Practice Goals/Target Sites
Also known as block watch, apartment watch, home watch, and community watch, neighborhood watch programs involve citizens in efforts to prevent crime in their neighborhood or community. Citizens remain alert for suspicious activities and report those activities to the police. The most frequent crime targeted is residential burglary, but other offences can be targeted as well, such as street robberies, car theft, and vandalism.
Programs have been implemented in a variety of community settings and can be initiated by citizens or police. The popularity of these programs has grown since the 1980s. The 2000 British Crime Survey reported that approximately one quarter of English and Welsh households were involved in a neighborhood watch effort; the 2000 National Crime Prevention Survey reported that approximately 41 percent of American households lived in communities with neighborhood watch efforts (as cited in Bennett, Holloway, and Farrington 2008).
The size of the areas covered by watch programs can vary widely. Some of the smallest programs, or “cocoons,” include one dwelling and its immediate neighbors. Other programs include much larger areas with thousands of residents.
Neighborhood watch programs can have a variety of components, although the first three components listed below are the most commonly included elements.
The first is the “watch” component—that is, citizens are asked to watch for suspicious activities and report those activities to the police. The second major component is property marking—that is, residents are encouraged to permanently mark personal property items to indicate ownership. This tactic makes it harder for criminals to offload stolen goods. The third major component is the home security survey. Residents are encouraged to evaluate their property for weaknesses (such as poor locks) that would allow easy access by offenders or obscure an offender’s entry (such as overgrown bushes near windows).
Other components can include citizen patrols, educational programs for young people, victim support services, and increased police presence through foot patrols or auxiliary units.
For most programs, a block or street captain is named, who in turn reports to the block coordinator. The block coordinator serves as liaison between the program and local police department.
Funding for these programs varies considerably. Sometimes participants receive only information from the police; in other cases, program participants are allowed access to police facilities for meetings and to produce newsletters.
Several theories have been put forward to explain why neighborhood watch programs reduce crime.
- Visible surveillance acts as a deterrent to criminal activity by increasing an offender’s perception of the risk of being caught.
- Watch programs can lead to decreased opportunities for crime. One way of doing this is to create signs of occupancy when neighbors are away. This can be done by collecting newspapers and mail, mowing the lawn, and other activities that indicate the property is actively inhabited. Similar to visible surveillance, this increases an offender’s perception of the risk of being caught.
- Neighborhood watch programs can increase social control by increasing community cohesion and confidence that communities can address crime effectively.
- Increased police detection may lead to the incapacitation of offenders because activities reported by citizens can help the police make arrests and gain convictions.
- Target hardening through increased home security measures may make it harder for criminals to gain access to the property.
- Property marking removes the benefits of theft by making it harder to dispose of stolen goods.