None of us are sure, but it seems to us that it was decades ago that a US Department of Justice agency produced a neighborhood watch manual. See the latest version at: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/pdf/NSA_NW_Manual.pdf.
The National Sheriff’s Association has always had the National Neighborhood Watch Program and the National Crime Prevention Council has always offered some support for the concept and both are funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (of the USDOJ) but the national emphasis on neighborhood watch greatly declined since the 1980’s.
That’s a shame and an illustration that “fads” in crime control come and go. Yesterday’s hot topic is today’s dog in need of a home.
There were a few national evaluations showing declines in crime via neighborhood watch and a ton of police departments stated that neighborhood watch produced reductions in crime. Strong evidence suggested that fear of crime dropped considerably. Target hardening efforts (good doors, windows and locks) also worked to reduced burglaries and violent crime. Data indicated that clean neighborhoods and Operation Identification (marking valuables) all worked to reduce crime.
If they all worked so well, then what happened to the concept?
Some within the criminological community declared neighborhood watch inefficient. Evaluators stated that the programs only worked where they weren’t needed in middle class or stable neighborhoods (untrue). Many at the time felt that law enforcement efforts of any kind failed to reduce crime.
We wonder how many of those neighborhoods that fell to blight and crime could have greatly benefited from neighborhood watch programs and close interactions with law enforcement? Would our cities be vastly better off today if they continued to invest in neighborhood watch?
We wonder how many crimes and acts of violence and deteriorating neighborhoods could have been prevented?
The major problem with neighborhood watch back in the 1970’s was that we asked too much of the people involved; keeping programs going and citizens interested was a major challenge. All we had to do was to keep it simple. Simply asking citizens to protect their homes via target hardening (good locks and strong doors and windows) and communicating with law enforcement as to priorities and keeping a watch on the property and well being of others is all that was necessary. With today’s communication tools (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, smart phones) keeping everyone informed and interested should be easier than ever.
Neighborhood watch was the first community policing effort. Citizens and police worked together to solve crime problems. It was neighborhood democracy at its best. Cops spoke to citizens and saw them as partners; officers were not an occupying force.
So welcome back neighborhood watch. The concept seemed so silly to so many interested in larger social issues decades ago. We’re sure that the same people who felt that the concept simply got in the way of real crime prevention (i.e., anything that dealt with the root causes) will fuss with any resurgence.
So in the name of social progress, we allowed neighborhood watch to decline along with the hopes of endless thousands of neighborhoods now in a jam of blight and crime. Some living in safe-upper income neighborhoods sneered (at neighborhood watch and law enforcement efforts in general) and ordinary people and communities were hurt in the process.
Crime in America.Net