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Crime and fear of crime threatens a communities well-being. Crime may be scaring everyone off the streets, or just looming on the horizon. People become afraid to leave their homes, to use streets and parks or to walk through their neighborhood.
Suspicion erupts between young and old. Businesses gradually leave. Crime in turn feeds on the social isolation it creates. Today’s lifestyles – many homes where both parents work, more single parent families, and greater job mobility – can contribute to this isolation and weaken communities.
Neighbors can prevent or break this cycle, and in the process, build their community into a safer, friendlier, and more caring place to live. Whatever your neighborhood is like, getting together to fight crime, violence, and drugs can help create communities where children can be children and people once isolated by crime and fear, can enjoy being a part of a thriving neighborhood.
The Neighborhood Watch program’s success is hinged on achieving and sustaining an appropriate level of community involvement to a point at which the neighborhood realizes a reduction and/or achieves prevention of residential burglaries and other residential area crime. Where they have been instituted, neighborhood watch programs have had a measurable effect of substantially reducing the fear of crime, encouraging crime reporting, stimulating member’s involvement in crime prevention, inhibiting drug trafficking, and spurring beautification activities. Statistics and criminals alike verify that when neighbors organize, the opportunity for crime is drastically reduced.
The goals of Neighborhood Watch are:
- To increase the community awareness, enhance individuals’ power of observation, and encourage mutual assistance and concern among neighbors to reduce crime. The crimes normally targeted are burglary and other property crimes prevalent to neighborhoods. Groups can obtain information and assistance from the Sheriff’s Office and other governmental agencies that can help to improve living conditions.
- To allow the concerns of the neighborhood to be presented in a unified voice to both law enforcement and governmental agencies. Groups can inform community leaders on programs and actions that the “people” support. When people work together as neighbors, they create a better place to live for all of them, as a genuine neighborhood.
- To develop a neighborhood action program where neighbors help each other by watching each other’s homes and reporting suspicious persons in their neighborhoods to the Sheriff’s Office. They allow Sheriff’s Office personnel to train citizens on how to be pro-active by preventing crime and how to recognize and report criminal activities. Then if something suspicious occurs, you will know how to report it to the Sheriff’s Office and how to notify your neighbors, alerting them against further intrusion. With a heightened awareness and a “sense of community” achieved, criminals will find it much harder to work unnoticed in your area.
- To train citizens in various personal and physical security strategies and help them in making their home more secure. Most crimes are opportunistic and can be reduced or removed by simple crime prevention techniques. It provides the Sheriff’s Office a method to give the community information on home security and personal safety. The three main things a resident can do to reduce the risk of burglary are:
- The proper use of good locks
- Participate in Operation Identification
- Participate in a Neighborhood Watch Program. Not only used as a strong tool to fight crime, but also as a strong social program. The Neighborhood Watch can also be utilized to engage citizens in other neighborhood projects.
- To promote awareness techniques and crime reporting, but not the physical confrontation of criminals. Watch groups are not vigilantes and do not assume the role of the Sheriff’s Office. Citizens are only asked to be more alert, observant, caring and to serve as extra eyes and ears for the Sheriff’s Office.
- To constantly expand and change to meet the needs of the community.
It is a fact of life that relationships in many of today’s communities have become less personal than they were years ago. Families are more transient, children have more activities that take them and their parents away from home, and there are more families with both parents working. The once-familiar sight of families visiting with each other on front porches while keeping a watchful eye on children and activities in the neighborhood is a rarity in most communities today. These trends and the decrease in time families spend at home are two of the essential ingredients that make communities a target for crimes of opportunity, such as burglary.
Any community resident can join — young and old, single and married, renter and homeowner. A few concerned residents, a community organization, or a law enforcement agency can spearhead the effort to organize a Watch. Members learn how to make their homes more secure, watch out for each other and the neighborhood, and report activities that raise their suspicions to the police or sheriff’s office. You can form a Watch group around any geographical unit: a block, apartment, park, business area, public housing complex, office, and marina. Watch groups are not vigilantes. They are extra eyes and ears for reporting crime and helping neighbors. Neighborhood Watch helps build pride and serves as a springboard for efforts that address community concerns such as recreation for youth, childcare, and affordable housing.
Forming a Neighborhood Watch Program is a challenge. The first step is to find out the initial interest level in your neighborhood. Any attempt at beginning an organized Watch group will not be successful unless a certain level of community interest exists.
Concentrate your initial effort by organizing those neighbors with whom you have occasional contact. For example, if your block or street is mostly single family homes, invite neighbors on both sides of the street and adjacent corners. If you live in an apartment or condominium, include everyone in your building and in the adjacent buildings as space permits.
It is strongly suggested that you start by speaking with neighbors on your block to obtain a feel for how many people may be interested in attending Neighborhood Watch training. Prepare a Neighborhood map and clearly define the boundaries for your watch area. Start small, less than fifty homes, and you can expand as you become more organized. Citizen interest and involvement are crucial to the success of this program.
Chances are good that a home burglarized today is located in a neighborhood where one vital crime prevention tool is missing: an active Neighborhood Watch group. This community-based program of citizens working together with the Sheriff’s Office has become one of the keys to preventing burglary and other crimes in their neighborhoods.
Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch, Town Watch, Crime Watch — whatever the name, it’s one of the most effective and least costly ways to prevent crime and reduce fear. Neighborhood Watch fights the isolation that crime both creates and feeds upon. It forges bonds among area residents, helps reduce burglaries and robberies, and improves relations between police and the communities they serve.
The prevention of crime– particularly crime involving residential neighborhoods–is a responsibility that must be shared equally by the Sheriff’s Office and the private citizens. The fact is, the impact on crime prevention by the Sheriff’s Office alone is minimal when compared with the power of private citizens and the Sheriff’s Office working together.
Neighborhood Watch is based on this concept of cooperation, and nationwide statistics prove that it works. When citizens take positive steps to secure their own property and neighbors learn how to report suspicious activity around their homes, burglary and other related crimes decrease dramatically.
The Neighborhood Watch Coordinator’s job is crucial to the success of your program. This may be just the right job for a retiree or other individual who has extra time at home. This person’s responsibilities may include:
- Expanding the program and maintaining a current list of participants and neighborhood residents, including names, addresses, home and work telephone numbers, and vehicle descriptions.
- Acting as a liaison between Watch members, Sheriff’s Office, civic groups, and Block Captains.
- Arranging neighborhood crime prevention training programs.
- Obtaining and distributing crime prevention materials, such as stickers and signs.
- Involving others to develop specific crime prevention projects.
- Encouraging participation in “Operation Identification,” a nationwide program in which personal property is marked indelibly with a unique identifying number to permit positive identification if valuables are lost or stolen.
First, talk to your neighbors and tell them that you are starting a Neighborhood Watch and that you need their participation. Enlist other neighbors to help you. Form a small planning committee to discuss needs, the level of interest, possible challenges, and the Watch program. Introduce yourselves to other neighbors by going door to door.
The following tips are suggested to encourage the neighbors to join you:
- Tell your neighbors about any recent crime activity or problems in the area. They may be unaware! Ask the Sheriff’s Office for a summary of local crime activity to share with your neighbors.
- Ask which evenings your neighbors are available. Generally, neighborhood meetings are conducted at 7:00 or 7:30 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.
- Take this opportunity to get acquainted on a first-name basis. This is vital to the success of your Neighborhood Watch! Exchange phone numbers, e-mails etc. Tell your neighbors that you will notify them when a meeting is scheduled.
- After a substantial amount of community interest is expressed, it would be time to contact the Sheriff’s Office for help in training members in home security and reporting skills and for information on local crime patterns. You should indicate approximately how many households your Neighborhood Watch includes.
- Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check crime reports, talk to victims of neighborhood crime, and learn the residents’ perceptions about crime. Often facts do not support residents’ opinions, and accurate information can reduce fear of crime.
- Setting the date, select a secure a location, close to your area, to hold the meeting. Local churches, library and schools are usually very cooperative. Be sure to select a meeting place that is accessible to people with disabilities.
- Advertising the meeting is very important! Be creative with handouts and personal or phone contacts. Let everyone know when and where the meeting will be held. Create flyers that announce the date, time, location and topic of your meeting (sample flyer or letter of invitation). Neighborhood Watch pamphlets are available from the Sheriff’s Office.
- The Coordinator or Block Captain will then fill out and deliver invitations, pamphlets, and a cover letter to each resident in the targeted area. Distribute the fliers, in person, seven to ten days beforehand. Have neighbors help pass out the fliers.
- Two or three days before the meeting remind your neighbors in person or by phone.
- Contact the Sheriff’s Office 14 to 21 days in advance and inform them of the date and place of the first meeting, call to verify that a deputy will be able to attend.
- The first meeting is basically a social event and information sharing time. The Sheriff’s Deputy will be speaking to your group, will tell you about your Sheriff’s Office Agency, and how Neighborhood Watch can help your community. The primary goal of the first meeting is to gauge the expected participation in the program and to create an understanding for the need for Neighborhood Watch.
- After the meeting you will need to begin selecting the Neighborhood Watch Coordinator and the Block Captains. You will need either a single individual to fill the Coordinator’s position or team. You will need one Block Captain for certain number of homes (i.e., every ten homes).
- The Coordinator should call a meeting with the Block Captains to plan which form you will use to register the members and to select a target date to officially start the Neighborhood Watch.
- Draw a large map of all the streets and households to be covered by your Neighborhood Watch. Start with a manageable number of homes at first, you can always add other areas.
- Block Captains should attempt to register every home in your assigned block. Compile a master list of all members. Prepare a Neighborhood Map showing names, addresses, and phone numbers of participating households and distribute to members. Block captains will keep this map up to date, contacting newcomers to the neighborhood and occasionally rechecking with ongoing participants.
- You may want to include names and ages of their children, work and school schedules, and whether or not their homes have burglar alarms or timers on lights. While some of this information may seem somewhat personal to neighbors who you have just met, it is essential that they make a commitment to the WATCH effort at this stage and agree to work together.
- Establishing a regular means of communicating with Watch Members – e.g. newsletter, telephone tree, e-mail, fax, etc. Get the information out quickly. Share all kinds of news to quash rumors.
- When your group has finished the initial organizing, you need to have a day to officially start the Neighborhood Watch. This will be the Kick off Day.
- We recommend that you pick a weekend or evening when everyone in the group will be invited to a special event such as a Block Party or a Community Rally. It never hurts to have food and special events planned.
- Try to have the meeting in or near your Watch area. This will draw attention to your group and will encourage others in the area to want to become a part of your program.
- You may want to invite the media to cover your events. This is a good way to tell the community about your program and how your neighborhood is fighting back against crime. Work with local media – newspapers, radio, TV Stations – to publicize events and thank supporters.
- Have the big Kick Off event and begin the process of helping to reduce crime in your community.
- Once your Neighborhood Watch Program is organized and a good percentage of the residents have agreed to participate in the program. The Sheriff’s Office will furnish your neighborhood a highly visible Neighborhood Watch Sign for each entrance to your Watch area. Also your neighborhood will be furnished with an ample supply of Neighborhood Watch decals to identify participating homes and streets.
- Crime Prevention Topics Should Be Part of Your Regularly Scheduled Meetings: At regularly scheduled meetings you should address immediate crime problems, focus on home security, and build neighborhood cohesion. Such topics may include:
- Bias-motivated violence
- Rape prevention
- Crime in schools
- Drug abuse
- Domestic violence
- Gangs, etc.
- Determine the time and place of the next meeting. The members of the group should determine how often they will meet, but to keep the momentum going during the start-up phase, it is best to schedule monthly meetings.
- Neighborhood Watch meetings are essential in organizing and training the participants, and supplying them with crime prevention procedures, and reinforcing the Neighborhood Watch concepts and commitment. These meetings are also instrumental in establishing a bond between group members.
Block Captains should be designated for every 10-15 homes, and they should be directly involved with their immediate neighbors. The block captain’s responsibilities may include:
- Acting as a liaison between block residents and the Coordinator.
- Establishing a “telephone chain” by compiling and distributing a current list of names, addresses and telephone numbers of block participants.
- Visiting and inviting new residents to join Neighborhood Watch; notifying them of meetings and training sessions.
- Establishing the “Operation Identification” program.
- Contacting each neighbor as often as possible to discuss possible crime problems, needs for assistance, and suggestions for program improvement.
Monthly meetings of your Neighborhood Watch group should be utilized for programs to develop citizen awareness and proper response to suspected or actual criminal activities. Speakers from the Sheriff’s Office as well as from a wide range of community organizations are valuable resources for this training.
Appropriate program topics may include the following:
- Recognizing suspicious activity
- Describing and reporting events, vehicles, and persons
- Home security inspections
- Home security measures
- Telephone security
- Confrontations with intruders
- and the list goes on and on
Foot and vehicle patrols may be effective for your Neighborhood Watch group. Two or more individuals, often from the same family, patrol during designated tours of duty and may detect suspicious activity not noticed by stationary observers. Lost children, stranded motorists, stray animals, damaged street signs or traffic signals, and automobile accidents are often discovered by citizens patrols.
Patrol members should be trained by the Sheriff’s Office. It should be emphasized to Neighborhood Watch members that they do not possess police powers and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles. They should also be cautioned to alert the Sheriff’s Office when encountering strange activity. MEMBERS SHOULD NEVER CONFRONT SUSPICIOUS PERSONS WHO COULD BE ARMED AND DANGEROUS.
As a rule, patrol groups should work in shifts, “sweeping” through the neighborhood periodically. In rural communities, it may be wise to check with neighboring landowners and determine the extent of surveillance they desire; some prefer to have the property observed from a distance, while others welcome patrollers right up to their front doors.
Groups may also want to intensify patrol efforts during certain holiday periods (Halloween, Independence Day) or supplement the Sheriff’s Office during these times.
Patrol Members should be properly equipped for their duties on Patrol. For example, flashlights or searchlights are necessary for night patrols, and may mobile patrols use cell phones to contact law enforcement when necessary.
- The patrol should be well defined.
- Only residents of the defined community, at least 18 years old, should participate in the patrol.
- Patrol members must have participated in a training session.
- A patrol team should consist of two people: a driver and an observer in the patrol vehicle or two neighbors walking together. A vehicle may be marked with a removable sign.
- The purpose of community patrol is to observe and report only. Patrol members should not leave their vehicle or become involved with a suspect.
- Patrol members do not possess sheriff or police powers. Each member is liable as an individual for civil and criminal charges should he or she exceed his authority.
- Patrol members should not challenge anyone. The patrol’s visual presence should be a deterrent to most criminal activity. If a suspicious situation continues, patrol members should call the Sheriff’s Office and request assistance.
- Patrol members should not purse vehicles. They should not attempt to enforce traffic laws.
- Patrol members should patrol as designated, in a random fashion, and at varied times rather than in an observable pattern.
- Patrol members may not drink alcoholic beverages while on patrol nor report for patrol if they have been drinking or under the influence of any drugs.
- Patrol members should not carry weapons of any kind.
- Any members violating patrol procedures may be banned from participation in the community patrol.
- Patrol members should take notes of suspicious situations on log sheets. The notes may become evidence if a situation becomes a criminal matter. A copy of the notes could be turned over to the Block Captain and the original kept by the patrol member. (The notes may be needed later for the patrol member to refresh his or her memory.)
Practicing to develop skills in providing quick, accurate descriptions is an excellent NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH meeting activity. In attempting to describe events, vehicles, or persons, write down the details of what you have observed while they are still fresh in your mind, do your descriptions to Sheriff’s Office will be as accurate as possible.
When describing events, write down as much detail:
- WHAT happened
- WHEN it happened
- WHERE it occurred (note the nearest cross street, home address, or landmark in relationship to the event)
- Whether injuries are involved (Be prepared to report visible or suspected personal injury. Be as specific as possible — this could save a life!)
- Whether weapons are involved (this information, whether observed or suspected is vital to the responding deputies)
When describing vehicles, write down as much detail:
- Vehicle license number and state, make and type of vehicle, color, and approximate age
- Special designs or unusual features, such as a convertable top, mag wheels, body damage, pinstripes, etc.
- Direction of travel
- Number of Occupants and a description
Describing of Persons:
In preparing descriptions of persons, it is important to write down the following:
- Height (estimate from eye contact level measured against your height)
- Hair (color and length)
- Facial Hair (beard/mustache)
- Shirt/tie, style and color
- Coat/Jacket, style and color
- Pants, style and color
- Shoes, style and color
- Any peculiar or distinguishable mannerisms, physical disabilities, disfigurations, scars or tattoos
- Voice characteristics
- Direction of movement
BE ALERT! Anything that seems slightly “out of place” or is occurring at an unusual time of day could be criminal activity. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO APPREHEND A PERSON COMMITTING A CRIME OR TO INVESTIGATE A SUSPICIOUS PERSON OR ACTIVITY. Call the Sheriff’s Office immediately, and do not worry about being embarrassed if your suspicions prove to be unfounded. The Sheriff’s Office would rather investigate than be called when it is too late.
The following incidents MAY indicate possible criminal activity and should be reported:
- Continuous repair operations at a non-business location (stolen property being altered)
- Open or broken doors and windows at a closed business or unoccupied residence (burglary or vandalism)
- Unusual noises, such as gunshots, screaming, or dogs barking continuously (burglary, assault, or rape)
- Sound of breaking glass (burglary or vandalism)
- A person exhibiting unusual mental or physical symptoms (person may be injured, under the influence of drugs, or otherwise needing medical attention)
Time and accuracy are critical in reporting crime or suspicious events. Call 911 to report life-threatening incidents or a crime in progress, and use the Non Emergency Number 658-4400 for crimes that have already occurred. Your call could save a life, prevent an injury, or stop a crime. You do not have to give your name, although this is often helpful.
Obviously, not every stranger who comes into a neighborhood is a criminal. Legitimate door-to-door sales and repair people appear in residential areas frequently. Occasionally, however, criminals disguise themselves as these workers; therefore, it is important to be alert to the activities of all nonresidents.
The Sheriff’s Office should be notified in the following circumstances, who MAY be suspects in the crimes indicated:
- Going door to door in a residential area, especially if one or more goes to rear of residence or loiters in front of an unoccupied house or closed business (burglary)
- Forcing entrance or entering an unoccupied house (burglary, theft, or trespassing)
- Running, especially if carrying something of value or carrying unwrapped property at an unusual hour (fleeing the scene of a crime)
- Heavy traffic to and from a residence, particularly if it occurs on a daily bases (drug dealing, vice or fence stolen property)
- Screaming (rape or assault)
- A stranger sitting in a car or stopping to talk to a child (child abductor)
- Someone looking into windows and parked cars (auto theft or larceny from vehicle)
- Cars, vans, or trucks moving slowly with no apparent destination, or without lights. (Casing the neighborhood, looking for a victim)
- Loitering around schools, parks or secluded areas (sex offender)
- Offering items for sale at a very low price (trying to sell stolen property)
- Loitering or driving through a neighborhood several times or appearing as delivery person with a wrong address (burglary)
Vehicles in the following situations MAY be but not limited to, involved in crimes and should be reported to the Sheriff’s Office.
- Slow moving, without lights, following aimless course in any location, including residential streets, schools, and playgrounds. (burglars, drug dealers, or sex offender)
- Parked or occupied vehicles, containing one or more persons, especially at an unusual hour (lookouts for a burglary, drug deal, or robbery)
- Parked by a business or unoccupied residence, being loaded with valuables (burglary or theft).
- Abandoned in your neighborhood (stolen vehicle)
- Someone, especially a female or juvenile, being forced into a vehicle (kidnapping, assault, or attempted rape)
- Business transactions taking place, especially around schools and parks (sale of stolen items or drugs).
- Attempt of forcible entry, especially in a parking lot (theft of car or its contents
- Persons detaching mechanical parts or accessories from it (theft or vandalism)
- Objects being thrown from a vehicle (disposing of contraband)
Develop the habit of surveying your home each time you approach it. If you notice evidence that someone has broken it, DO NOT ENTER. Go to the nearest telephone and call 911. Should you confront a burglar, the very first rule is: GET OUT OF HIS WAY! Never get between a burglar and the exit, and never try to stop him. It may cost you your life.
If you are in your home and someone is prowling outside, make it appear that several people are at home. For example, call to someone, “Dan, there’s something outside.” Call the Sheriff’s Office; and if it is dark, turn on the lights. If an intruder has already broken in, retreat and put other doors between the two of you. It is a good idea to have a deadbolt on an interior door.
If you cannot get out, try to signal a neighbor by throwing something through a window; just noise can frighten a burglar away.
If someone should enter your bedroom while you are in bed, pretend that you are asleep as long as he does not come near you.
If the intruder is armed, do what he says, and see that the children do so as well. Remain calm– intruders generally want your property rather than your life.
Memorize a description of the intruder and when it is safe to so, call 911 immediately.
You must be aware of the potential risk of crime in your home in order to prevent it. First… Remember that the key factor in most crimes is OPPORTUNITY. IF THEY CAN’T GET AT IT, THEY CAN’T TAKE IT! Then… follow a regular plan of home security to deter the potential burglar or other intruder.
- Use a timer or photo electric cell that automatically turns a living room light on at dusk, particularly if you are going to be away at that time
- Leave a radio on with the volume turned low when leaving home, even for short periods
- Always close and lock garage doors
- Secure automatic garage door transmitter in glove compartment of your car
- Secure all obvious (and not so obvious) points of entry to your home. Pretend you are the burglar… stand outside your home and plan how you would get in; then install secure locks on all doors and windows
- Lock up all ladders, ropes, or tools that could help burglar gain entry
- Keep all shrubbery trimmed near your doors and windows–don’t provide concealment or climbing platforms for the burglar
- Brightly illuminate all entrances, preferably with vandal-proof fixtures
- Keep your grass cut, your leaves raked, etc. to indicate a well cared for and occupied home
- Empty your mailbox or arrange to have it emptied as soon as mail is delivered
- Install new locks when moving into an apartment or previously owned home
- Keep extra keys out of sight and in a safe place; never hide a key outside–most hiding places are obvious to burglars
- Avoid displaying valuable items near windows with open drapes or shades
- Never leave doors or windows unlocked when leaving home
- Display only your last name on your mailbox or nameplate
- Start a “buddy system” with your neighbors in order to watch each other’s homes
- Watch for “movers” or “repair people” at a house where no one is home
One of the most effective ways to educate Neighborhood Watch participants to protect their property is to arrange for detailed security inspections of their homes. The Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit can assist you in the effort and can provide WATCH members with home security inspection checklists so that preliminary surveys can be conducted by homeowners or block captains.
Volunteer inspectors should be carefully screened before being admitted to the program; they should receive intensive training and be required to make a detailed report on each inspection. It might be wise to have homeowners sign a disclaimer relative to these inspections.
- Don’t cancel your paper or mail deliveries; ask a trusted neighbor to pick the mail up every day
- Leave a key with a trusted friend or neighbor; ask that the house be checked periodically
- Have the drapes periodically opened and closed; and have different lights turned on and off so the house appears occupied
- Store all your valuables
- Consider asking trusted friends or relatives to live in your home while you are away
- Leave a car in the driveway, or ask neighbors to park in it
- Ask your neighbor to put some trash in your trash cans
Despite precautions, if intruders are determined to enter and burglarize your home, they can probably do so. However, burglars usually seek the easiest target–and you can take steps to make your home less vulnerable.
- Never give your personal information (name, age, address, etc.) to a stranger on the telephone
- Never let a stranger on the telephone know when you will or will not be home
- Never let a stranger on the telephone know you are home alone, instruct babysitters never to tell anyone who calls that they are home alone with children
- Teach children old enough to be left alone never to tell a stranger who telephones that parents are gone. Teach them to say, “My mom can’t come to the phone now. May I take a message?”
- Credit card/Social Security #, etc. Do not give out a credit card or social security number to someone whom you do not know or whom you did not call
- Consider having your telephone “put on vacation.” (Notify the telephone company approximately two weeks before your vacation or trip, and arrangements will be made for an operator or a recording to state that your telephone is temporarily out of order each time it rings)
- Use “call forwarding” if available in your area. (Call forwarding can give callers the impression that residents are home when they are actually away, by transferring your incoming calls to another telephone number. Your local phone company can provide you with further information