Neighborhood Watch is one of the oldest and most effective crime prevention programs in the country, bringing citizens together with law enforcement to deter crime and make communities safer. Port Jervis Police Department and the Port Jervis City Wide Neighborhood Watch is an example of an effective community partnership dedicated to preventing and detecting crime and disorder, solving problems and developing solutions, and improving the quality of life for the residents of our community. The Port Jervis Neighborhood Watch program is an effective crime fighting tool relying on the observant skills of our community watch members to report suspicious activity. Currently, organized watch groups are active either at the individual, street, neighborhood or ward level throughout the city.
The Port Jervis Police Department does not advocate watch members taking any action when observing suspicious activity in their neighborhood. Community members only serve as the extra “eyes and ears” and should report their observations of suspicious activities to their local law enforcement. Trained law enforcement should be the only ones ever to take action; citizens should never try to take action on those observations.
What is Neighborhood Watch?
In essence, Neighborhood Watch is a crime prevention program that stresses crime prevention education teaching citizens how to protect themselves by identifying and reporting suspicious activity in their neighborhoods. In addition, it provides citizens with the opportunity to make their neighborhoods safer and improve the quality of life. Neighborhood Watch groups typically focus on observation and awareness as a means of preventing crime and employ strategies that range from simply promoting social interaction and “watching out for each other” to promoting crime prevention education and distributing public safety information.
Most neighborhood crime prevention groups are organized around a block or a neighborhood and are started with assistance from a your local police department. Volunteers who donate their time and resources are typically at the center of such programs, since many do not have a formal source of funding. All Neighborhood Watches share one foundational idea: that bringing community members together to reestablish control of their neighborhoods promotes an increased quality of life and reduces fear and the crime rate in that area. Restoring a ‘sense of neighborhood” and reducing fear is precisely what Neighborhood Watch strives to do through the collective actions of citizens, community officials and police. The reason for this effectiveness is rather simple: Involving community members in watch programs decreases opportunities for criminals to commit crime rather than attempting to change their behavior or motivation.
Neighborhood Watch programs generally followed one or both of two approaches: “opportunity reduction” or “social problems.” Whereas the “opportunity reduction” approach focuses on crime reduction, the “social problems” approach typically revolves around addressing certain issues in the neighborhood that may be linked with higher levels of crime. To address these social problems, programs that target youth, such as athletic activities, drug prevention programs, tutoring, and after school activities are often offered. The main goal of these programs is to provide young people with alternatives and positive activities that not only occupy their time, but also provide them with opportunities to increase their skills and their self-image
Neighborhood Watch can trace its roots back to the days of colonial settlements, when night watchmen patrolled the streets. The modern version of Neighborhood Watch was developed in response to requests from sheriffs and police chiefs who were looking for a crime prevention program that would involve citizens and address an increasing number of burglaries.
Launched in 1972, Neighborhood Watch counts on citizens to organize themselves and work with law enforcement to keep a trained eye and ear on their communities, while demonstrating their presence at all times of day and night. Neighborhood Watch works because it reduces opportunities for crime to occur and strives to build and strengthen communities.
Tips For Watch Members:
- Be observant of suspicious activity: Write down what you see and hear. Providing details about suspicious activity great assists when reporting to police.
- Work with the law enforcement. These agencies are critical to a Watch group’s credibility and are the source of necessary information and training.
- Link up with your victims’ services organizations in the community office to get your members trained in helping victims of crime and to build partnerships.
- Hold regular meetings to help residents get to know each other and to decide upon program strategies and activities.
- Canvass door-to-door to recruit members.
- Ask people who seldom leave their homes to be “window watchers,” looking out for children and reporting any unusual activities in the neighborhood.
- Translate crime and drug prevention materials into Spanish or other languages needed by non-English speakers in your community. If necessary, have a translator at meetings.
- Sponsor a crime and drug prevention fair at a church hall, temple, shopping mall, or community center.
- Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check police reports, conduct victimization surveys, and learn residents’ perceptions about crimes. Often, residents’ opinions are not supported by facts, and accurate information can reduce the fear of crime.
- Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant lots contribute to crime. Know where to report these conditions and sponsor cleanups, encourage residents to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights at night.
- Work with small businesses to repair rundown storefronts, clean up littered streets, and create jobs for young people.
- Emphasize that Watch groups are not vigilantes and should not assume the role of the police. Their duty is to ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring—and to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.
Starting and Maintaining a Neighborhood Watch
Start a Group: Get to know your neighbors, form partnerships, strengthen the community.
So what does it take to start and maintain an effective Neighborhood Watch Program?
- First, strategies that address the problems in a given area must be mapped out. From the beginning stages of a Neighborhood Watch effort, it is essential to incorporate neighborhood involvement and identify ways to deal with the crime patterns of that area.
- The second step involves building a partnership between law enforcement officers and residents. This is not always an easy hurdle to overcome since citizens are often angry with law enforcement for not doing anything about the crime problem in their community. For a Neighborhood Watch program to be successful, it is essential that officers understand the needs of a neighborhood and work as role models for neighborhood crime prevention efforts.
- The third step is to assess the needs of a given neighborhood. In many cases, law enforcement and community members do not have the same focus. For instance, law enforcement may be focusing their attention on a problem that the neighborhood is not concerned about, such as attempting to address major crimes throughout the city. On the other hand, community members may be more concerned about crimes such as bicycle thefts or graffiti, which are considered minor from a police standpoint. Effective Neighborhood Watch programs unite law enforcement and residents and encourage them to collectively determine what problems should be addressed and how.
- Next, selecting and training an active body of volunteers that are led by organized and motivated leaders is critical. Without motivation and organization, volunteers may be uninspired to participate and quit out of frustration.
- The fifth and final step is to develop meaningful projects. Often, after a Neighborhood Watch has addressed its original issue, members lose interest. It is important for leaders to remain enthusiastic. One way to accomplish this is to create and embark upon new projects so that there is always a goal towards which the team is aspiring. Projects may include building a neighborhood playground or painting over graffiti, for instance.
Even with all of these steps in place, success does not happen overnight. Creating truly effective Neighborhood Watch programs takes patience, planning, and enthusiasm. Since studies show that once a Neighborhood Watch program deteriorates, criminals notice and quickly resume illegal activities, there is certainly motivation to strive towards success.
Neighborhoods are not the only places that need crime control. Organizations, and even entire industries, are also taking notice of the importance of programs like Neighborhood Watch. In addition to neighborhoods, where people work, shop, and play are the focus of much criminal activity. Oftentimes, however, there are not enough law enforcement officers to cover an area, so it is important that residents, workers, and others who are in the area work to support that area and reduce crime just as if it were a residential neighborhood.
Neighborhood Watch groups can be organized to tailor the needs of your street, neighborhood, ward, business district, school, and entire community. There are many ways in which the Neighborhood Watch concept can be put to use. One of the most important elements is ensuring that every person involved knows what to do when suspicious activity is noticed and the importance of providing timely reporting of this information to law enforcement.
Remember, When you see or hear something suspicious…report it…
Together, law enforcement and citizens can build partnerships to promote public safety and build a stronger community.
If you would like to start or participate as a neighborhood watch member, please contact the Port Jervis Police Department at 845-858-4065. Sgt. Kara Angeloni serves as a crime prevention officer within the department and liaison to the neighborhood watch program. Sgt. Angeloni can be contacted via phone at 845-856-5101 or through the contact an officer page located here.