A neighborhood watch or neighbourhood watch (see spelling differences), also called a crime watch or neighbourhood crime watch, is an organized group of civilians devoted to crime and vandalism prevention within a neighborhood.
The aim of neighborhood watch includes educating residents of a community on security and safety and achieving safe and secure neighborhoods. However, when a criminal activity is suspected, members are encouraged to report to authorities, and not to intervene.
Other programs similar to Neighborhood Watch include Operation Identification, a citizen's burglary prevention program for use in homes and businesses that was developed in the United States during the 1960s.
In the United States
The current American system of neighborhood watches began developing in the late 1960s as a response to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. People became outraged after false reports that a dozen witnesses did nothing to save Genovese or to apprehend her killer. Inspired in part by Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), which stated that Americans need to keep their "eyes on the streets" and connect with each other in their neighborhoods, national law enforcement agencies began pushing for community members to get more involved with reporting crimes at the local level. Some local civilians formed groups to watch over their neighborhoods and to look out for any suspicious activity in their areas. Shortly thereafter, the National Sheriffs' Association began a concerted effort in 1972 to revitalize the "watch group" effort nationwide. During the first few years of the program, neighborhood watch functioned primarily as an intermediary between local law enforcement agencies and neighborhoods, to pass along information about burglaries and thefts in specific neighborhoods. Soon thereafter, the neighborhood watch became more involved and partnered with law enforcement agencies to report other types of crime as well.
In August 2011, police and municipal authorities in Petropavl city, the administrative center of the North Kazakhstan province, introduced the concept of a ‘neighborhood watch.' Having studied Estonia’s neighborhood watch model, police chief of this province set up a special office consisting of a 24-hour telephone hotline operated by civilians to respond to citizen complaints and anonymous tip offs. To support their work, the provincial authorities spent 15 million tenge that year to set up billboards and play television and radio ads encouraging citizens to report wrongdoing or anything suspicious to the police: ‘the safety of your home, your family and friends is in your hands’. By the end of 2012, this hotline had received 3,245 calls and in 2013, 2,797 calls. The police chiefs viewed this as a success. In 2013, the North Kazakhstan province police chief was transferred to lead the police department of the Almaty province and he launched the neighborhood watch program there by linking it explicitly to zero tolerance policing. Some attempts to introduce the neighborhood watch program have been made in the cities of Taraz (2016), Aqtau (2017) and Qyzylorda (2020) but they produced little success and have been largely ignored in other parts of the country.
The neighborhood watch system gained intense media attention after the February 2012 fatal shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida by George Zimmerman, an appointed neighborhood watch coordinator. Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was tried for second-degree murder and manslaughter before he was acquitted from all charges. His actions on the night of the shooting generated controversy as he exited his vehicle and was carrying a gun, both of which go against neighborhood watch recommendations. He has also been accused by prosecutors of profiling Martin, and he was investigated by the United States Department of Justice for possibly committing a racial hate crime. However, the FBI concluded their investigation and dropped its charges. Martin was black and Zimmerman is a mixed-race Hispanic.
In another incident involving a neighborhood watch, Eliyahu Werdesheim, part of an Orthodox Jewish community in Maryland, was convicted in May 2012 of second-degree assault and false imprisonment for beating and then pinning down a teenager he thought suspicious in 2010. Werdersheim and his brother, who had also been charged in the case but was acquitted, chose a bench trial, contending they would not get a fair trial due to the publicity over the Martin case. He was given a three-year suspended sentence and three years of probation at sentencing in June 2012. In December 2013, Werdesheim's probation was cut short, and he was released at the end of the month.
A June 2012 New York Times article reported that neighborhood watches in the New York City area are growing again after decades of decrease due to lower crime rates. It also said that neighborhood watch groups fell under scrutiny since the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
In response to the Trayvon Martin case, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) began drafting a bill that would require neighborhood watch groups to be certified and limit their duties. Currently, with local police agencies setting guidelines for their neighborhood watches, groups across the U.S. vary greatly in their scope, function, the level of activity by their members, and training. Robert McCrie, professor of security management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, disagrees with Lee's initiative. He believes that standards for neighborhood watches “are best left to the state or local community,” although he would support background checks for volunteers.
Notable neighborhood watch organizations
- Block Parent Program (Canada)
- Citizen Observer (United States)
- Crimestoppers (United States, United Kingdom and Australia)
- Guardian Angels (United States)
- National Neighborhood Watch Program (United States)
- National Night Out (United States)
- Natteravnene (Norway)
- Neighbourhood Watch (United Kingdom)
- Inminban (North Korea)
- PubWatch (United Kingdom)
- Police Mitra (India)
- Senkom Mitra Polri (Indonesia)
- Shomrim (United States and United Kingdom)
- Voluntary People's Druzhina (Soviet Union)
- Neighbourhood action group
- Priority board
- Auxiliary police
- Civil Guard (Israel)
- Special police
- National Sheriffs' Association. "Logo Usage Information". NNW.org. Retrieved February 5, 2015.
- Combat Force Retrieved 23 October 2019
- Operation Identification. Tucson Police Department.
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- ncpc.org Archived 2006-07-03 at the Wayback Machine
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- "Judge grants Werdesheim brothers bench trial". wbaltv.com. April 25, 2012.
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