What is a Neighborhood Watch?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A neighborhood watch should have an emergency phone tree.
A neighborhood watch should have an emergency phone tree.

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.

Local law enforcement agencies often have a neighborhood watch outreach program.
Local law enforcement agencies often have a neighborhood watch outreach program.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@stormyknight- We also have a neighborhood watch program and it has been a huge success. Not only has the crime rate gone down, we have also enjoyed the social time with other members of our community. We hold our meetings once a month (unless there is an event that deems an earlier meeting) and we all bring finger foods. We communicate with one another through phone calls or e-mail and sign up for whatever food we are going to bring.

We hold our meetings at a church in our community and while the meeting is going on, our children have a great time playing together. It is a great time to get to know your neighbors while the children are making new friends.


@stormyknight- About three months ago, a neighborhood watch program was started in my community. I helped in the start-up and it has really worked out great. One of the first things that you need to do is make sure that you have a dedicated planning committee. Once you get these people together, you can then sit down and discuss what the most important issues that you want to address are. You also need to decide how you are going to communicate with the residents. The telephone trees are good ideas but we also use e-mail and fliers.

You also must pick a good location to hold your meetings. We use our local community center. Many churches will also allow you to use their buildings to hold community meetings. It is also a good idea to provide crime statistics at your first meeting to build support. You can talk to your local police department for that.


My next-door neighbor and I are interested in starting a neighborhood watch program. This article has some great information but I want to make sure that we do things right. Does anyone have any other tips on how to get started?

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