Neighbourhood Watch (United Kingdom)
The Neighbourhood Watch scheme in the United Kingdom is a partnership intended to bring people together to make their communities safer. It involves the police, Community Safety departments of local authorities, other voluntary organisations and individuals and families who ostensibly want to make their neighbourhoods better places to live. It aims to help people protect themselves and their properties and to reduce the fear of crime by means of improved home security, greater vigilance, accurate reporting of suspicious incidents to the police and by fostering a community spirit.
The UK's first HOMEWATCH scheme was set up in Mollington, Cheshire in 1982. This was an entirely different scheme to the Neighbourhood Watch scheme imported from America years later. Cheshire Constabulary Homewatch was very successful for over 30 years until they disbanded its support staff in 2014. No official handover of Homewatch to Neighbourhood Watch was ever made. Many Homewatch schemes collapsed with no support from the Police or the Neighbourhood Watch. it is now claimed that 3.8 million households are covered by a scheme.
The neighbourhood watch schemes covers many aspects of community safety including crime.
- To improve community safety generally including, e.g., fire safety
- To prevent crime by improving security, increasing vigilance, creating and maintaining a caring community and reducing opportunities for crime by increasing crime prevention awareness.
- To assist the police in detecting crime by promoting effective communication and the prompt reporting of suspicious and criminal activity.
- To reduce undue fear of crime by providing accurate information about risks and by promoting a sense of security and community spirit, particularly amongst the more vulnerable members of the community.
- To improve police/community liaison by providing effective communications through Neighbourhood Watch messaging systems which warn Coordinators of local crime trends which they can disseminate to their scheme members, and by members informing the police of incidents when they occur.
Neighbourhood Watch schemes are run by their members through a coordinator and are supported by the police and in many divisions, a local Neighbourhood Watch Association.
Schemes can vary in size. A volunteer resident coordinator supervises the scheme and liaises with the police, they receive information and messages to keep them in touch with activities, and some have marker kits, alarms and other security items, which are available to members. It must be recognised that the scheme is a community initiative, which is supported by the police, not run by them, so success depends on what the members make of it.
The police can't deal with the problems and issues arising from crime and anti-social behaviour alone; they need the help of the whole community. Neighbourhood Watch provides a way for local people to play an important part in addressing this balance and making their communities safer.
The role of a Neighbourhood Watch coordinator is to set up and maintain a Neighbourhood Watch scheme within a specific street, neighbourhood or area. They will need to be in contact with the crime prevention co-ordinator at their nearest police station who will help clarify what is involved and the initial steps to take. Whilst each crime prevention coordinator may develop specific procedures, the following are suggested as the main duties which coordinators will need to manage.
- Encourage vigilance amongst scheme members and actively encourage the early reporting of suspicious incidents to the police.
- Receive crime information from the Neighbourhood Watch messaging system and distribute these messages to scheme members.
- Encourage scheme members to be aware of and put into practice crime prevention measures, such as property marking and security devices.
- Keep a check on vulnerable households and provide advice to members about dealing with callers at the door.
- Circulate newsletters and other relevant information to scheme members.
- Welcome newcomers to the neighbourhood and invite them to be part of the scheme.
- Supply each scheme member with Neighbourhood Watch and crime prevention literature, such as Neighbourhood Watch window stickers and incident report cards.
These are the main tasks which would be expected of a co-ordinator, tasks will vary according to the needs of each individual neighbourhood.
Ward and area coordinators
Some larger communities will also appoint area and/or ward coordinators forming a hierarchy who sit above other coordinators. The roles of the ward and area coordinators are not necessarily authoritative (may vary around the country), but they provide structure and cohesion for larger and more active watch schemes. These are typically more active roles to assist the other coordinators, organising coordinator meetings and neighbourhood meetings as well as being an extra link to the local police. Like all other coordinators these roles are voluntary and unpaid.
Most of these senior roles are taken by people who are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Although they bring experience and maturity to Neighbourhood Watch some may identify it as a weakness as there is a lack of participation from younger generations. Home ownership tends to be conducive to membership as homeowners are more likely to invest time and energy into protecting their home; also if people are at home during the day they feel better-placed to keep an eye open for anything suspicious. However, membership demographics are starting to change with a shift in the younger generations towards home working, meaning that being at home during the day is no longer the preserve of retired people.
Neighbourhood & Home Watch Network
The Neighbourhood Network is funded by the Home Office and was established in 2007. It is the official website for Neighbourhood Watch . The site includes news, resources and contact information for the Neighbourhood Network and for regional Neighbourhood Watch representatives. Homewatch was an entirely different scheme with separate objectives specifically focusing on crime prevention in the community.
Neighbourhood Watch schemes have not been universally welcomed. Criticisms include:
- Limited demographic represented in the community[according to whom?]
- Used as a means of reducing policing cost by employing residents to undertake what may be considered police work
- Neighborhood Watch—US organisation
- Neighbourhood Support—NZ organisation
- Shomrim - Proactive Neighbourhood Patrol Group