How to Start a Block Watch

Phase One: Getting Started

  • 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’ dept. to discuss Neighborhood Watch and local crime problems. Invite a law enforcement officer to attend your meeting.
  • 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, and begin to identify issues that need to be addressed. Stress that Watch group association of neighbors who look out for reach 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 place to live.

Phase Two: Adopt the Watch Idea

  • Elect a chairperson
  • Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for relaying info to members on their block, keeping up-to-date information on residents, and making special efforts to involve the elderly, working parents, and youth. Block captains also can serve as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police and communicate info about meetings and crime incidents to all residents.
  • Establish a regular means of communicating with Watch members – e.g. newsletter, telephone tree, email, fax, etc.
  • Prepare 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.

Note: 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.
The Watch concept is adaptable and can be organized around any geographic unit such as Apartment Watch, Business Watch, School Watch, Utility Watch, etc.

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, owner and renter.
  • Get the information out quickly. Share all kinds of news—squash rumors.
  • Gather 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 info can reduce fear of crime.
  • Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant lots contribute to crime. Sponsor clean-ups; encourage residents to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights at night.
  • Celebrate the successes and contributions of your volunteers through events such 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-protections tactics, isolation of the elderly, crime in the schools, and rape prevention.

Note: Don’t forget events like Neighborhood Night Out, potluck dinners, or block parties 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.

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