Is your building or community considering establishing a Neighborhood Watch program? These crime watch programs – joint efforts between homeowners and local police departments – are gaining traction in many communities by helping to deter unusual or criminal behavior.
The official Neighborhood Watch initiative was launched in 1972 and has spread to towns and communities throughout the country. The program is comprised of volunteer residents who work with each other and law enforcement to maintain a visible presence in the community and report suspicious individuals or activity.
Neighborhood Watch programs can provide significant benefits to communities – after all, they boost community awareness, communication and involvement, while reducing opportunities for neighborhood crimes to occur. But if you’re interested in getting started, there are many important factors to consider. Here’s an overview.
1. Neighborhood Watch is a resident effort, not an HOA responsibility.
HOAs, community associations and condo and coop boards are charged with maintaining common areas, enforcing community rules, and enhancing property values and lifestyles, and often hire professional property management companies to carry out these duties. But some residents are not aware that neither associations nor their management companies are responsible for providing security or ensuring the safety of community residents.
Therefore, a Neighborhood Watch program should not be officially connected with an association, whether as a sponsored group, a committee or other affiliation, to avoid liability for the association and its members. Consequently, your Neighborhood Watch program should be an independent group of neighbors that is separate from the association, both in actuality and as stated in all promotional materials. The group should be comprised of homeowners who volunteer to participate, and are not chosen, influenced or controlled by the association.
2. Neighborhood Watch members are not crime fighters.
Homeowners have a vested interest in keeping their homes and property safe, so Neighborhood Watch encourages them to be alert and observant. But to maximize their effectiveness, as well as their own safety, participants must clearly understand what their roles entail – and what they do not. Their goal is to watch for and report unusual or suspicious behavior – “If you see something, say something.” If participants observe anything unusual or even a crime in progress, they should contact 911 or the local police department immediately.
Neighborhood Watch groups are not vigilantes or crime fighters – participants should not wear badges or uniforms or carry weapons. Additionally, they should never say or imply that they are providing security on behalf of their community association. And this is critical – they must never directly confront criminals or try to deter their actions.
3. Work with your local police department.
If a group of homeowners is thinking about establishing your Neighborhood Watch program, they should contact the local police or sheriff’s department. By working directly with law enforcement, they will increase their credibility and obtain the information and training they need to perform their roles safely. They’ll also learn helpful tips and best practices – for example, involving people who are home all day to watch from their windows for unusual behavior.
For more information about Neighborhood Watch, visit the National Crime Prevention Council
. And if you’d like to learn more about enhancing the value and lifestyle of your community, contact FirstService Residential