Start a Neighborhood Watch

Your neighborhood’s best defense against crime can be the very people who live and work there. Recruit them for a neighborhood watch with these three tips.

Many police and neighborhood watch veterans believe that active watch groups can make a neighborhood more desirable, which could raise property values. Image: Eric Audras/Getty Images

It’s all hands on deck to prevent crime, so you need your neighbors’ help to start a neighborhood watch program. But unless your neighborhood has enough crime to get everyone eager to do something about it, you may get only shrugs instead of support when you talk about forming a neighborhood watch.

Convince your neighbors to join by letting them know that property crimes—burglary, vandalism, and auto theft—make up 78% of criminal behavior in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Justice. To help combat these crimes, law enforcement supports neighborhood or block watches, organized groups of residents united against crime in their area.

If your neighbors are chummy, forming a group can be as easy as setting up a meeting with local law enforcement and letting everyone know what time to come. If not, put some knuckle power to work and go door-to-door talking about a neighborhood watch.

Here are three tips to recruit watchers:

1. Recruit with facts

Gather information about crime in your community from the police, your home owners or condo association manager, and residents. That way, if your neighborhood has experienced incidents while others nearby are relatively crime-free, you can ask prospective watchers where they think buyers will want to live.

Sources like CrimeReports and the police officer assigned to your neighborhood watch will tell you:

  • Which crimes are common?
  • When and where did they happen?
  • Are there patterns?

If your neighborhood includes stores and other businesses, owners and managers can provide valuable information about what goes on in the area around their store during the hours they’re open.

2. Ease fears

Residents who join your neighborhood watch won’t carry guns, and they don’t have to attend formal training. It’s not undercover work, so they won’t be hiding in the bushes in the dark. All members really need to do is be extra vigilant for suspicious incidents and report them to the police.

The police representative who comes to your first neighborhood watch meeting will explain what neighborhood watchers need to do.

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of advice online about how to form a neighborhood watch from the National Sheriffs’ Association and the National Crime Prevention Council.

3. Assure them it won’t take much time

Promise neighbors that the time commitment is minimal. They don’t have to walk the beat; they just need to keep their eyes and ears open and meet to discuss issues and problems maybe twice a year.

As a watch organizer, you can figure spending 10 hours a week for the first month, canvassing for members among residents, schools, houses of worship, and businesses.

Once you’ve recruited your watch, you’ll spend much less time managing it. Your routine monthly tasks:

  • Maintaining the membership’s contact information in a database
  • Passing along phone-tree messages

If you want to have a website, provides free templates for watch groups.

Done recruiting? Tell the bad guys you’ve got your eye on them by posting signs, deterrent decals and other crime-fighting warnings. Get them from the National Neighborhood Watch Institute, which sells a street sign, decals, and a program manual in its $48.95 starter kit.