Why Have a Neighborhood Watch?

The Neighborhood Watch Program was established over 20 years ago under which residents organize to prevent crime in their neighborhood and to increase personal safety. The Lincoln Police Department and Lincoln residents are teaming together to make our community safer.

A neighborhood watch is a group of people working together to protect the neighborhood. It forges bonds among area residents, helps reduce crime, and improves relations between the Lincoln Police Department and the communities they serve. Residents agree to keep an eye out for suspicious people, reporting loiterers or those engaged in suspicious activities. Neighborhood Watch groups can also become involved in organizing community events related to crime and safety. This could be any variety of activities such as having a group meeting where you invite a police officer from the community to come in and talk about home security. It all depends on how active the people in your neighborhood want to be.

Don't wait for somebody else to get things rolling, though. If you're willing to take the initiative, you'll probably find a lot of people interested in taking measures to keep their home and neighborhood safe. Why? It works. Throughout the country, dramatic decreases in burglary and related offenses are reported by law enforcement professionals in communities with active Neighborhood Watch programs.

Today's transient society produces communities that are less personal. Many families have two working parents and children involved in many activities that keep them away from home. An empty house in a neighborhood where none of the neighbors know the owner is a prime target for burglary.

Neighborhood Watch also helps build pride and serves as a springboard for efforts that address other community concerns such as recreation for youth, child care, and affordable housing.

Ways a Neighborhood Watch Can Help

A Neighborhood Watch can be a little like a Condo Board or other housing community forum in that you can use the meetings to deal with community issues such as abandoned cars, noisy neighbors, and neglected yards that devalue the neighborhood.

Take a Stand

You've already talked with some neighbors—at the grocery store, on the sidewalk, over the back fence, at the bus stop, across the kitchen table. You know people are unhappy about the way things are, that they'd like to see something done. The next step—make that discussion a bit more purposeful and organized. Set up a meeting to decide how you want to change things. Here are some tips for that first session. Organize a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs, the level of interest, and possible community problems.

What Does a Neighborhood Watch Do?

  • A Neighborhood Watch is neighbors helping neighbors. They are extra eyes and ears for reporting crime and helping neighbors.
  • Members meet their neighbors, learn how to make their homes more secure, watch out for each other and the neighborhood, and report activities that raise their suspicions to the police or sheriffs' office.

What Are The Major Components of a Watch Program?

  • Meetings. These should be set up on a regular basis such as bi-monthly, monthly, or six times a year.
  • Citizens' or community patrol. A citizens' patrol is made up of volunteers who walk or drive through the community and alert police to crime and questionable activities. Not all neighborhood watches need a citizens' patrol.
  • Communications. These can be as simple as a weekly flier posted on community announcement boards to a monthly newsletter that updates neighbors on the progress of the program to a neighborhood electronic bulletin board.

Who Can Be Involved?

Any community resident can join - young and old, single and married, renter and homeowner. Even the busiest of people can belong to a Neighborhood Watch -they too can keep an eye out for neighbors as they come and go.

How to Get a Neighborhood Watch Started

You can start a neighborhood watch in any area by contacting the Lincoln Police Department to learn if there is program in your area. If there's not, the police can get you started with kits and information. Then you'll want to talk to your neighbors and recruit participants. Make sure to get their names and phone numbers so you can contact them when it's time to schedule meetings. Good times for meetings are usually after dinner on Mondays through Thursdays.

Initial Steps

  • Contact the Lincoln Police Department for help in training members in home security and reporting skills and for information on local crime patterns.
  • Hold an initial meeting to gauge neighbors interest; establish the purpose of the program; and begin to identify issues that need to be addressed.
  • Select a coordinator.
  • Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for relaying information to members.
  • Recruit members, keeping up-to-date information on new residents and making special efforts to involve the elderly, working parents, and young people.
  • Work with local government or law enforcement to put up Neighborhood Watch signs, usually after at least 50 percent of all households are enrolled.
  • Be sure it doesn't conflict with other important events.
  • Make sure there is enough room at the meeting place for everyone to be comfortably seated. Not enough room at a home in the neighborhood? Maybe a church, a school classroom, or a business or community meeting room is available.

Next Steps

  • Plan to keep meetings fairly brief—less than two hours is probably good. Have an agenda prepared for the group's approval.
  • Invite people in person, by phone, by flier—whatever is most appropriate. Knock on doors, send notes, or make phone calls to remind them.
  • Invite schools, businesses, and houses of worship to send representatives. Ask local officials—law enforcement, elected officials, social services, others—to send someone who can explain how they can help.
  • Share the work so that people work together from the start. One person can organize refreshments; another can be in charge of reminder calls. Someone else can set up the room. Someone can take notes and write up your group's decisions. Another neighbor can be the "researcher," gathering information in advance. Another can lead the discussion.
  • Allow people to share their concerns. You'll be surprised how much you all have in common. But don't get caught in a gripe session.
  • Remember, you're there as a group to decide what problems you'll tackle and what actions you'll take, not just to talk. Everyone should have a chance to take part, but be sure the group makes some clear decisions.
    Your group should consider surveying neighbors, either in person or by phone, to get a better idea of the range of their problems and concerns.
  • Don't plan to tackle every problem at once. The group should identify one or two issues that need immediate action—but keep track of (and get back to) other problems. For instance,
  • List next steps and who will take them. Try to get everyone to commit to helping with your plan. Agree on the next time, date, and place for a meeting and the subjects that should be covered.

Unsure about how to run a meeting? Talk to a member of the clergy, a local civic leader, a business person, the League of Women Voters, or the Chamber of Commerce. One of them will be glad to share experiences in making meetings effective.

I Live In An Apartment Building. Can I Start a Neighborhood Watch?

Yes. Watch groups can be formed around any geographical unit: a block, apartment building, townhouse complex, park, business area, public housing complex, office building, or marina.

Everyone Can Do Something

As you get under way, it's important to enlist the help of as many people as possible from your community. There's something each person can do to help. Anyone can hand out educational brochures. Young children can pick up litter or learn to settle arguments without fighting; older youth can teach younger ones about preventing violence or organize positive activities like concerts that can replace drug traffic in a nearby park. Caring adults can help troubled youth; families can help each other.

Business people can help manage programs and raise funds; civic activists can round up local agencies to meet needs like recreation, housing, or education. Many things help cause crime, violence, and drug abuse problems in a community; many kinds of activity will help to end the problems. Some may be more direct than others, but all will help.

Anyone—and everyone—can take the most basic actions, like reporting suspicious behavior or crimes in progress to the police. Whatever the contribution of time, energy, talent, and resources—small or large—it will help.

Ten Things You and Your Neighbors Can Do

  1. Work with public agencies and other organizations - neighborhood-based or community-wide - on solving common problems. Don't be shy about letting them know what your community needs.
  2. Make sure that all the youth in the neighborhood have positive ways to spend their spare time, through organized recreation, tutoring programs, part-time work, and volunteer opportunities.
  3. Set up a Neighborhood Watch or a community patrol, working with police. Make sure your streets and homes are well lighted.
  4. Build a partnership with police, focused on solving problems instead of reacting to crises. Make it possible for neighbors to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear of retaliation.
  5. Take advantage of "safety in numbers" to hold rallies, marches, and other group activities to show you're determined to drive out crime and drugs.
  6. Clean up the neighborhood! Involve everyone - teens, children, senior citizens. Graffiti, litter, abandoned cars, and run-down buildings tell criminals that you don't care about where you live or each other. Contact Public Works and ask for help in cleaning up.
  7. Ask local officials to use new ways to get criminals out of your building or neighborhood. These include enforcing anti-noise laws, housing codes, health and fire codes, anti-nuisance laws, and drug-free clauses in rental leases.
  8. Form a Court Watch to help support victims and witnesses and to see that criminals get fairly punished.
  9. Work with schools to establish drug-free, gun-free zones; work with recreation officials to do the same for parks.
  10. Develop and share a phone list of local organizations that can provide counseling, job training, guidance, and other services that neighbors might need.