I just moved into a new apartment building, and on one of my first nights in the place, I awoke to strange sounds. Unfortunately, I ignored them—in an urban area, hearing something out of the ordinary is actually quite … ordinary—and went back to sleep, but the next morning, I left my apartment to find a crime scene in the stairwell. A woman had been raped the previous night, and I might have been able to stop it had I been more vigilant and called the police at the first sign of disturbance.
In all kinds of communities—both urban and suburban—persuading neighbors to band together in a crime watch is key to protecting one another and keeping the neighborhood safe.
A neighborhood crime watch can save lives. Consider this story, for example, from Detroit, reported by ClickonDetroit.com.
Valerie Russell and Robin Hudson, two volunteers helping to patrol their east-side neighborhood through their community watch program, Maintaining a Neighborhood (MAN), rescued a teenage girl being attacked in a garage one Thursday morning in January 2010. The thirteen-year-old told police that she was walking to school when a man drove up, got out of his car, and pulled her into a garage behind an abandoned home. Hudson and Russell heard the girl calling for help while out on their morning patrol and decided to investigate.
“He was holding onto her and she was fighting to get loose and it was like she was fighting for her life, literally,” said Hudson. “She was distraught, she was shaking so bad that when I touched her I shook from her shaking.”
“She was terrified when I saw her,” added Russell.
As the two women comforted the girl, the unidentified man walked back to his car and drove off. Even though he was never caught, the rescue was successful. “…We made that difference,” said Hudson. “We were in the right place at the right time …”
Hudson, Russell, and that young girl understand the importance of vigilant community members’ keeping watch over the neighborhood. The rest of us should take a page out of their book before it’s too late.
Mark Your Territory
Hudson and Russell were patrolling an urban area with a history of violent crime, but a community watch program is really appropriate for any kind of neighborhood, urban or suburban. After all, crime can happen anywhere, and you don’t know where or when until it occurs. It’s better to be safe and proactive than sorry.
According to USAonWatch.org, the Neighborhood Watch Program from the National Sheriffs’ Association, starting a neighborhood watch in your area entails only five simple steps:
- Recruit and organize as many of your neighbors as you can. You can do this through flyers at local grocery stores and schools, on Craigslist, and simply through word of mouth.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency (your neighborhood’s police precinct, for example) and schedule a meeting.
- Discuss community concerns and develop an action plan. You may want to come up with an organizing structure to regulate the flow of meetings. Total democracy doesn’t usually work very well, so designate a president and other officers (by election or appointment) to help make sure that the group sticks to meeting agendas and that each member gets equal time to speak.
- Hold regular meetings and train. Local law enforcement officials can help with this part, as can national organizations like the National Neighborhood Watch Institute and the National Crime Prevention Council.
- Implement a phone tree and take action steps. Put your plan to work. Get members out on patrol, and make sure everyone knows what his or her role is.
Starting a community organization may seem daunting at first, but once you get some momentum going, the watch will take on a life of its own. And the safety and security of the community will make all of your efforts worthwhile.
Sleep Soundly Tonight
I have to admit, since the rape in my apartment building, I’ve been really nervous whenever I’m home alone or out walking after dark. Even though I still consider my neighborhood relatively safe, the incident reminded me that violent crimes can happen anywhere, and that we need to be on guard at all times. It would be nice to know that my neighbors had one another’s safety in mind by working to prevent crime in my community through a watch program.