National Institute of Justice National Institute of Justice. Research. Development. Evaluation. Office of Justice Programs
Home  |  Help  |  Contact Us  |  Site Map   |  Glossary
Reliable Research. Real Results.
Additional Resources:

Practice Profile

Neighborhood Watch

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Victimization - Multiple victimization outcomes

Practice Description

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.

Practice Components
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. 

Practice Theory
Several theories have been put forward to explain why neighborhood watch programs reduce crime.

  1. Visible surveillance acts as a deterrent to criminal activity by increasing an offender’s perception of the risk of being caught.
  2. 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.
  3. Neighborhood watch programs can increase social control by increasing community cohesion and confidence that communities can address crime effectively.
  4. Increased police detection may lead to the incapacitation of offenders because activities reported by citizens can help the police make arrests and gain convictions.
  5. Target hardening through increased home security measures may make it harder for criminals to gain access to the property.
  6. Property marking removes the benefits of theft by making it harder to dispose of stolen goods.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

top border
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Bennett and colleagues (2008) assessed 15 samples across the 10 studies that used police data for their evaluations. To determine the impact of neighborhood watch programs on crime, Bennett and colleagues determined odds ratios (ORs) adapted to accommodate place level analysis. The authors concluded that overall there was a positive impact on crime due to neighborhood watch programs. The weighted mean effect OR was 1.19 using the fixed effects model, which indicates that crime increased by 19 percent in the control area compared with the experimental area, or rather decreased by 16 percent in the experimental area compared with the control areas. This finding was statistically significant.
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Victimization - Multiple victimization outcomes
Bennett and colleagues (2008) assessed three samples across two studies that used self-report survey data for their evaluations. To determine the impact of neighborhood watch programs on victimization, Bennett and colleagues determined odds ratios (ORs). Overall there was no statistically significant impact on victimization due to neighborhood watch programs. The ORs for the study samples ranged from 0.51 to 2.38; one favored the treatment area and two favored the control area. The weighted mean effect OR was 1.14 using the fixed effects model, which indicates that crime increased by 14 percent in the control area compared with the experimental area, or decreased by 9 percent in the experimental area compared with the control areas. The lack of statistical significance is likely due to the small number of study samples used in the analysis (n=3).
bottom border

Meta-Analysis Methodology

top border
Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11977 - 1994120

Meta-Analysis 1

Bennett and colleagues (2008) conducted a comprehensive literature search for published and unpublished studies; all studies were in English. They searched for studies that evaluated programs that had implemented the “watch” component, either as a standalone intervention or in combination with other components of neighborhood watch programs (property marking and security surveys). They focused on programs implemented with residents living in neighborhoods. The studies included the following mechanisms:

  • Residents operated as the “eyes and ears” of the police
  • Residents reported suspicious behavior to the police or neighborhood coordinator
  • Residents interacted and worked together to solve problems

These criteria excluded studies of neighborhood wardens or citizen patrols. Outcomes of interest included crimes against residents, crimes against dwellings, and other street crimes occurring in the watch area.

The authors included studies that met the level 3 criteria of the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (Sherman and Eck 2002). For this project, this standard meant that studies needed to include before and after surveys and experimental and comparison areas. The authors identified 19 studies that covered evaluations of 43 separate neighborhood watch schemes; these were all included in a narrative review. For the meta-analysis, 12 studies were included, which covered 18 separate evaluations. The majority of the studies were published in the 1980s, with the earliest study published in 1977 and the most recent study published in 1990.

For the meta-analysis, the authors calculated odds ratios (ORs) tailored to place level analysis; that is, ORs were derived from frequencies or proportions to assess the extent of impact of neighborhood watch programs on crime. An OR of 1 indicates no effect; an OR greater than 1 indicate a possibly beneficial effect; and an OR of less than one indicates a possibly negative effect. The authors used weighted effect ORs to calculate the weighted mean effect OR using both a fixed effects model and a random effects model.

A moderator analysis was conducted that showed that the difference in ORs between studies with “matched” and “not matched” comparison areas was statistically significant (studies based on matched areas showed larger effect sizes). However, this was explained by the fact that the “not matched” comparison areas comprised the broader police area, and sometimes even the experimental area. The analysis showed that the type of data (police records or self-report surveys) had no impact on the effect sizes. The analysis also showed that there were no significant differences between programs that used the “watch” component as a standalone, compared with when it was part of a more comprehensive program. There were also no differences based on the size of the implementation area, and no differences stemming from the year of study publication. However, the analysis did indicate that some publication bias was present (i.e., while both types of studies were consistent in direction of findings, published evaluations tended to provide evidence of a stronger effect).

bottom border


top border
There is no cost information available for this practice.
bottom border

Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

top border
These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Bennett, Trevor, Katy Holloway, and David Farrington. 2008. “The Effectiveness of Neighborhood Watch”. Campbell Systematic Reviews 18.
bottom border

Additional References

top border
These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Holloway, Katy, Trevor Bennett, and David P. Farrington. 2008. Does Neighborhood Watch Reduce Crime? Crime Prevention Research Review No. 3. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Sherman, Lawerence W. and John Eck. 2002. “Policing for Crime Prevention.” L.W. Sherman, D.P. Farrington, B.C. Welsh, and D.L. MacKenzie (eds.). In Evidence-Based Crime Prevention. London, England: Routledge.
bottom border

Related Programs

top border
Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Operation Burglary Countdown Promising - One study
A community-based program to reduce residential burglary in targeted hotspot areas. The program is rated Promising. There were substantial reductions in residential burglaries in the treatment and surrounding buffer area, suggesting a diffusion of benefits. The number of residents burgled more than once within a 12-month period decreased, and there was an increase in feelings of safety in the one of the targeted areas.

Burglary Reduction (Hartlepool, England) Promising - One study
A crime prevention program designed to reduce burglary problems in high-crime residential areas. The program is rated Promising. The program led to a reduction in burglaries and repeat victimization in the target area.

Kirkholt (England) Burglary Prevention Project Effective - One study
A burglary reduction program that involved working with burglary victims, their neighbors, and potential offenders to remove opportunities and motivations to commit burglary. The Program is rated Effective. Researchers found that the bulk of the burglary rate reductions were achieved during the first part of the intervention and noted an increased percentage of burglary victims who were classified as “new” residents (one year or less). There was no evidence of crime displacement.

Safer Cities Programme (UK) Effective - More than one study
An initiative designed to reduce crime, fear of crime, and to create safer environments for economic and community life to flourish. The program is rated Effective. There was a reduction in burglary rates, burglary risk and the fear of burglary. For programs of moderate to high intensity, crime rates dropped in surrounding areas, while displacement was found more with the low-intensity programs.

Portland (OR) Burglary Prevention Project Effective - One study
A community crime-prevention program in Portland, Oregon, that used a combination of private prevention techniques and neighborhood prevention efforts to protect neighborhoods from burglary. The program is rated Effective. Homes that participated in the program had lower burglary rates than those that did not. The results indicate that there was a citywide decline in burglary rates that could possibly be attributed to the program.
bottom border

Practice Snapshot

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots, Other Community Setting

Practice Type: Community Awareness/Mobilization, Community Crime Prevention , Neighborhood Watch, Situational Crime Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Places