Organizing Your Neighborhood Watch

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The following information of excerpted from the book Neighborhood watch 101. There is no single right way to organize a NW group. Depending on the requirements of local law enforcement, there might not be a lot of choice. No matter how your NW is set up, the organizational structure must take into account the needs of the community and law enforcement.

A traditional NW group will include a law enforcement officer or liaison to the group, an area coordinator who lives in the community, block captains spread throughout the community, and watch members. One of the final steps in forming and organizing a Neighborhood Watch is the desig-nation of leadership. These individuals will be responsible for the planning and coordinating activities. Watch leaders may be formal leaders elected by their peers or informal leaders who are simply the first to volunteer! As a Watch becomes more advanced, the members may form an advisory or executive board to make decisions for a larger area. It doesn’t matter how your Watch group is set up, as long as your community members are excited and effectively addressing the identified problems.

The Law Enforcement Liaison.  Traditionally, designated sworn officers or their non-sworn public service counterparts are assigned as liaisons or coordinators for Neighborhood Watch. Often these individuals are selected because of their previous crime prevention experience or training.

The Block Captain. Block captains are recommended for every 10-15 houses, and they should be directly involved with their immediate neighbors. The block captain’s responsibilities may include:

  • Acting as liaison between block residents and the coordinator
  • Compiling and distributing a current list of names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of block participants
  • Visiting and inviting new residents to join; notifying them of meetings and training sessions
  • Establishing an “Operation Identification” program. This is a nationwide program in which personal property is marked legibly with a unique identifying number to permit positive identification if valuables are lost or stolen.
  • Contacting each neighbor as often as possible to discuss possible crime problems, needs for assistance, and suggestions for program improvement.

The Neighborhood Watch Coordinator. The 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, email addresses, and vehicle descriptions
  • Acting as liaison between Watch members, officers, 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”

Citizens’ Advisory Board. Some law enforcement agencies and cities running large NW groups have arranged for a group of citizens to oversee the NW groups in a certain area. This is a good idea if the NW plans on fundraising, or if the number of groups is too overwhelming for the law enforcement liaison. The Board’s responsibilities include:

  • Neighborhood Watch group start-up assistance in other areas
  • Information, processing, training and recruiting of groups in non-represented areas
  • Maintaining communications between the Neighborhood Watch groups and the Board
  • Organizing advisory committees as needed
  • Supporting and organizing fundraising efforts in the community
  • Maintaining a relationship with law enforcement
  • Bringing emerging issues in the community to the attention of law enforcement and other government officials

Neighborhood Watch Members. In some neighborhoods, the need for a proactive Neighborhood Watch program will be evident because of the well-documented crimes or the acknowledged disorder that occurs in the community. In these neighborhoods, residents are usually ready and willing to mobilize and participate in the NW program. They often need little external motivation. The focus in these areas is usually more on leadership and organization.

However, in other neighborhoods the incidents or offenses may be less well known and the level of awareness among the residents may need to be increased. Under these circumstances the responsibility for raising the level of awareness falls upon the law enforcement liaison as well as the area coordinator.

The responsibility for the recruitment of volunteers usually falls to the Block Captains or Area Coordinators, but in some instances the officer may have to instruct these leaders on how to recruit new members.

 

Neighborhood Watch Titles and Positions

Once a core group of Neighborhood Watch volunteers has been identified, specific members may volunteer to take on leadership positions. In some instances, certain individuals may be reluctant to take on specialized roles within the group. The law enforcement officer may wish to interview and select certain key individuals to lead specific efforts.