Celebrating the Success of 40 years of Neighborhood Watch

By Robbi Woodson, USAon Watch, National Neighborhood Watch

     The National Sheriff’s Association has supported local law enforcement in their efforts to build and encourage local community participation through Neighborhood Watch for the last 40 years.  Using the pillars of observation and reporting groups throughout America, Neighborhood Watch has reduced crime and built stronger neighborhoods.  Currently, more than 25,000 watch groups are active with greater than a million volunteers covering the U.S. according to our USA on Watch database.  The key to the success of Neighborhood Watch is the continued willingness of neighbors to help each other build a better community.

In 2002, NSA partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice to expand the program to incorporate terrorism awareness, emergency preparedness, and all hazards traiing into the mission.  An expanded mission gave way to an expanded title for the national program, USAonWatch-National Neighborhood Watch Program.  Time-tested practices such as “eyes-and-ears” training and target-hardening techniques continue to be at the core of the program.  As watch groups continue to grow, the roles of citizens have become more multifaceted and tailored to local needs.

The basic principles behind the Neighborhood Watch program have been ingrained in much of society for hundreds of years. Americans have a need and willingness to give back to their community, what better way than to start where they live.  “Often groups and volunteers are spurred to action as a direct result of the impact crime had on their own sense of safety” according to Chris Tutko, Director of USAonWatch Neighborhood Watch.  He went on to say “it is important to people that they have a sense of safety in their homes and neighborhoods which is why groups are started.”  The program empowers citizens to develop vital community relations when crime or natural disaster has impacted a neighborhood, which is why more than 5,000 local law enforcement agencies actively support the program.

Building on the successes demonstrated by Neighborhood Watch groups, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany are just a few of the countries with active programs like the U.S.  As a direct result of the programs wide reach and notability, the U.S. Military has worked hard to incorporate the idea of Neighborhood Watch in the community outreach efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite changes in society over the past 40 years, Neighborhood Watch-USAonWatch is one concept that has remained strong throughout the years.  The longevity of Neighborhood Watch is attributed to the fact that the program is flexible to suit the needs of the community, and can be adapted to any environment (e.g., Cab Watch, Campus Watch, Ranch Watch, and Marina Watch).

Every week in local newspapers across they country there is a report how a burglary or robbery suspect has been caught as a result of important tips provided by watch volunteers.  How that information is communicated has changed a great deal over the last 40 years.  Not to mention, communities have grown along with the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement.  Now, agencies are communicating more and more with the communities they serve via Facebook and Twitter.  Instant pictures are taken via Smart phones when something suspicious is seen.  Reports of suspicious activities can now be made via agency apps that are easily downloaded.  Totally gone are the days of phone trees to communicate with your volunteers.  However, the online Neighborhood Watch community has been born and continues to develop each day.  The role of the National program is to provide you with useful and helpful information to grow that communication.  Currently, USAonWatch.org offers Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages to connect groups with each other and provide vital crime prevention information.

While the online community has grown and continues to grow, NSA creates content and resources to assist Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments.  Providing important in-person training in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance via NSA’s Neighborhood Watch Toolkit has allowed us to train more than 3,500 officers/deputies and more than 1,500 community leaders over the last five years.  The Neighborhood Watch Toolkit Training includes topics such as pandemic flu, older adult safety, bullying, foreclosure and PACT360.  While in-person trainings are critical to build important networking connections between deputies and officers, the national program is leveraging current social media to open up our training materials to additional agencies and watch leaders. Utilizing the USAonWatch webinar series started this past January, important program topics and issues are being presented in a timely manner.  For those who are unable to attend the webinars, as of June, content is recorded and uploaded to the USAonWatch YouTube Channel.

Another exciting addition to the national program was the launch of the USAonWatch Academy Watch in May.  What is Academy Watch?  It is an on-demand self-paced training series of six important topics to a Neighborhood Watch program.  Topics cover everything from an overview of the program to strategic planning.  The self-paced training materials have been directly taken from the USAonWatch Toolkit and are provided online in both English and Spanish.