This Article was first published in Dawn Magazine on 19th April 2015
Neighbourhood watch or community policing are commonly heard of terms. Authorities across the country are encouraging citizens to join hands with them to keep their community safe, especially in areas of high crime and limited resources.
In the absence of clear guidelines on how to setup a neighbourhood watch system, citizens sometimes take measures that at times cause inconvenience to themselves as well as to the authorities.
Here are things to consider when implementing a neighbourhood watch plan:
Set up a neighbourhood watch to control crime in your area
How to start?
Connect with the area police and inform them of your intent to start a neighbourhood watch and ask for any guidance they may have.
Reach out to the neighbours to seek their support as well as for volunteers.
If you have consensus from the authorities and the neighbours then organise a meeting for a particular time and place and ensure that the police attend this session too.
The first meeting
The first meeting is key to the success of the plan. How many attend the meeting will indicate commitment.
The major concerns that are shared would be the starting point for the plan.
The presence of the police will help clear up immediate concerns or guide future course of actions.
Ensure to seek volunteers for roles such as:
Formal and informal reporters
— Formal reports are either pairs or groups of people who do walkabouts in the area at fixed time and report back the concerns.
— Informal reporters are those folks who will report on concerns they come across whenever they are out and about. Law Enforcement Liaison
— Ideally a couple of people who will be the focal point of communication with the authorities.
— Someone who can manage written or verbal communication within the participants of the community plan. Ensure that the meeting minutes are shared with all neighbours, even those who didn’t participate; this will help bring more people to the forum.
— Establish a communication protocol that could easily be implemented, such as sms or Whatsapp groups, phone call trees and emails.
— A person or group of people who can go out in the community and recruit more support for the plan.
Share guidelines for home security
— The key outcome from the first meeting should be some immediate guidance for people to implement on safety of their homes.
Fix future meetings
— Decide on a time and place for the next meeting; for instance, the first Saturday of every month.
How to become an effective neighbourhood watch?
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
— Communicate with the residents
Ask them to share their major concerns
Tell them what has been achieved, what is to be done and by when
Tell them who to call, when, how and where.
— Communicate with the authorities
Tell them what you need (patrols, emergency contacts)
Inform them of suspicious activity or other safety concerns.
Remember a community is made up of various people with different means and resources; hence, there can be no single medium of communication as your audience may be varied — use a mix of telephone calls, sms, brochures, notices, emails.
Dark spots attract criminals; therefore, ensure proper lighting of all areas in the neighbourhood.
You can reach out to your area municipality office in writing to ask them to fix out of order systems or install new ones. Copy the area police on your letter and make it a security concern.
If all else fails, set up a lighting system on self-help basis, either paying for it monthly or having volunteers put up at least one light on their perimeter that is road facing. Solar powered lights with timers installed are a workable solution.
Depending on how large an area your neighbourhood watch covers you can adopt one or more of the following options:
— Employ a dedicated individual whose sole responsibility will be to walk around the neighbourhood and report any suspicious activity to the authorities and the watch committee.
— Take volunteers from the neighbourhood who will patrol in pairs or groups.
— Random police patrol that checks-in with one or two of the area residents on each patrol.
Connect with all the authorities and service providers; don’t just focus on the police.
— Know where your area fire station’s situated; have them visit the area to establish what minimum support they would require in case of a fire.
— Connect with the various utilities; ask them to identify their staff for the area or for a point of contact who can verify that anyone visiting the area on their behalf is actually their representative. (It’s not unheard off that people posing as utility service providers, courier services or even authorities on special campaigns commit crimes).
— A broken road in the area could be causing traffic disruptions, exposing you and other to potential armed holdups.
— No street lights or out of order traffic signals could be the cause of several accidents; going to the authority as a community usually results in quicker response.
— Share safety and security guidance among the community members.
— Engage various authorities who are very often willing to provide for free or a nominal fee, sessions such as:
Basic first aid
Neighbourhood watch groups can help you build a clean, safe and secure community. You will also not be on your own in an emergency. How effective is the group depends solely on the dedication of its members. Start small, show the change you can bring as a group and you’ll have more members supporting you. Don’t forget to recognise the support you receive from the authorities. A good word never harmed anyone.