Laureate Park (LP) has been developing a Neighborhood Watch Program (NWP) over the last few months. It has not been without challenges. In fact, this is our third serious attempt at getting this program off the ground. We feel really good about where we are this time but recognize it’s an ongoing process.
There are several questions we are asked regularly. We feel sharing these questions along with our answers might be helpful to other neighborhood communities considering starting a NWP.
Why should a neighborhood create a NWP?
The NWP creates a framework for neighbors to communicate and share safety concerns they have in their communities. Statistics have shown an average 20% reduction in crime in residential neighborhoods with an active NWP. In addition, it enables a neighborhood to develop a stronger bond with law enforcement and city officials. As an example, we had a situation where one of our Area Coordinators reached out to the Orlando Police Department (OPD) and city officials. Within hours, we had neighbors, an OPD representative and a representative from the city gathered together to discuss concerns.
How do you start a NWP?
The Neighborhood Watch Program in LP started and stopped several times before it really stuck. Our first step was to find people willing to volunteer their time to make it happen. We split our neighborhood into five areas. Each area has a volunteer Area Coordinator. We contacted the Orlando Police Department, and several of us attended a class regarding the program. They hold these classes a few times each year. Some of the speakers we heard when we attended were the OPD chief, director of OPD Communications (911 call center is part of this area), NWP specialist, police legal advisor and several patrol officers. We learned several good tips about what to do and what not to do when starting a NWP. Each neighborhood is unique, and therefore different approaches are needed. Here is the contact information if you want to get more details regarding the City of Orlando’s NWP:
Lauri.Brooks@cityoforlando.net (407) 246-3773.
Our current step in LP is to identify Block Captains and create NWP “blocks.” These “blocks” are 8-10 homes and located within a small area. Each “block” creates a communication network to ask questions, share concerns, etc., regarding suspicious activities and person(s) in their area of the neighborhood. It is often easier to ask a small group of individuals regarding something in a very specific location versus a large, neighborhood-wide Facebook site. LP, like many other neighborhoods, has a very active Facebook community page, so that was where we started in creating a network of Block Captains in each of our five areas. It is an ongoing process with ups and downs. For a variety of reasons, not everyone chooses to participate, which is okay. Our goal is to get half the neighborhood covered with “active NWP blocks.”
What is the role of the NWP?
To create an awareness of the role citizens play in crime prevention as the eyes and ears of law enforcement. The police cannot be everywhere at all times, so if you see suspicious activity or a suspicious person, call 911. Provide as much detail as you can safely – license plate numbers, picture, height (use a surrounding object to help determine height, i.e., standing up, their shoulders came to the top of the roof of the car). Depending on what you are observing, and other active calls, the police will be there when they can to check it out.
Promote community and getting to know your neighbors. We all have busy schedules, but getting to know people living next to you is important in providing a sense of safety. It also helps you identify when something might be amiss on your “block.”
Create an internal network of NWP blocks that actively share concerns between each other and promote communication between neighbors living near each other. “Moving truck just parked down the street. Anybody know who is moving?” “There has been an unfamiliar car parked in front of our home for four days. It does not appear to have moved. Does anybody know who it belongs to?” If nobody is moving, or nobody knows whose car has been parked there for four days, it is probably time to call 911 to report. You are no longer the nosy neighbor but an observant neighbor reaching out to your neighbors for information. You will feel more comfortable knowing you have contacted neighbors prior to calling 911, and you can let the police know you have attempted to solve the mystery of the suspicious activity. The NWP “block” gives you this framework.
State of Emergency situations: The NWP “blocks” again establish a strong communication network so neighbors can reach out for assistance as needed and offer help when needed.
Offer classes and provide material to residents in areas of safety and crime prevention. We are looking at everything from CPR classes to self-defense classes.
A Neighborhood Watch Program will not prevent crime. It is one more tool in a neighborhood’s toolbox to help deter crime from happening in our communities. It is about getting to know your neighbors and actively working together in conjunction with local law enforcement to keep your community safer.