While neighbor-driven safety networks can bring a lot of benefits, make sure your participation in them doesn't spread disinformation or racially profile or stereotype people. If you're joining a Neighborhood Watch group, is your intention to divide or build your community? And how does that align with the impact you're seeing?
Safe neighborhoods start with vigilant neighbors, and many concerned citizens around the country have founded Neighborhood Watch programs to help.
To help you set up a safe and successful group in your community, we talked to the CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council and gleaned information from its “spokesperson,” McGruff the Crime Dog. Here’s what we learned, along with some of our own advice.
Which government agencies, community groups, or law enforcement and safety professionals are willing to help concerned citizens set up a Neighborhood Watch?
Neighborhood Watch is actually a program of the National Sheriff’s Association. However, the National Crime Prevention Council has many downloadable resources, brochures, and assessments about Neighborhood Watch and home and community safety on its website.
These resources can be used at Neighborhood Watch meetings and provide information for communicating safety and prevention tips.
For the National Neighborhood Watch website, visit www.nnw.org.
How do I recruit people to join my Neighborhood Watch?
It doesn’t take many special skills to start and maintain a Neighborhood Watch. What you mostly need is the desire to live in a safe place for your family (and most people want that). Neighborhood Watch can also forge great camaraderie with your neighbors.
NCPC has a Neighbor Watch checklist that you can use to begin the process of starting the program. You can begin with a neighborhood canvass to see who is interested not only in having the Neighborhood Watch program but who would like to be a part of the planning committee.
NCPC also has several surveys your community can use as a starting point to evaluate the safety of your homes and neighborhood on its site. These surveys ask questions related to door and window security, indoor and outdoor lighting, and travel safety measures.
Neighborhood Watch brings the power of the organization and the ability to focus energy and resources. When you organize with your neighbors, you can create phone trees, devise neighborhood plans for specific emergencies, and spread education on preventative measures to stave off crime.
When it comes to reporting incidents to law enforcement, make sure it’s a true emergency. Think twice before reporting “quality-of-life crimes” like vandalism, littering, congregating, and panhandling.
And make sure to check your racial biases. San Francisco isn’t the first U.S. city to propose an act making racially based 911 calls illegal, but its “CAREN Act” has garnered plenty of headlines as national conversations address policing’s disproportional impact on Black Americans.
Many jurisdictions have a 3-1-1 non-emergency number that can be used for reporting purposes. If you’re witnessing a true emergency or crime in progress, call 9-1-1.
What crime prevention efforts can make my community safer?
Use the home and apartment surveys mentioned above to assess your own home’s needs; apply safety and prevention measures accordingly. Encourage neighbors to do the same.
These safety measures can include outdoor efforts:
If you can’t afford an alarm system, place a placard outside of your home anyway indicating that your home is protected by an alarm system. This could cause a potential thief to move to the next and easier target. Remember, many thieves look for vulnerabilities and quick and easy access. The goal is to make your home as protected and secure as possible.
If you plan to go on vacation or a business trip, remember to take some precautions:
Stop your mail and newspaper (or have a neighbor pick them up daily for you).
Lastly, there are also signs that can be purchased for the community that states your neighborhood is now a Neighborhood Watch community. Having a visible sign at the entrance of your neighborhood will alert potential thieves that your neighborhood is less susceptible.
How can I help sustain a Neighborhood Watch program?
Make connecting with neighbors the first priority. Hold a Neighborhood Watch meeting but also build in time to socialize afterward. Rotate who supplies the snacks and beverages so that the burden isn’t always on a couple of people.
Make sure to rotate the meetings to various homes or other locations throughout the community. Libraries often have meeting rooms you can rent for free.
You could include the faith community by considering having a church host a meeting. Local businesses can also help publicize meetings, and some even assist with donations to the group for big neighborhood events.
Start a neighborhood newsletter or Facebook page to highlight the great things that are happening in your community. Share timely crime prevention tips that coincide with holidays and special events.
Consider working with existing organizations such as citizen’s associations, tenants’ associations, or housing authorities. Partnering with these organizations can strengthen your Neighborhood Watch group and its efforts in the community.
What else can Neighborhood Watch assist with?
Neighborhood Watch has greatly expanded from the mission that started it in the 1970s. Today, Neighborhood Watch groups contribute to communities in all sorts of ways:
Involvement with Citizen Corps: programs helping individuals to be prepared; training in first aid and emergency skills; and volunteer work to support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.
Evacuation plans: development of evacuation plans in case of a hurricane, flood or other disaster. If you create a plan, it should include a neighborhood directory with phone numbers and email addresses.
Personal emergency preparedness plans: helping educate neighbors to help form their own preparedness plans.
Local warning systems and how to find information for temporary shelters in emergency situations. Note: find out who in your neighborhood have certain expertise areas e.g. medical and fire personnel or business owners.
Discussing potential terrorist targets in or near your community–such as power plants, stadiums, airports, and bridges. Neighbors can discuss the consequences should an attack occur and develop a safety plan with the help of local law enforcement.
How can parents help children stay safe in the neighborhood?
Keep these tips in mind as you keep an eye on your kids:
Know where your children are. Have your children tell you or ask permission before leaving the house and give them a time to check in or be home. When possible, have them leave a phone number of where they will be.
Help children learn important phone numbers. Have your children practice reciting their home phone number/address and your work/cell numbers. If they have trouble memorizing these, write them down on a card and have them carry it at all times. Tell your children where you will be and the best way to reach you.
Set limits on where your children can go in your neighborhood. Do you want them crossing busy roads? Playing in alleys or abandoned buildings?
Choose a safe house in your neighborhood. Pick a neighbor’s house where your children can go if they need help. Point out other places they can go for help, like stores, libraries, and police stations.
Get to know your children’s friends. Meet their parents before letting your children go to their home and keep a list of their phone numbers. If you can’t meet their parents, call and talk to them. Ask what your children might do at their house and if they will be supervised.
Teach children to settle arguments with words, not fists. Role-play talking out problems, walking away from fistfights, and what to do when confronted with bullies. Remind them that taunting and teasing can hurt friends and make enemies.
Work together with your neighbors. Watch out for suspicious and unusual behavior in your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors and their children so you can look out for one another.
The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) is the nonprofit leader in crime prevention. NCPC is a private, nonprofit organization whose primary mission is to be the nation’s leader in helping people keep themselves, their families, and their communities safe from crime.
NCPC manages a public education campaign—symbolized by McGruff the Crime Dog® and his “Take A Bite Out Of Crime®” slogan. NCPC publishes books, kits of camera-ready program materials, posters, and informational and policy reports on a variety of crime prevention and community-building subjects.
It distributes those materials through a large network of crime prevention professionals and national, federal, state, and local organizations. NCPC offers training, technical assistance, and a national focus on crime prevention.
Back in 1980, a dog in a rumpled trench coat said, “You don’t know me yet. But you will.” Since then, McGruff the Crime Dog® has taught millions of people that the police can’t fight crime alone—crime prevention is everybody’s business and everyone can help “Take A Bite Out Of Crime®.”
Through television commercials, comic books, live appearances, and more, McGruff has encouraged Americans to take common-sense steps to reduce crime. Some of his favorite messages include these:
Lock doors, leave the lights on when away from home, and let neighbors know when you go on vacation.
Do things that build a sense of neighborhood, create communities that don’t produce crime, look out for each other, and make sure kids feel safe.
Get involved, join Neighborhood Watch, and clean up streets and parks.
Teach children and teens to protect themselves from substance abuse, bullies, and gang violence.
Facts About McGruff
There are approximately 4,000 active McGruffs (number of costumes in use).
McGruff has a classy Corvette, a monster truck in Arizona, and a wiener wagon in Florida. But most of all, he likes to ride in patrol cars assisting law enforcement.
McGruff’s favorite crime-fighting techniques are to teach children specific tips to be safe at home and school and to help law enforcement officers do their jobs better.
McGruff is a “ham,” so he loves doing public service announcements for television and radio or posing for print or billboard advertising.
In 2015, McGruff turned 35 years young. He had birthday parties all around the country, making appearances at health and safety fairs and other media events and showing off his 32-foot-tall balloon at county and state fairs. He has blown out birthday candles on countless cakes. He has made the most of these opportunities to spread the word about preventing crime.
Katherine has had several years of experience developing and executing multichannel marketing campaigns, but actually started her career path in journalism. Though she switched gears, she continues to be driven by the need to deliver information that can be helpful for individuals. As an owner of two rescue dogs, she is most interested in technology and products that allow her to keep a close eye on her pets when she’s away. Learn more