Lately I have received calls and emails from residents that want to set up a Neighborhood Watch, but their condo or homeowners association is reluctant to allow it, citing concerns about last year’s incident in which a supposed Neighborhood Watch volunteer fatally shot a teenager in Central Florida.
Therefore, I want to once again share how Neighborhood Watch is organized in hope that these Associations understand the procedures that are implemented.
When a resident calls our office, we take a request for service, listing all their information and concerns so that we may forward them to the appropriate law-enforcement department crime prevention unit or neighborhood resource officers.
The meetings, which last about an hour, are held usually at 7 p.m. weekdays, a good time for people to be home from work.
The meeting preferably is held in the neighborhood at someone’s home. This way people can just walk to the meeting. This has been found across the country to be much more effective since the objective is to meet and get to know your neighbors. In some areas, this part may not be possible due to crime issues, so we try to find a safe location nearby for the meeting — a church, a clubhouse or in some cases, the middle of the street. For those who live in apartment buildings, we have held meetings in parking lots.
Once a meeting date has been established with the police officer and the host, a flier and brochure are provided to be distributed to neighbors. English, Spanish and Creole versions are available. This is to inform the neighborhood of the meeting.
The night of the meeting, the police officer and someone from my office attends. The officer provides information regarding crime trends, crime statistics, his role as a community officer and what his department is doing to assist the community.
He also discusses alarm issues, as well as how and when to call the police. The officer teaches residents what information is needed when calling police about a suspicious person or vehicle, including what to do and not do. The officer always tells residents who see a crime in progress or suspicious person not to intervene at any time. That is the job of the police.
Our coordinator explains how to set up a phone chain — a collection of phone numbers, addresses and special needs or information pertinent to their homes. When the phone chain is completed, it is shared with all neighbors participating in the crime watch. This is the most crucial part of Neighborhood Watch because it’s how everyone stays in touch. Once the above is completed and the Neighborhood Watch is organized, we then provide Crime Watch signs, house stickers and T-shirts, at no cost to anyone, since we are funded by your tax dollars.
Implementing a Neighborhood Watch is not easy. It takes dedication and “sweat equity,” but as the thousands already involved will say, it’s the best thing that can happen to a neighborhood.
The above steps may differ for some municipalities that implement their own programs.
At the local and national level correctly trained Neighborhood Watch members do not “patrol,” do not carry weapons, and do not intervene at any time. They are strictly law enforcement’s eyes and ears.