Crime has almost become a part of our everyday lives. Yet most crimes are simply crimes of opportunity. This means that the crime occurred because the chances were good that the bad guy could commit the crime easily and get away with it. If we want safer communities, then we need to eliminate opportunities for crime.
Opportunities may be divided into two categories:
- The opportunity created by the victim through carelessness, lack of attention to security, and failure to cooperate with neighborhood residents.
- The opportunity created by the criminal, by his skill, ruthlessness, and daring…a professional criminal.
Very little street level crime is committed by professional criminals. Experience has shown that most crime is committed by skilled or unskilled amateurs, and centers on opportunities created by the victims themselves.
Police departments across the country are learning that community participation in anti-crime programs is essential. One of the most effective ways to promote citizen interaction with police is the sharing of information. Citizen groups determine specific needs or problems and then share this information with local police. The police then act on this information and report back to the group on their progress. To achieve this, the following objectives are important:
- Establish an organizational structure within the neighborhood that will promote and create an information sharing network.
- Recruit members of the neighborhood to participate and create social ties that will foster cooperation.
- Participate in neighborhood-wide target hardening and Operation Identification.
- Provide continual dissemination of educational materials relative to crime and home security.
- Watch for and report suspicious activity, persons, and vehicles to the local police.
- Assist victims of crime in their readjustment to normalcy.
- Encourage residents to come forward as witnesses to ensure successful prosecutions.
- Help elderly or debilitated residents and children protect themselves from victimization.
- Become a strong, unified voice to inform community leaders of the desires of “the people.”
Getting a Neighborhood Watch Started
There are several important steps in organizing and running a Neighborhood Watch.
- Form a small planning committee of neighborhood residents to discuss needs and determine interest.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency to discuss criminal activity in your neighborhood and our desire to start a Neighborhood Watch. Invite law enforcement to attend your meetings.
- Select a date, time and place for your first meeting and publicize the meeting at least one week in advance. Use door-to-door flyers, public service announcements, and phone calls to invite neighborhood residents.
- Hold your first meeting and determine interest, establish the purpose of the program, and begin to discuss issues that need to be addressed. Invite law enforcement to talk about criminal activity in your neighborhood and what they’re doing to reduce crime.
Once you’ve determined that you have enough interest and participation to establish a Neighborhood Watch, it’s time to move on to the actual watch organization phase. It’s important to have at least 30 percent or better participation to have an effective watch.
- Elect a chairperson. This will be a busy job so you need a chairperson who is an effective organizer and communicator as well as someone who has some free time for activities.
- Select block captains, usually volunteers, to serve as supervisors and liaisons for members who reside on their respective blocks.
- Set up training for your chairperson and block captains. This training will be provided by your local law enforcement agency.
- Establish a meeting schedule, usually monthly, and get ready for your first official meeting.
Keeping the Watch Alive
One of the greatest challenges for a Neighborhood Watch is to keep the watch alive and maintain member participation. As crime is reduced in a neighborhood, residents often lose interest and stop attending meetings. Strong leadership is essential to maintaining active involvement. Remember that a Neighborhood Watch can be more than just a crime watch. Here are a few ideas:
- Organize committees within the watch group to focus on other issues such as the quality of living in your neighborhood.
- Participate in community events as a watch group. For example, enter a float in the community’s Christmas parade.
- Hold neighborhood socials that offer plenty of food and fun.
- Establish a Citizen Patrol to patrol your neighborhood and report suspicious incidents.
- Institute an Operation Identification program and help neighborhood residents properly inventory and mark their personal property.
Things to Remember
There is no way to completely avoid ever becoming a victim of crime. However, there are ways that you can better protect your home, family, and assets. A Neighborhood Watch works not only to educate residents about criminal trends, but also as the eyes and ears of the police in your neighborhood. While preparing to establish a Neighborhood Watch in your neighborhood, here are a few important things to remember:
- The program will not work without good participation.
- Be sure to involve law enforcement in both the planning phase and in your monthly meetings.
- Communication is vital to the program.
- Remember that this is a watch program, not vigilantism. Watch members should not make contact with suspicious persons or vehicles. Report them to the police.
It is important to know how to properly report suspicious incidents and criminal activity to the police.
- Any incident where life, limb or property is in immediate danger is an emergency and should be reported using 9-1-1 .
- Suspicious persons, vehicles, or crimes that occurred while you were away and are now over with should be reported using the non-emergency phone number for police dispatch.
- When reporting a crime or suspicious incident, be prepared to give dispatch the following information:
- Your identity and location
- The type of crime and whether it is in progress or over with
- When and where the crime occurred
- Suspect and vehicle descriptions
- Whether any weapons are involved
Where to Get Help
The Leesburg Police Department encourages neighborhoods within our community to establish Neighborhood Watch groups. We will provide assistance from police officers who have been specially trained and certified in crime prevention by the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute to assist you in any way possible. Crime prevention is a partnership, and we need your help.