A neighborhood watch is a formal organization of individuals living in the same area who want to reduce the crime rate while increasing personal safety and the connections between neighbors. In many urban areas, neighborhood watch organizations keep an eye on the city from block to block, working together to make neighborhoods and the city in general more safe. Usually, a neighborhood watch is allied with a city law enforcement organization, and will post signs around the neighborhood to alert people to the fact that a neighborhood watch is active in the area.
In addition to serving as a safety watchdog, a neighborhood watch also organizes disaster preparedness and other neighborhood events in many regions. Especially in urban areas, where people tend to live very disparate lives, a neighborhood watch can help to bring neighbors together and foster positive relationships between them. Members of a neighborhood watch may agree to watch each other's children or pets, bring elderly members of the community to medical appointments, or run errands for each other in time of need. Thus, a neighborhood watch enhances the quality of life for all the people in the community.
The first step in organizing a neighborhood watch is gathering the support of the neighbors. Usually this is accomplished by going door to door and networking. After at least half of the houses in the area have expressed an interest, an organization which partners with neighborhood watch groups can be contacted, and will help the community take things to the next level. A meeting is held in someone's home, during which a representative will talk about the requirements for being in a neighborhood watch, which include regular meetings, participation of 51% or more of households on the block, and the establishment of an emergency phone tree and neighborhood map.
Once the neighborhood watch is established and signs are posted, neighbors work together to keep an eye on each other's homes. When anything suspicious or out of the ordinary is noticed, members of the watch will contact each other or law enforcement, if necessary. In addition, neighbors set up a disaster plan and network with each other to provide a supportive group of individuals who are willing to help each other.
When working with law enforcement, a neighborhood watch is a very effective tool, especially in regions where law enforcement response to issues is normally slow. By calling on behalf of the watch, a citizen can be more powerful than if he or she calls as an individual. Police tend to be more responsive in areas where they know that the whole neighborhood cares, as will other city officials. Areas with a neighborhood watch can get their streets swept more often and have a quicker public works response on issues like fallen trees, potholes, and similar problems.