4 Steps To Creating A Neighborhood Watch

How To Start a Neighborhood Watch

House crime doesn’t start in the home.

It starts in the street.

Before forking out your hard earned money on a security system, realize that you can reduce crime in your area by as much as 26% by starting a neighborhood watch!

In this post, you will learn exactly how to start a neighborhood watch, in 4 easy steps!

But first I need to explain how a neighborhood watch benefits your community as a whole.

Benefits Of A Neighborhood Watch

Some of the benefits of a neighborhood watch are:

  • It brings communities together. People share information, start looking out for their neighbors and quickly spot vehicles and people who do not belong to the area.
  • People start to take ownership and responsibility for their own security – this makes a person less of a victim and depletes the victim mindset. This is even important from a trauma recovery perspective.
  • People that get involved in patrols start to see the neighborhood through the eyes of a patroller. With their new “security eyes” they start to become more vigilant and start to see the importance of security measures such as creating lighting in the yard area.
Benefits of Neighborhood Watch

Now that you are aware of some of the benefits, here are the 4 steps to creating your own neighborhood watch:

How To Start A Neighborhood Watch

1. Recruit People

It is said that neighborhood watches bring communities together. The truth is that every community is made up of three groups of people.

  • Those that will go the extra mile. This will become the core group, they will lead the initiative. Their cohesiveness is critical to the success of the initiative.
  • Those that will contribute when they can. These community members will fit into patrols and may rotate in and out of the scheme as time, impetus and energy is available.
  • Those that freeload. Some people simply won’t assist. Under a mask of denial or resentment, they are willing to continue their lives while gaining the security benefit provided by active members of the community. Maybe this is because they don’t believe in the process, or they don’t like what the neighbor in the brick-walled house who’s tree fell on the wall seven years ago. The point is you should expend a limited amount of energy on this group. There are more important battles to win.
Neighborhood Watch

You need to collect as many people as possible. As time goes by, membership will dwindle. People will move out of the neighborhood, change jobs or lose interest.

New homeowners need to be encouraged to join and enthusiasm needs to be reinvigorated in old inactive members. Operational meetings can be important but often seem like a drag to the busy and harassed.

Community events such as fun days, picnics and greenbelt walks are a critical part of this process. Training is another valuable process, people leave with a skill, and training promotes cohesiveness within the team. The principle is simple, social cohesion reverses social corrosion.

2.  Pick Your Time and Place (How To Boost Your Success)

People willing to participate are always going to be a scarce resource. Patrol times are often not convenient. They clash with family time and interfere with sports fixtures.

As the year closes, crime patterns often increase while time and energy reserves are low. It may not always be possible to have a regular weekly patrol.

Furthermore, crime trends will change according to three criteria:

  1. When the crimes take place: days of the week and times of the day.
  2. Where the crimes take place: frequent hot spots created by weak property infrastructure or convenient surveillance and escape routes.
  3. How the crime takes place: common methods of committing the crime in your area (what the security pro’s call the “MO” or modus operandi).
Crime Watch

When choosing the right times and dates for patrols, you should analyze these crime trends. If crime generally strikes at a certain time of day, that might be the perfect time to schedule a patrol. This will boost the success of your crime watch.

This will tell you:

  • When is the best day of the week and time of day to run patrols? Scratch off the unlikely time slots so that you don’t waste precious time.
  • Where do the highest number of patrols need to take place to deter opportunistic crime? Why waste energy driving in a place where the criminals can’t see you? Visibility is an important part of the patrol’s success. Don’t let the veteran talk you into all that camo and black ops stuff.

How can neighborhood watch members patrol in the safest way that will disrupt the most criminal activity? (Click here to read an article I wrote about how to conduct a safe community patrol)

3. Use Social Media

Social media is an inevitable phenomenon in our communities. Rather than just letting it happen, it’s something that needs conscious planning and management.

There are a number of platforms available such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram, a dedicated website can also be useful. We recommend one that is smartphone focused so that watch members can use it at home or on patrol.

The app should also have a push to talk function, which can be used to substitute a two-way radio system.

Smartphone apps for crime fighting is a subject on its own, below are a few basic rules to make your use of social media successful:

  • Create a strict set of rules for members. Community members should understand the purpose of the group. The rules should be clear on the posting of pictures and videos and whether the dreaded emoticons are permitted.
  • Chatter should be limited (no annoying emojis).
  • Assign one person to administer the group
  • Encourage the reporting of suspicious behavior, such as strange vehicles or pedestrians in the area. This functions to alert other community members and creates a record of events around the neighborhood.

4.  Take Ownership (How to Lead a Neighborhood Watch)

No battle was ever won without effective leadership. The leadership of a neighborhood watch may be up to one central figure or may be shared by two people. Who should this person be?

In Extreme Ownership How US. Navy Seals Lead and Win, authors Jocko Willink and Leif Babin explain that a leader needs to be a “true believer” of the mission and that the leader needs to believe in the “greater cause”.

This is essential because at some point the leadership of a community scheme is going to be tested. Personality clashes are bound to happen. People lose impetus or opinions of how a scheme should run may differ.

Someone is going to have to smooth the egos and align people to the mission. If you have decided to be this person, then consider the following:

Design the scheme for success:

Use your start-up team to decide what an optimal neighborhood watch for your suburb would be. Then reverse engineer this process.

Set the tone:

As the leader, you set the tone and culture of the scheme. If you are authoritarian and reactionary you are most likely to irritate your members, some of which who run families or businesses. Alternatively, people will follow a calm person who is willing to communicate and take responsibility for the process.

Define a simple mission:

What is the goal of your neighborhood watch? When conflicts arise use this to realign people’s perspectives. What is the simple truth that has brought you all together?

Create a code of conduct:

Each member needs to sign a code of conduct.This should include the mission and the objectives of the watch. It creates rules of engagement and guidelines for the treatment of people in the neighborhood. The last thing you want is a person who has misunderstood the mission and feels this is his opportunity for some “good ole” vigilante action.

Prioritize and execute:

Once patrols are up and running, new issues will arise, there may even be times when you need to make snap operational decisions.

Willink and Babin use the principle of “prioritize and execute” to assist in the decision-making process. In short, you need to establish which is the highest priority issue and find a simple and direct solution that members of the team can execute.

Keep your enemies close:

There is always going to be that irritating individual in the group. You know, the one who was in the much better neighborhood watch group before he moved to this suburb.

The problem is that this person has the ability to derail the good work that has already been done. Polar explorer Ernest Shackleton used a famous maneuver, he quarantined a particularly negative member of the group by keeping him in his team. In this way, he prevented the man from damaging the group’s much needed morale.

It’s a good idea to patrol in pairs, especially in high crime areas. You may need to take one for the team and patrol with this person or assign him to a mature member of the group that is less likely to be affected by his negativity.


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Maps! – Your Essential Tool for a Successful Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch Crime Map

In a study of 36 neighbourhood watch schemes, 56% showed a positive outcome in terms of crime reduction. With the effort of creating a neighbourhood watch scheme, you want to give it the best chance of success – enter maps!

This may not seem like the most important tool for a neighborhood watch. At face value I would agree with you. Surely you would want flash lights, vehicles and a bunch of cool security gadgets, not to mention the ever-popular two-way radio? Yes, these are all tools that allow a neighborhood watch to perform its tasks (click here for a detailed discussion on this topic).

But let’s take a strategic look at your suburb’s safety. Considering the amount of effort that goes into putting a neighborhood watch scheme together; you want to ensure that you are getting the most bang for your buck.  Here are some questions that need answering: Are you patrolling in the right place? Are your patrols having an effect on the local crime?

How Maps are Used

Obviously the most fun kind of maps are treasure maps. The exciting big red X marks the spot. Who wouldn’t want one, or maybe even ten, of those? But maps don’t only show the location of treasure chests. With the advent of electronic and online mapping techniques, a multitude of uses have emerged. This includes directing us from A to B in the car, or finding the closest hospital. Better yet; the local pizza joint (another kind of treasure).

Maps are a powerful way to represent spatial information. Take a road trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa (it’s a worthwhile holiday destination). A quick mapping exercise tells us that it’s a 1398-kilometre drive (that’s 868 miles for those of you who have not been lucky enough to grow up with the metric system). The map will show you that you are going to travel in a southwest direction. It will show you how many towns you will travel through and the attractions on route. It even shows that you will travel through a desert before emerging into green winelands.

But while you are holidaying in the Fair Cape, you want to know that you have not had some unwelcomed house guests and your TV stays just where you left it. So how do we make maps that will help keep your TV out of the hands of a greedy pillager?

Space Age Maps

Maps can be drawn by hand just like your childhood treasure maps. You may quickly jot down a map on a piece of paper, while taking directions down on the phone.

Luckily for us, with the increase in technology, maps can now be made using a variety of computer programs. These are commonly known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As the name suggests, these systems represent geographic information (the position of a thing on Earth or in space) in picture format.

In other words, a map. Since 2005, Google Maps and cellular technology have made the use of GIS very popular, if not essential. New uses of GIS and maps are continuously being identified, from mapping locations of street art (and categorising the good from the bad), to processing satellite imagery for crop growth and harvest volume predictions. The truth is, the only real limitation to modern maps is the imagination of the user.

Mapping crime

Let’s have a closer look at crime. In the context of mapping, we are saying that crime is spatial in nature.  Each incident takes place at a specific location, at a time or in a time frame with an unfortunate outcome. In some instances, the outcome is less severe such as a car theft. In the event of a home invasion or murder the result is devastating. Let’s add a few more variables. Were there other incidents connected to this incident? Was a specific modus operandi used? Is there a specific region that keeps getting hit?  Unless your brain is like a super computer, it is difficult to accurately place each crime in space relative to one another.

Mental Maps

To add a little complication to the issue, it turns out that perception is a powerful thing. When you start your neighbourhood watch you are going to have to decide how your patrols take place. The last piece of advice you need is something like: “We need to get lots of patrols down Francolin Street because that’s where all those foreigners live”.  This leaves you with a few options:

  1. Let your patrollers drive where ever they like and hope for the best results.
  2. Let your patrollers patrol in the areas that worry them the most and hope that they are right.
  3. Patrol all the streets because that’s what makes people feel safer.
  4. Apply some science to the system by adding extra patrols into hot spots and criminal infiltration areas.

Researchers Natalie Lopez and Chris Lukinbeal, report that there are various studies showing that there is a difference between where crime actually happens and where people perceive that crime happens. This applies to citizens and even to the police. People create what is called a “mental map”. This is a type of mentally visualised Google Earth, complete with images, locations and street names. However, mental maps don’t only include locational data. Like the old treasure maps that got you excited as a 10-year-old want to be pirate, they include emotional metadata. This often manifests as an “impression” of where an event takes place.  These maps are often informed by various events, biases and emotions. Certain publications also supply mental maps with data, including social media posts, the press or crime data that is supplied to the police.  

Studies into this phenomenon have shown that there are differences between where residents and police perceive crime hotspots. Yup, the pro’s also get it wrong.  In a paper titled “Chasing Ghosts? Police Perception of High Crime Areas”, researchers Ratcliffe and McCullagh describe how the type of crime and even the emotional effect of a crime can influence a policeman’s perception of a high crime zone. While the academics delve into this mystery, you are on holiday and worrying about the safety of your TV.  You want your neighbourhood watch to get the best results for your efforts. Enter maps and GIS.

Crime maps for your suburb

By creating a map containing all the locations of all the crime events, it is possible to very accurately, start understanding the relationship between crimes and their spatial position. A pattern then starts to unfold. For example, two crimes have taken place. One happened at 35 de Beer Road and the other at 65 Crystal Road. This is useful information, as we know that two crimes have occurred and where they occurred. Once a map is employed, it is possible to see that 35 de Beer Road is directly across a greenbelt area from 65 Crystal Road. Then comes the lightbulb moment: Everyone knows that houses along greenbelts are targeted more frequently. It’s easy to escape down the greenbelt with the bounty.

This leads to the next question: Are there any other spatial patterns that can be identified by developing a map? And the most important question is: Can we start identifying hot crime areas and target these areas for extra neighbourhood watching? By increasing presence and awareness in the neighbourhood through effectively identifying soft target spots and crime patterns, the crime in the area can be reduced.

Let’s have a look at an example.

The Murdersdrift Case Study

My folks live in small sector of the infamous Murdersdrift area. Actually, it’s called Muldersdrift, but due to the large murder count, cynical residents adopted its new nickname.

During 2013 and 2014 there was an increase in violent criminal activity in Muldersdrift. The area is composed of miles of open grassland, interspersed with large plots, or agricultural holdings. Most properties have poor fencing, unkempt dirt roads and are serviced by a struggling local police station. Security companies are active, but struggle to cover enough ground to monitor and provide a significant security presence. Facing a spate of murders, a sector of the community opted to initiate a neighbourhood watch scheme. Luckily, the community had members with experience in the security and military industries amongst their number. This helped to set up best practice strategies and safety precautions.  

The team decided that a communication network and a rotation schedule for patrolling was a good starting point. They also started asking questions such as:

  • Are there places that get hit most often?
  • Can we see any patterns emerging with time?
  • If we do more patrols in areas that get hit a lot, will the crime incidents reduce?

The team suspected that the answers to these questions may yield some interesting and important results.

The next step was to get data.

Step 1: Collect the data

To start the process, the team began recording as much information as possible about each crime incident. The most crucial piece of information that needed to be present was the location (GPS position) of the crime. Other information recorded included the time of day, date, type of crime, etc. The team recorded anything they could think of that may be of value.

Step 2: Represent the crime spatially

Because the GPS location of the crimes were recorded, a map showing the crimes could be made using GIS (Map 1). This map showed the team that there were places that had a higher concentration of crimes (as they suspected).

After hours of diligent patrols and data collection, the team started noticing certain patterns. One of which was that most of the crimes happened to people living along unfenced open areas and the river (Map 2). Immediately, all these vulnerable places were identified and placed in the map. Then the next bright idea hit! What about roads? Are there more crimes where there is better road access (for entry and high-speed escape)? And what about footpath access?

Step 3: Identify a pattern

Slowly a picture was emerging.

The team began plotting more and more things on their trusty maps. They started analysing the type of crime to see if it was location specific or maybe time of day specific (Map 3). Did houses with dogs get less crime than houses that have no dogs?

“How about the phase of the moon?” someone asked”. “Are more crimes happening when its new moon and therefore darker outside?”

There was an explosion of maps. Happily, none of them had to be drawn by hand thanks to the ever useful GIS.

As the GIS was utilised more and more, the functionality of the GIS map making programme was investigated and aggregate maps were created. Heat maps were discovered with the help of the all-knowing Google (Map 4). Filters and classifications were applied to the data. A second explosion of maps came about. At one point there were so many maps, the torches got lost under the pile.

Step 4: Create a prevention strategy

Eventually after sticking maps up like wallpaper, the team got their permanent markers out and started drawing links to common locations and having mini eureka moments. Hot spots were identified. Times when crimes were most likely to occur were identified. The team created a schedule that fitted into their predictive analysis of when and where they thought crimes would happen. In the neighbourhood, the crime dropped. Surrounding areas without such diligent methods continued on the trajectory of rising criminal activity.

The team also added some good old-fashioned prep to the scheme. This included first aid kits, radio and safe patrol procedures.

Step 5: Happy neighbourhood

The knowledge of the team combined with the power of maps allowed for an effective solution to a deadly problem. Since this time, the sector has been one of the safest in the region and the residents could get on with the day to day wonders of country life including fires, snakes and the occasional noisy party.

References & further reading

Bennett, T., Holloway, K., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). A Review of the Effectiveness of Neighbourhood. Security Journal. doi:10.1057/palgrave.sj.8350076

Johnson, C. P. (2000). Crime Mapping and Analysis Using GIS. Conference on Geomatics in Electronic Governanace. Pune : Geomatics Group .

Lopez, Natalie; Lukinbeal , Chris. (2010). Comparing Police and Residents’ Perceptions of Crime in a Phoenix. Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers,, 72, 33 -55. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/24043341.pdf

Ratcliffe, J. H., & McCullagh, M. J. (2001). Chasing Ghosts? Police Perceptioln of High Crime Areas. Brit.J.Crimnol, 41, 300-341. Retrieved from http://www.jmu.edu/icle/pdf_files/Applied%20Research/Towards%20an%20Information%20Driven%20Organization/Chasing%20Ghosts%20-%20Police%20Perception%20of%20Hgh%20Crime%20Areas.pdf

Rosenberg, M. (2018, October 06). What is a Mental Map? Retrieved from ThoughtCo.: https://www.thoughtco.com/mental-map-definition-1434793


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