How to start a Neighborhood Watch group to deter crime

Ten-year-old Abdyus Thelusma was among about two dozen people who took part in the annual Citizens Crime Watch Celebrating Safe Communities walk in Ives Estates in 2011.
Ten-year-old Abdyus Thelusma was among about two dozen people who took part in the annual Citizens Crime Watch Celebrating Safe Communities walk in Ives Estates in 2011. Miami Herald file

Starting a Neighborhood Watch is not hard but it takes dedication for it to work properly. Since I have had lots of requests lately, let me share how we have been doing it for the last 40 years.

1. When a resident calls our office — Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade — we take a request for service, listing all their information and concerns. This way, we forward them to the appropriate law enforcement department crime prevention unit or neighborhood resource officers.

2. The Neighborhood Watch meetings, which last about an hour, are held usually at 7 p.m. weekdays.

3. The meeting preferably is held at someone’s home in the neighborhood. In some areas, this may not be possible because of crime issues, so we try to find a safe location nearby — 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.

4. Once a meeting date has been established with the police officer and the host, a flier and brochure are distributed to neighbors. English, Spanish and Creole versions are available.

5. 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. That is for the police to do.

6. 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 Neighborhood Watch is organized, we 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 note, 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, properly 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.”

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of the Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade County. You can reach her at 305-470-1670 or email or go to

Crime Watchers’ voices

Adrian Lorenzo, chairman in the Intracoastal District: Adrian has been involved for the last four years and the area has more than 150 residents involved.

“Having a Neighborhood Crime Watch Group has created a sense of community. It has also helped my neighbors appreciate the importance of working together with our law enforcement officers and our commissioner.”

Barbara Krause, chairwoman in the Silver Palms Community: Barbara has been involved for at least five years and has more than 60 blocks organized with at least 500 residents involved.

“Crime Watch is a very important part of our community. We have been introduced to multiple methods to protect ourselves, families and our neighbors. Crime Watch brings neighbors closer together and helps decrease temptation of those who feel the need to commit crime.

“I also believe by placing Crime Watch signs and stickers in the neighborhoods, we send a message that we have been trained, deferring potential criminals.’’