If watching the local news each evening is making you anxious, you’re not alone. Gallup recently discovered that 37 percent of Americans don’t feel safe walking home alone at night. If you’re a woman, that number jumps to 45 percent.

So what can you do to regain your confidence and make your neighborhood feel like the safe haven it should? One way to make your block or building complex feel extra secure is to establish a Neighborhood Watch program for your neighborhood. The official National Neighborhood Watch program was founded in 1972 with funding from the National Sheriffs’ Association, and they’ve been working with communities ever since to strengthen ties between citizens and law enforcement officials.

Starting a Neighborhood Watch program doesn’t have to be hard, and you might even find that it’s pretty fun to meet your neighbors and local police officers. It’s a great way to bring the community together and learn more about what — if any — specific risks you should be aware of in your neck of the woods. Here’s what you need to know to get started off on the right foot to make your program a success.

Your Neighborhood Watch

What it is: A Neighborhood Watch is, at its core, a group of citizens who work together to keep an eye on their community and report suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. The program can provide significant benefits to the communities – they boost awareness, communication and involvement, while reducing opportunities for neighborhood crime to occur. It’s more useful to think of the Neighborhood Watch as a group of residents maintaining a visible presence to deter crime before it even starts. In fact, according to the U.S. Justice Department, there’s a 16 percent decrease in crime in Neighborhood Watch communities. Think of the program as an extra set of eyes and ears to keep you and your neighbors safe.

What it’s Not: As a volunteer effort led by citizens who choose their own leaders either by election or on a rotating basis, a Neighborhood Watch is not a branch of the local police department, and members are not volunteer police officers or vigilante marshals. Neighborhood Watch members do not wear badges or carry weapons while on neighborhood watch duty.  A Neighborhood Watch is not a subsidiary of the Homeowners Association.  It’s important to note  that  any Neighborhood Watch effort should be conducted separately from an existing Homeowners Association (HOA). This will limit HOA members’ liability and avoid any conflicts of interest.

How To Get Started: Launching Your Neighborhood Watch In Five Steps

If you think your community could benefit from a Neighborhood Watch program, it’s easy to get started:

  1. Round Up the Troops: The more people you get involved in looking out for your community, the more successful your Neighborhood Watch program will be. Spread the word by chatting to your neighbors first to get a sense of the interest level. You can also try an online survey to gauge interest, set up an email blast or use old-fashioned flyers to announce your intentions and get people to sign up.
  2. Engage the Police: Remember, a Neighborhood Watch is designed to work with law enforcement, not replace it. Contact your local police department and let them know your intentions to start a local Neighborhood Watch chapter. Ask them for advice and to schedule a meeting with a representative who can share tips for success as well as the nitty-gritty details about crime and law enforcement efforts in your town. Ideally, a police officer or representative will be present at your first meeting to field questions and concerns.
  1. Develop an Action Plan: Use your first meeting as a learning tool to find out all you can about the history of crime in your neighborhood, and take any police advice to heart. From there, poll your membership about their biggest concerns and brainstorm possible solutions to problems — or ways to proactively make the neighborhood safer right now. If you end up with a long list of concerns, choose the top three to get started on to keep your group focused.
  1. Keep in Touch: The single biggest advantage that Neighborhood Watch programs offer is all the extra sets of eyes looking out for the greater good. To leverage that power, create a community map that includes contact information for all members. This is a great way to build trust and start working together from the get-go. Notice a strange car parked outside of the house across the street? Call to give them a heads-up. Want to let you neighbors know you’ll be away for a week? Send a group email asking them to check up on your place while you’re gone.
  1. Stay Active: As you decide what issues to work on in your action plan, it’s important to schedule regular meetings to continue getting to know each other and to assess your progress. You can also enhance your visibility in the community by hosting fun events like a block party or lecture series to get more people involved. Many Neighborhood Watch programs focus on education to help adults and kids alike learn new ways to stay safe.

Taking Your Neighborhood Watch To The Next Level

If you really want your Neighborhood Watch program to take off and have a positive impact on your community, try these suggestions for going the extra mile:

  • Offer Tasty Treats: Make your Neighborhood Watch meetings something to look forward to by supplying snacks. Consider a rotating sign-up to cover food and drink, or try a potluck meeting to make feeding a crowd a snap. Great food and drinks turn a meeting into a must-do event!
  • Enhance Communication: Consider publishing a monthly newsletter that lets your whole neighborhood know what the Neighborhood Watch has been up to. This is a great way to build recognition and maintain a welcoming presence for anyone who didn’t join at the start. You can provide seasonal tips and contact information to invite new members to your next meeting.
  • Spread The Love: Take advantage of community activities like local parades or charity events to build recognition for you group. Donate volunteer hours, build a float or sponsor a local youth sports team. Your Neighborhood Watch can be a positive force in your community for helping others, so don’t be afraid to think big!
  • Register Your Chapter: Make your work official by signing up with the National Neighborhood Watch organization. You’ll get a newsletter that provides tips and stories about Neighborhood Watch groups around the country to inspire your ongoing work. You can also get some official swag and find out more about getting Neighborhood Watch lawn, window and street signs for your community.

By taking the simple steps to start a Neighborhood Watch organization in your community, you can help everyone feel safe and secure for years to come. Getting a group effort off the ground doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does take commitment and a willingness to work together. These are the values that can make your hometown a much better place for everyone who lives there, so give those neighbors a call and get involved!

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