriffs’ Association).

A town in Minnesota saw crime increase dramatically over a one-year period. The town already had a Neighborhood Watch program in effect, but as a result of the rise in criminal activity the citizens decided to increase their awareness and their commitment to the program in an effort to solve the problem. Because of their efforts, police were able to arrest more than two dozen criminals and to clear one-fourth of the cases. Their efforts also informed police of the surprising figures regarding Neighborhood Watch programs.

Of the 110 burglary cases that were reported, only 12 of them had taken place in communities with an active Neighborhood Watch program. Of those 12 burglaries, 9 had occurred in neighborhoods with relatively new or recently ended programs. Studies show that once a Neighborhood Watch program deteriorates, criminals take notice and quickly resume illegal activities in that area (Klaas Kids Foundation). Another great success story took place in Fairfax County, Virginia. Fairfax County has about 700 active Neighborhood Watch programs and a total of approximately 15,000 to 30,000 participants.

Fairfax County has seen a 90 percent drop in reported burglaries since these programs were introduced. (Klaas Kids Foundation). More and more communities who are employing the Neighborhood Watch programs are experiencing these kinds of successes. Memphis, Tennessee has seen a large reduction in its crime rate since it started Neighborhood Watch, and Burbridge, California has been making significant strides towards reducing gang-related crimes in their Latino community.

Likewise, Long Beach, California, has seen a drop in the number of burglaries in their residential areas since they started the program (Klaas Kids Foundation). The Neighborhood Watch concept is growing not only in America, but other countries are employing it as well. For instance, when President Nelson Mandela demanded that the people of South Africa take responsibility for their neighborhoods by keeping an eye on the houses next to them, he made that request in the hopes that it would deter criminal activity. In ddition, the Alice Springs Hospital in Australia developed a Watch program within and around its facility. The concept behind the Watch was essentially the same as the traditional Neighborhood Watch in that it was implemented to empower individuals to take some ownership of the security needs of their environment. When the hospital noticed an increase in theft and other criminal activity, but there was not enough security to cover the entire hospital all of the time, they divided the hospital into zones and established a coordinator for each zone.

The coordinators communicated with one another and made each other aware of particular problems if and when they arose. If anyone noticed anything suspicious, he or she alerted a representative in the other areas so that they could be on the look out. Knowing there was always someone watching out for them gave the employees a sense of security, and that feeling epitomizes the purpose of the Neighborhood Watch Program (National Sheriffs’ Association). There are a number of benefits to establishing a Neighborhood Watch program.

One such benefit is that it unites the community and promotes cooperation rather than isolation; it gives people a common cause to work towards, which is the safety of themselves, their families, and each other. Another is that it prevents and reduces criminal activity and, as a result, makes people less afraid of crime happening in their neighborhood. Neighborhood Watch also provides members with the basic skills necessary to report crime and to become effective witnesses (Klaas Kids Foundation). Neighborhood Watch does more than just prevent crime from happening.

It also has a positive effect on relationships in the community, and on the residents’ awareness in and involvement in the neighborhood. It tends to have a number of positive effects in addition to reducing criminal activity. It is not unusual to see citizens who are involved in Neighborhood Watch together also participating in neighborhood cleanups, social events, and various types of community service. The Neighborhood Watch program often brings out the best in a community by promoting a sense of unity and civic pride.

This sense of pride and togetherness definitely has a strong impact on the quality of life for the residents of those neighborhoods that participate in the program (National Crime Prevention Council). Today, Neighborhood Watch programs have grown and developed into very effective counter-crime measures in residential communities. Early studies showed that there is a link between areas with high crime rates and neighborhoods characterized by various ethic groups and social classes, high levels of transience, and varying physical conditions.

In short, crime is likely to occur more often in socially disorganized areas. The Neighborhood Watch program is an effective way to successfully put the fate and safety of the community back into the hands of its residents.

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