/Neighborhood Watch Programs
Neighborhood Watch Programs
by Michael E. Bregman, AICP Also known as Citizens On Patrol (COPs), Neighborhood watch programs represent a means that many communities utilize to make their streets safer. These groups work directly with police and sheriffs' departments by patrolling streets and reporting criminal activity and other situations requiring attention. Although not a singular solution to crime, they have helped to reduce crime rates in many communities and have raised standards of living. Many attribute the growth of the program as a reaction to a lack of concern by passers-by to crime. In addition, American streets are often unpopulated due to a lack of mixed use. In short, an occupied street is safer than one without people. Without people walking to stores or other uses streets often lack people. While not a complete substitute, Neighborhood Watch helps to fill that void. Groups consist of volunteers from neighborhoods who feel a need to contribute to overall quality of life. They receive official sanction from police departments. They often also receive formal training and radios. Typically, watch participants travel in pairs or small groups using private automobiles, however many also walk. Some who prefer not to leave their homes, also participate in "window watcher" programs in which they watch streets from their windows and report any unusual occurrences. Participants do not directly act in preventing incidents, but report them to police departments who then dispatch uniformed officers. Essentially, they function as extra "eyes" for the police. Although reporting criminal activity comprises the major part of watch programs, much depends on the particular issues found in communities. Activities in depressed commercial areas may include assisting homelessness workers, reporting other incidents of people found in difficult situations to the police who may then relay the report to appropriate authorities. One example occurred when a pair of women entered a garage to retrieve their car and then the garage closed while they were still inside, trapping them. The Citizens on Patrol heard their cries for assistance and relayed them to the police who then were able to order a crane that lifted them out of the garage. Participants have gained from their experience in this activity and focus on a few points in addition to patrolling. First, they emphasize meeting regularly, as meetings help participants stay connected to each other and they also feel that they help manage the program instead of only serving within it. They also stress the importance of recruiting new members by holding meetings where residents live and even going door-to-door. Sponsoring neighborhood cleaning programs also helps to involve people, while raising the image of the area and thereby encouraging residents to care for their streets. These groups comprise valuable resources to communities. They increase safety, assist police departments, and act in other ways when needed. Due to the success of these groups they have become common across the United States. Michael E. Bregman is a city planner residing in Israel. He was formerly employed as Senior Planner by the Miami-Dade County Department of Planning and Zoning and is also the former chairperson of the American Planning Association Gold Coast Section.