- The Basics
- Why Organize?
- Starting a Watch
- Sustaining Your Neighborhood Watch
- What Makes A Successful Watch?
- Using Citizen Patrols
- Involving Youth In Neighborhood Activities
- Organizing In MultiCultural Neighborhoods
- The Law Is On Your Side, Use It!
- Ten Things You and Your Neighbors Can Do
- Making Children,Families, & Communities Safer From Violence
- Getting Together To Fight Crime
Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch, Town Watch, Crime Watch — whatever the name, it’s one of the most effective and least costly ways to prevent crime and reduce fear. Neighborhood Watch fights the isolation that crime both creates and feeds upon. It forges bonds among area residents, helps reduce burglaries and robberies, and improves relations between police and the communities they serve.
Visit www.nationaltownwatch.org for more information about town watch and about National Night Out.
The ABCs of Neighborhood Watch
- Any community resident can join — young and old, single and married, renter and home owner.
- A few concerned residents, a community organization, or a law enforcement agency can spearhead the effort to organize a Watch.
- Members 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 sheriff’s office.
- You can form a Watch group around any geographical unit: a block, apartment, park, business area, public housing complex, office, marina.
- Watch groups are not vigilantes. They are extra eyes and ears for reporting crime and helping neighbors. Neighborhood Watch helps build pride and serves as a springboard for efforts that address community concerns such as recreation for youth, child care, and affordable housing.
Forming a Neighborhood Watch is a challenge. Here are a few tips to get your group started.
- Contact the police or sheriff’s department or local crime prevention organization for help in training members in home security and reporting skills and for information on local crime patterns.
- Select a coordinator and block captains who are responsible for organizing meetings and relaying information to members.
- Recruit members, keeping up-to-date 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.
Neighbors Look For…
- Someone screaming or shouting for help.
- Someone looking into windows and parked cars.
- Unusual noises.
- Property being taken out of closed businesses or houses where no one is at home.
- Cars, vans, or trucks moving slowly with no apparent destination, or without lights.
- Anyone being forced into a vehicle.
- A stranger sitting in a car or stopping to talk to a child.
- Abandoned cars
- Report these incidents to the police or sheriff’s department. Talk with your neighbors about the problem.
How to Report
- Give your name and address.
- Briefly describe the event — what happened, when, where, and who was involved.
- Describe the suspect: sex, race, age, height, weight, hair color, clothing, distinctive characteristics such as beard, mustache, scars, or accent.
- Describe the vehicle if one was involved: color, make, model, year, license plate, and special features such as stickers, dents, or decals.
It’s an unfortunate fact that when a neighborhood crime crisis goes away, so does enthusiasm for Neighborhood Watch. Work to keep your Watch group a vital force for community well-being.
- Organize regular meetings that focus on current issues such as drug abuse, bias-motivated violence, crime in schools, child care before and after school, recreational activities for young people, and victim services.
- Organize community patrols to walk around streets or apartment complexes and alert police to crime and suspicious activities and identify problems needing attention. People in cars with cellular phones or CB radios can patrol.
- Adopt a park or school playground. Pick up litter, repair broken equipment, paint over graffiti.
- Work with local building code officials to require dead bolt locks, smoke alarms, and other safety devices in new and existing homes and commercial buildings. Work with parent groups and schools to start a McGruff House or other block parent program (to help children in emergency situations.)
- Publish a newsletter that gives prevention tips and local crime news, recognizes residents of all ages who have made a difference, and highlights community events.
- Don’t forget social events that give neighbors a chance to know each other — a block party, potluck dinner, volleyball or softball game, picnic.
Why Organize Your Neighborhood Against Crime? Crime and fear of crime threaten a community’s well-being — people become afraid to use streets and parks, suspicion erupts between young and old, shops gradually leave. Crime in turn feeds on the social isolation it creates. Today’s lifestyles — many homes where both parents work, more single parent families, and greater job mobility — can contribute to this isolation and weaken communities.
You and your neighbors can prevent or break this vicious cycle, and in the process, build your community into a safer, friendlier, and more caring place to live. Statistics tell the story. Police and sheriffs’ departments in cities, small towns, and suburbs throughout the country report substantial decreases in crime and fear due to local crime prevention efforts.
Start with a Neighborhood Watch or block club to address immediate crime problems, focus on home security, and build neighborhood cohesion. Then move into other areas such as educating residents about child protection, drug abuse victim services, and domestic violence. Explore circumstances in the community that might contribute to crime — the physical design of buildings, traffic patterns, drug trafficking, few jobs or recreational opportunities for teenagers, lack of affordable housing — and look for long-range solutions.
Starting a Watch
Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch, Town Watch, Apartment Watch, Crime Watch — no matter what it’s called, this is one of the most effective and least costly answers to crime. Watch groups are a foundation of community crime prevention, they can be a stepping stone to community revitalization.
Phase One: Getting Started — Meetings, Block Captains, and Maps
- Form a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs, the level of interest, possible challenges, and the Watch concept.
- Contact the local police or sheriffs’ department, or local crime prevention organization, to discuss Neighborhood Watch and local crime problems. Invite a law enforcement officer to attend your meeting.
- Publicize your meeting at least one week in advance with door-to-door fliers and follow up with phone calls the day before.
- Select a meeting place that is accessible to people with disabilities.
- Hold an initial meeting to gauge neighbors’ interest; establish purpose of program; and begin to identify issues that need to be addressed. Stress that a Watch group is an association of neighbors who look out for each other’s families and property, alert the police to any suspicious activities or crime in progress, and work together to make their community a safer and better place to live.
Phase Two: When the neighborhood decides to adopt the Watch idea
- Elect a chairperson.
- Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for relaying information to members on their block, keeping up-to-date information on residents, and making special efforts to involve the elderly, working parents, and young people. Block captains also can serve as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police and communicate information about meetings and crime incidents to all residents.
- Establish a regular means of communicating with Watch members—e.g., newsletter, telephone tree, e-mall, fax, etc.
- Prepare a neighborhood map showing names, addresses, and phone numbers of participating households and distribute to members. Block captains keep this map up to date, contacting newcomers to the neighborhood and rechecking occasionally with ongoing participants. With guidance from a law enforcement agency, the Watch trains its members in home security techniques, observation skills, and crime reporting. Residents also learn about the types of crime that affect the area.
If you are ready to post Neighborhood Watch signs, check with law enforcement to see if they have such eligibility requirements as number of houses that participate in the program. Law enforcement may also be able to provide your program with signs. If not, they can probably tell you where you can order them.
Organizers and block captains must emphasize that Watch groups are not vigilantes and do not assume the role of the police. They only ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring—and to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.
The Watch concept is adaptable. There are Park Watches, Apartment Watches, Window Watches, Boat Watches, School Watches, Realtor Watches, Utility Watches, and Business Watches. A Watch can be organized around any geographic unit.
Tips for Success
- Hold regular meetings to help residents get to know each other and to collectively decide upon program strategies and activities.
- Consider linking with an existing organization, such as a citizens’ association, community development office, tenants’ association, housing authority.
Canvas door-to-door to recruit members.
- Involve everyone — young and old, single and married, renter and homeowner.
Gain support from the police or sheriffs’ office. This is critical to a Watch group’s credibility. These agencies are the major sources of information on local crime patterns, home security, other crime prevention education, and crime reporting.
- Get the information out quickly. Share all kinds of news — quash rumors.
- Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check police reports, do victimization surveys, and learn residents’ perceptions about crime. Often residents’ opinions are not supported by facts, and accurate information can reduce fear of crime.
- Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant lots contribute to crime. Sponsor cleanups, encourage residents to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights at night.
- It’s essential to celebrate the success of the effort and recognize volunteers’ contributions through such events as awards, annual dinners, and parties. To help meet community needs, Neighborhood Watches can sponsor meetings that address broader issues such as drug abuse, gangs, self-protection tactics, isolation of the elderly, crime in the schools, and rape prevention.
Don’t forget events like National Night Out (bookmark our Events Calendar) or a potluck dinner that gives neighbors a chance to get together. Such items as pins, t-shirts, hats, or coffee mugs with the group’s name also enhance identity and pride.
Sustaining Your Neighborhood Watch
When crime drops or the neighborhood problem is alleviated, some Watch programs slowly lose momentum. To keep a Neighborhood Watch program vital, blend crime prevention into other community concerns.
Have your Watch group identify the neighborhood’s strengths and problems and then brainstorm on what members can do to improve the quality of community life. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Encourage schools to teach crime and drug prevention in the classroom.
- Cooperate with parent associations, recreation departments, and schools to organize after-school programs for children and teens.
- Start a block parent program to help children cope with emergencies while walking to and from school or playing in the area. These programs can be a reliable source of help for children in emergency or frightening situations. Volunteers must meet specific standards, including a law enforcement records check. Programs are established locally as a partnership among law enforcement, schools, and community organizations.
- Spearhead a Gang or Violence Prevention Task Force to assess those problems and develop prevention strategies or solutions.
- Translate crime and drug prevention materials into Spanish or other languages needed by non-English speakers in your community.
- Get a local Boys & Girls Club or other youth organization to help the elderly with marking valuables, enhancing home security, or going to the store. In turn, senior citizens can help youth with such needs as tutoring or recreational programs, oral history projects, or cooking classes.
- Turn a vacant lot into a park, playground, playing field, or community garden.
- Work with small businesses to repair rundown storefronts, clean up littered streets, and create jobs for young people.
- Link up with victim services to train your members in assisting victims of crime.
Recruit utility workers, cab drivers, and other people with two-way radios or cellular phones to extend your Neighborhood Watch network.
- Ask people who seldom leave their houses to be “Window Watchers,” looking out for children and any unusual activities in the neighborhood.
- Encourage businesses to hold lunch-time crime and drug prevention seminars and special events for employees and their families.
- Sponsor a crime and drug prevention fair at a shopping mall or community center.
- Get banks and other businesses to include crime prevention tips in their statements and bills.
- Work with local media — newspapers, radio, TV stations — to publicize events and thank supporters.
- Sponsor a seminar for the elderly and others on how to avoid becoming victims of con games and fraud.
- Get a local theater group to produce a play teaching children how to protect themselves from violence, drug abuse, or other crime.
- Work with the telephone company or local schools to teach children how to use 9-1-1 or other emergency numbers.
- Establish a “buddy” system for the elderly and people with disabilities, in which someone checks with them daily by phone and summons help if needed.
- Link Neighborhood Watch to efforts promoted by other groups: drug prevention, child protection, antivandalism projects, arson prevention, neighborhood cleanup, recycling. Share resources and promote each other’s activities. Invite guest speakers to Neighborhood Watch meetings.
- Publicize your program and its successes in local media ranging from civic association newsletters to local radio shows to television.
- Start a community crime prevention newsletter. Block captains or volunteers (including kids and teenagers) can distribute the newsletter, which also helps them keep in touch with residents.
- Work with businesses to develop a Business Watch program. Ask them to help pay for fliers and a newsletter, provide meeting places, and distribute crime prevention information.
What Makes a Successful Watch?
Typically, Neighborhood Watch groups organize to respond to an immediate threat — a series of rapes, a sharp increase in burglaries, rising fear of street crime. Often, when the crisis is resolved, membership and commitment to the Watch start to fade away. After all, why keep looking out for criminals if they’ve been arrested or gone elsewhere?
This short-sighted attitude ignores key benefits of the contemporary Neighborhood Watch — a Watch group empowers people to prevent crime, forges bonds between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and builds a foundation for broader community improvement. Neighborhood Watch is far more than a quick fix for an immediate crisis — it can be a moving force for positive changes that tackle root causes of crime.
Why Do Some Neighborhood Associations Thrive and Others Die?
In the mid-1980s, the Citizens Committee of New York City (CCNYC), with funding from the Ford Foundation, undertook the Block Booster Project, a two-year study of relationships among block associations, crime, and community development. The study found that active block associations substantially reduced fear of crime, encouraged crime reporting, stimulated members’ involvement in crime prevention, inhibited drug trafficking, and spurred beautification activities. According to Project Director David Chavis, “Block associations weave a tight social fabric and have a profound effect on the sense of community and the way people help each other.”
The Block Booster Project also examined why some groups thrived while other withered and died. Use of resources emerged as the key factor. Active, healthy block groups had the same resources as inactive ones, but they used them more effectively. Here are key survival tactics discovered by the Block Booster Project:
- Spell out roles and responsibilities of the association and its members. Adopt bylaws and elect officers.
- Decentralize planning and work. Delegate tasks and establish standing committees.
- Keep in touch with members. Use personal contacts, in and outside of meetings. Distribute a newsletter to communicate regularly with members.
- Plan for and train new leaders. Don’t burn out existing ones.
- Mobilize collective resources and use them. Know members’ skills and personal and business contacts. Be realistic about how many people you need to do a job.
- Use outside resources, such as government agencies and community-based organizations.
Strike a balance between business and pleasure. Conduct business meetings on time and efficiently, but have a time for socializing before or after the meeting.
- Involve all elements in the community — single parents, renters as well as homeowners, teenagers, senior citizens, business owners and managers.
Extending the Scope of Neighborhood Watch
Successful Neighborhood Watches move beyond the basics of home security, watching out for suspicious activities, and reporting them to law enforcement. They sponsor community cleanups, find solutions to local traffic problems, collect clothing and toys for homeless families, organize after-school activities for young people, help victims of crime, tutor teens at risk of dropping out of school, reclaim playgrounds from drug dealers, and for task forces that influence policymakers.
Looking for Leaders
A Neighborhood Watch’s effectiveness depends heavily on its leaders. Good block captains usually:
- Are reliable.
- Get along well with people.
- Have good communication and negotiating skills.
- Do not view the position as a power trip or a chance for personal gain.
- Are willing to delegate tasks and listen to others’ opinions.
- Are organized and can conduct meetings efficiently.
- Don’t get discouraged easily.
- Don’t stop at prevention — have a long-range vision for community improvement.
Motivating Volunteers and Leaders
- Hold special training events. Look to police departments, community action and social service organizations, religious institutions, colleges, business associations, schools, and youth organizations for help.
- Provide public recognition through awards and articles in newsletters and newspapers.
- Issue certificates of appreciation from the mayor or chief law enforcement executive.
- Organize a coalition of Neighborhood Watch captains so leaders can learn from each other and join forces to address community-wide issues.
- Always look for emerging issues that could affect the community’s quality of life.
Mobilizing Community Resources
Community businesses and organizations offer numerous resources for crime prevention programs. Look to:
- Religious institutions for meeting space, copying machines, and access to volunteers.
- Service clubs and businesses for partnerships in fundraising initiatives.
- Libraries for research materials, videos, computers, and meeting space.
- Printing companies for free or discounted services for newsletters, fliers, and certificates.
- Parent groups and labor unions for advice on organizing and recruiting volunteers.
- Local media for publicity.
- Senior centers and schools for facilities and equipment.
Using Citizen Patrols
An effective tool for some Neighborhood Watch programs to use is a citizen patrol. It is up to the community in conjunction with law enforcement to decide whether a patrol is needed. Citizen patrols are volunteers who walk or drive an area on a regular basis to report incidents and problems to the police and provide a visible presence that deters criminal activity. They have no policing powers, carry no weapons, are non-confrontational, and always coordinate activities with law enforcement. A citizen patrol can cover a neighborhood, an apartment lobby or complex, a business district, or a park; some use bicycles, in-line skates, or cars to cover larger areas. They contact the police dispatcher through two-way radios or cellular phones donated by a local business. Cameras or video equipment may be used to record suspicious activity. Many patrols are based in a Neighborhood Watch program or work closely with one.
A good resource for your citizen patrol is the Community Policing Consortium. They will work with your local cellular phone carrier to arrange for phones to be donated to your program
Make sure your citizen patrol:
- Undergoes training by law enforcement and have their support;
- Works in teams;
- Wears identifying clothing — t-shirts, caps, vests, jackets — or reflective clothing or patches;
- Never carries weapons of any kind — e.g., guns, black jacks, mace, baseball bats, or knives;
- Never challenges anyone;
- Always carries a pad and pencil, and a flashlight if it is dark;
- Is courteous and helpful to residents of the area being patrolled; and
- Keeps logs and files reports with the local law enforcement agency.
- Remember that citizen patrols can take on extra duties, such as escort services, crowd and traffic control at community events, identifying neighborhood nuisance concerns, monitoring graffiti sites, checking on homebound residents, and reporting abandoned vehicles.
Involving Youth In Neighborhood Activities
A healthy neighborhood effort will endeavor to involve all members of the community. If you are interested in tapping the energy of your neighborhood’s youth, you will find that the results are well worth the effort. Here are some ideas for engaging the attention and interests of youth.
Like any program, one targeting youth should follow a basic development cycle — a process that is systematic and ongoing:
- Assessing the community’s needs
- Planning the program
- Lining up resources
- Acting on the plan
- Nourishing, monitoring, and evaluating….and back to number one
- Within this basic cycle, experience has shown youth involvement at all stages to be a necessary ingredient for generating interest, enthusiasm, and results. The degree of involvement can vary — from adults presenting young people with a series of options in the planning stage to adolescents identifying needs and designing programs with minimal adult guidance. In all cases partnership, not paternalism, is the by-word.
Project Ideas for Youth
- Victim assistance
- Graffiti Prevention
- Warm Lines
- Puppet Shows
- Community Clean-Ups
- Forging Partnerships With Young People
For a program to truly benefit teens and the community, it should:
- Have a plan to attract participants and supporters. Involve teens at all levels of the project — planning, fundraising, carrying out the project, evaluating.
- Address a problem or issue perceived as important by teens.
- Offer opportunities for teens to make their own decisions and cope with the consequences. Include a learning component.
Earn the community’s respect.
- Promote responsibility and enhance self-esteem.
- Encourage participation of all teens, not just those who are easily motivated.
- Build on teens’ need for friendship — a central theme in adolescents’ daily life.
The Adult Role
The adult partner in any teen program will function with the less frustration and most influence by abandoning the role of director and assuming the role of mentor and resource person. The following suggest suggestions should help in this transformation:
- Stress the collaborative nature of the program in the needs assessment and design stages.
- Move to action as quickly as possible.
- Get to know each teen in your program and listen to his or her opinions, concerns, ideas. Assess his or her strengths, talents, and interests.
- Teach and guide teens as the program proceeds. Don’t withdraw when the activities get underway, but shift as much as possible to being a participant rather than the leader.
- Help teens to secure community resources and support.
- Provide opportunities for teens to reflect on and evaluate their experiences with the program.
- Reward and recognize personal growth and other accomplishments.
- Demonstrate respect for teens’ abilities and contributions.
- Be consistent in your leadership approach.
Organizing In MultiCultural Neighborhoods
The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in cultural and ethnic diversity in the last decade. According to the 1990 census, 19.7 million persons — just under 8% of the population — were foreign-born. Never before have so many immigrants lived in this country. This wave of immigration has spread unevenly throughout the nation, with the Northeast and West experiencing far greater increases in foreign-born residents than the Midwest and South.
Organizing a Neighborhood Watch in a multicultural community poses unique challenges — recent immigrants may not speak English, and many may still be adjusting to life in this country. Disputes or misunderstandings can erupt between neighbors of different cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural conflicts arise because two groups of people have established different values, different standards of acceptable behavior, different traditions and communication patterns, and different ideas about such things as dress and attitude. Often, the hardest thing for everyone to learn is that different does not equal wrong or improper.
When working with individuals raised in different cultures, you need to consider such things as:
- Their length of time in the United States
- English or other language skills
- Possible distrust of law enforcement, stemming from a fear of people in uniform and in government offices based on experiences in their native country
- Educational level and social class (especially the social class in the native country for immigrants and first-generation residents)
- Role expectations for males and females, parents, grandparents, and children
- Religious and ethical values
- Rules and expectations for interpersonal relationships
- Ways to share and get to know cultural differences: international potluck suppers, international youth performances, international music, oral histories by elders
When You Start To Organize
Determine the ethnic groups of non-English speaking residents and what languages they speak. Then look to local government agencies, private advocacy and service organizations, religious institutions, mediation services, and other groups experienced in dealing with immigrants for help. A translator is essential when you hold a Neighborhood Watch or crime prevention meeting — learn to speak slowly and establish rapport with the translator. Print materials in different languages if possible.
Don’t be discouraged. In talking about his efforts to organize Neighborhood Watch presentations in ethnically diverse Modesto, California, crime prevention officer David Huckaby says, “It’s tough, but Asians — Cambodians, Lao, and Hmong — and Hispanics are very interested in crime prevention information.”
The Law Is On Your Side, Use It!
No one thinks drug dealers are good neighbors — not the people who live in the neighborhood, not the businesses trying to make a living there, not the children who play in the parks, not the police officers who patrol the area.
Taking back the streets and making them safer takes hard work, trust, and courage from all these people.
The law is on your side, but it works best when everyone with a stake in the neighborhood’s health works together. Use partnerships with police, businesses, and local government to drive illegal drugs from your streets.
- Create a group — call it an advisory commission, task force, neighborhood committee, or partnership. Make sure it includes residents, business owners, law enforcement, housing and other local agencies, religious groups, youth centers, schools, senior citizen centers, public housing managers.
- At the first get-together, let everyone talk about their concerns, even if that means criticizing the police and other city services.
- Decide on what problems take top priority (for example, other than drugs, these might include vandalism, rape, burglary, auto theft, or prostitution). Discuss realistic solutions, develop specific short- and long-term projects, and take action — forging bonds among the community partners along the way.
- Involve young people — if they are part of the problem, they’ve got to be part of the solution.
Look at Laws
- Asset forfeiture laws say that authorities can seize assets from convicted drug dealers — cars, jewelry, cash, real estate, sell them, and use the money to support drug abuse prevention, enforcement, and treatment programs.
- Nuisance abatement laws allow individuals and government attorneys to bring suit in civil court against property owners who let drugs be used or kept on their property or permit other nuisances, such as graffiti or excessive noise. Penalties include fines, closing the building, and liens against the property.
- Drug-free school zone laws set stiffer penalties for drug offenses committed in areas next to schools. Communities can adapt these laws to expand the drug-free zone idea to parks and other public spaces.
Neighbors can take property owners to small claims court to recover damages inflicted on the neighborhood. When individual residents from the neighborhood all sue the property owners, damages quickly add up and owners clean up their act.
- Drug paraphernalia laws prohibit the possession, manufacture, distribution, and advertising of drug paraphernalia.
Anti-loitering ordinances can provide another tool to break up drug markets.
Go to the Police
- Ask for more police patrols (especially foot patrols) in areas that are known drug markets. Perhaps a mini-station could be opened in your community.
- Install a 24-hour telephone line that people can call to report suspicious activity anonymously to law enforcement or public housing security officers. Make sure everyone knows about the line. Use volunteers or an answering machine to take the calls. (This in not a 9-1-1 emergency line.)
- Work with a community organization to hand out “hot spot” cards. Residents can anonymously identify drug houses or markets on the cards and turn them in, and the organization then passes the information on to the police.
Go to the Government
- Public housing agencies often have tough policies for quickly evicting tenants found with drugs. Make sure they enforce these rules, working in cooperation with other concerned tenants and law enforcement. Some cities’ public housing rules evict tenants whose activities or visitors’ behavior seriously disrupt other residents’ quality of life.
- Drug houses are often rundown properties. Ask fire, health, and housing departments to investigate drug houses for code violations and shut down these hazardous properties if possible. Piles of trash, broken windows and doors, rats, and cars that don’t run violate most city housing and health codes.
- Urge government to tear down abandoned buildings or sell them to civic organizations who can rehabilitate them.
- Some cities, with a neighborhood’s approval, have put up barriers across intersections that create a maze of dead-end streets and make life very difficult for drug dealers. Check with the government department that handles traffic and roads.
- Find out who’s responsible for towing abandoned cars in your area. Report the abandoned vehicles in your neighborhoods, and report again and again until action is taken. Young people in the neighborhood can help.
- Do the same for broken street lights, graffiti, cracked pavements, and trash removal.
Go to Businesses
- Property owners can give police permission to enter private property, such as parking lots or outside stairs, to investigate and possibly arrest loiterers.
- Telephone companies can fix pay phones so they can be used only for calls out — then, drug dealers can’t use them to conduct business.
- Utility companies can investigate gas and electric connections that drug houses may be using illegally.
- Property owners can rewrite their leases to include specific bans on illegal drug activity.
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. Call the city public works department 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.
Making Children, Families, and Communities Safer From Violence
It’s time to stop the violence that is killing our children and our communities. It’s time to help each other build neighborhoods where each of us kids, teens, adults can feel safe and secure from crime. A tough task? Yes, but it’s a challenge that each of us can do something about. We can reclaim our communities child by child, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood. This booklet explains some of the many ways you can help. You can do a lot in your home, in your neighborhood, and throughout your community.
Why accept this challenge? Because every child deserves a safe and healthy childhood. Because no community can afford the costs of violence. Because a healthier, safer community benefits each of us. Because failing to act costs lives and resources. Because our children should not have to raise their children amid violence. Because if we don’t stop it, no one will.
It’s everyone’s business
Violence holds victims, families, friends, and neighborhoods hostage. It rips communities apart or prevents them from coming together. Violence takes many forms. Assaults, rapes, robberies, and homicides are directly violent, but crimes like burglary are often cloaked in violence and cause sometimes-paralyzing fear.
Violence is not just about attacks by strangers. In about half the rapes in this country, the rapist knew the victim. In more than half the murders, the murderer and victim knew each other. Assaults are more likely between people who know each other than between strangers. Domestic violence wrenches apart millions of families each year. Child abuse, overwhelmingly involving someone close to the child, hurts more than a million children a year. Only robberies more commonly involve strangers than acquaintances.
Weapons are part of the problem. They make violence more deadly and less personal. Nine out of ten murders involve a weapon; eight of ten involve a firearm. Most robberies involve the use of a weapon, most frequently a gun. One in five children has reported taking a weapon of some kind to school, most often for self-protection against others whom they believe have weapons.
But weapons are only part of the story. Attitudes, emotions, and reactions are just as important. Without working on all aspects of the issue, you can make only limited progress.
Why go beyond protecting yourself and your family? Because violence penetrates schools, workplaces, and public spaces. It sucks the life out of communities everywhere.
Even if you’re safe from harm, violence still robs you. The costs of violence are enormous. The annual cost of caring for gunshot victims is more than $14 billion. The costs of private security measures, including those against violence, is estimated at $65 billion a year. Violent crime is responsible for much of the $90 billion a year it costs to run our criminal justice system.
Can we stop violence? Yes. Strictly enforced policies against weapons in schools have helped restore a sense of calm in many classrooms. Conflict management courses have taught elementary school children to fight less and negotiate more. Concerted community efforts have reduced or prevented gangs and the violence they bring.
But these things only happened because someone did something.
What you can do?
Work with your family, in your neighborhood, and in your community. Pick a place to start where you are comfortable.
Recognize that violence has many causes. Some are immediate—a specific argument, easy availability of a weapon, a situation in which an aggressor thinks violence will bring quick rewards, an anger that sees no other outlet. Some are less direct for example, a community tolerance of high violence levels, reinforced by news and entertainment media. Some are individual inability to see another way to settle disagreements, for instance. Some involve situations such as peer pressure that measures or boosts self-esteem through violence.
No one needs to confront all these aspects of violence at once. The point is, there’s something everyone can do.
The residents of Seattle, Washington, led by their mayor, have launched a citywide campaign against violence. One key element is Partners Against Youth Violence a coalition of more than two dozen agencies and organizations seeking “to prevent youth gun violence by educating the community, specifically young people and their parents, about the consequences of youth gun possession and related gun violence.” Partners include a major local hospital, crisis clinics, school administrators, several civic and professional groups, the prosecutor’s office, the city council, the state medical association, and the police department’s crime prevention, youth, D.A.R.E., and school safety units.
Buttressed by local statistics on youth homicides and gun-related injuries, the program points out that almost four of ten unnatural deaths among youth are from gunshot wounds, and that gunfire is the second-leading cause of death for area youth. The “Options, Choices, and Consequences” program has been developed using local statistics, local laws, and local experts to teach adults and teens the legal and medical consequences of illegal firearms possession and use. Several partner organizations are training community volunteers to conduct these programs.
The police department has agreed to strengthen investigation and prosecution of those suspected of selling guns illegally to youth; to investigate and help prosecute youth who illegally possess handguns; to support the youth and adult education programs; to build parent and community awareness of youth violence; and to dedicate extra prevention and enforcement efforts in parts of the city where levels of youth gun violence are high.
Washington State University has researched the violence issue on behalf of the partners and identified interventions and alternatives to violence that have proved effective elsewhere. Its findings supported the partners’ approach of using multiple strategies including school-based curriculum, outreach to parents, a media campaign, and firearms regulation and enforcement with hard evidence.
By investing time in recruiting partner organizations, identifying local conditions and needs, researching effective approaches, and designing activities that invest partners and enlist even more members of the community younger and older Seattle has launched a thoughtful, tailored, flexible initiative to address a difficult problem.
Helping self and family
Making self and family safer from violence is, for most of us, the highest priority. Work with your own children, with other kids you care about, and with teens and adults you care about to reduce the risk that you or someone you love will fall victim to violence.
Think long and hard about having weapons, especially firearms, in your home. Studies show that a firearm in the home is more than forty times as likely to hurt or kill a family member as to stop a crime. A gun in the home increases the likelihood of homicide three times and the likelihood of suicide five times. More than a quarter of a million firearms are stolen and possibly used in other crimes every year.
If you do keep a firearm in your home, ensure that you are trained and that everyone else—adult and child—is fully trained in firearms safety. Refresh that training at least once a year.
Make certain that the weapon is safely stored, unloaded, trigger-locked, and in a locked gun case or pistol box, with ammunition separately locked and with different keys for all locks. Store keys out of reach of children, in locations away from weapons and ammunition.
Check frequently to make sure that storage is secure. Follow all federal, state, and local laws about storage, registration, carrying, and use.
No one wants to see children victimized by violence. No one wants to see kids hurt others. Talking with your kids can be a powerful anti-violence weapon, especially when combined with your actions as a positive role model. Make it clear that you do not approve of violence as a way to handle anger or solve problems. Do your best to match your actions to your words.
Even very young children can learn not to hit, kick, or bite. Discipline without threatening violence. “Time outs,” removal of privileges, restrictions, and similar penalties are successful, violence-free strategies that many parents have used, even with preschoolers.
Use the world around you.
As children get older, help them learn to think about the real consequences of violent events and entertainment. Ask how else a conflict might have been settled, what the angry person might have done instead, what unseen or unspoken consequences violence might have.
Listen carefully, openly, and constructively.
Letting children lay out their thoughts about violence helps them learn how to think through this and other issues.
Sometimes it’s difficult for adults to know how to react when children approach them about a real or possible danger. You may be a neighbor, an aunt or uncle, or a grown-up who happens to be nearby. Suddenly a child comes to tell you something’s wrong.
How can you handle it helpfully?
The child may be excited, nervous, or scared. Repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand clearly. Kneel down if necessary to communicate at the child’s height.
Take it seriously.
Children don’t casually ask for help out of the blue. Even if it’s not a serious problem to you, it probably is from the child’s view.
If the child has found a weapon or a possible weapon or describes some other immediate danger; go to the scene at once, if you’re not putting yourself at risk.
Get help if necessary.
Call police if you find a weapon, even if it might be a toy. Call other professionals (such as fire department, child protection services, public works department) if the situation warrants. If it turns out to be a “false alarm,” reassure the child that telling a grown-up was a smart thing to do.
Make sure that your children know what to do if they ever find a firearm or something that might be a weapon stop, don’t touch, get away, and tell a trusted adult.
Teach your children ways to handle conflicts and problems without using force. Act as a role model for them. Handle disagreements with other adults, including those close to you, in nonviolent ways. You can learn more by checking with your library, a school counselor, the pediatrician, mental health association, or neighborhood dispute resolution center.
Discourage name-calling and teasing. These can easily get out of hand, moving all too quickly from “just words” to fists, knives, and even firearms. Teach children that bullying is wrong; help them learn to say “no” to bullies and to get adult help with the situation if need be. Remember that words can hurt as much as a fist.
Take a hard look at what you, your family, and your friends watch and listen to for entertainment—from action movies to cop shows, from soap operas to situation comedies, from video games to music lyrics. What values are they teaching? Do they make violence appear exciting, humorous, or glamorous? How do characters solve problems? Are the real-life consequences of violence clear? Watch TV with your children; talk about how violence is handled in shows and what each of you did and didn’t like. Set clear limits on viewing and provide active, positive alternatives for free time.
Teach children basic strategies for personal safety to prevent violence and reduce their risk of victimization.
Help them learn and practice common courtesies. “Please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “I’m sorry” help ease tensions that can lead to violence.
Emphasize the importance of being drug free. Research shows use of alcohol and other drugs is closely linked with violence, including the use of guns and other weapons.
Encourage children to stick with friends who steer clear of violence and drugs. Make your home a comfortable place for these kids to gather; help them find positive, enjoyable things to do.
Remind children of simple self-protection rules not to go anywhere with someone they (and you) don’t know and trust; how and when to respond to phone calls and visitors if you are unavailable, how to deal with adults (or other children) who approach or touch them inappropriately, what are safe routes to favorite neighborhood destinations.
Rehearse what to do in urgent situations, like finding a weapon or being approached inappropriately by a stranger or seeing something wrong happen.
Help your children to both learn and practice ways to keep arguments from becoming violent.
It started in a Minneapolis suburb. Two people wondered what it would be like if, for one day, everyone would just refuse to be entertained by violence. No violent music, no violent movies or videos or TV shows or computer games. The idea grew quickly. Within a year, Turn Off the Violence Day has spread throughout the metropolitan area. Schools, police departments, mental and public health agencies, religious groups, and businesses joined in. Within three years, it had gained national attention and communities around the country picked up on the theme. No censorship is involved. Each individual decides what he or she should avoid. What emerges is thoughtful discussion of how violent messages can shape our thinking and a new awareness of the way violent ideas can creep into our daily lives.
Young people in Oakland and Los Angeles, California, realized that they could be a powerful force to educate their peers about the costs of gun violence, ways to prevent it, and how to spread the word that gun violence is not cool. Teens on Target, all of whose members have been touched by firearms violence, train others their age and younger in preventing firearms violence, work on promoting positive alternatives and opportunities, and educate adults in the community about what they believe is required to reduce firearms deaths and injuries. “Our solution,” one youth explained, “is to give opportunities to young people so they won’t even want to use guns.” Speaking from personal experience, these teens bring zeal and commitment to their task and credibility to their messages. They reach and teach thousands of youth and adults annually. The program gets support from a statewide anti-violence agency, YOUTH ALIVE!
Use news reports and other everyday examples to help older children learn how violence affects the community and their own lives. Let them know that teens are more frequently victimized by crimes, both violent crimes and property crimes, than any other age group. Help them think about the costs of crime and the benefits of prevention.
Encourage young people to tackle the problem. Urge them to find out:
how they can learn simple strategies to prevent crime against themselves and their friends;
how groups can settle disagreements without using fists or weapons; and
what drug-free, alcohol-free positive activities are available for teens and how these can be improved to attract even more young people.
Building a safer neighborhood
We and our families cannot be safe if our neighborhoods are riddled with violence. Research shows that there’s less crime where communities are working together. Help your neighborhood become or stay healthy.
Get to know your neighbors. You can’t do it alone.
Start, join, or reactivate a Neighborhood Watch or Block Watch. Include discussions of ways neighbors can watch out for situations that might involve children in or threaten them with violence. Consider starting a formal block parent program such as McGruff House so that children will have reliable, recognizable places to go in the neighborhood, if they feel threatened, bullied, or scared.
Talk with other adults in the neighborhood about how fights among children should be handled. Who should step in? How? Under what conditions? Make sure children in the neighborhood know that adults are prepared to help stop any form of violence.
Share information on basic child protection from this booklet or other good sources. Help each other learn about signs of drug abuse and gangs, along with where to go for help in your community to address these problems.
Agree on what a “trusted adult” will do for children in the neighborhood in case of troubling situations—being threatened, finding a gun or drugs, being approached by a stranger.
Get to know and encourage the kids in your neighborhood. Many young people say that carrying weapons gives them a sense of power, a sense you can help them get in far more positive ways.
Many communities have information and referral services that keep extensive records of the government and nongovernment groups that can help address neighborhood issues. These are usually listed in the telephone directory. United Way and similar groups sometimes operate referral services. Local taxpayer and civic associations can often provide information. It’s smart to find out in advance who can help with such issues as abandoned cars, dangerous intersections, broken or inadequate lighting, over-grown or littered vacant lots, deteriorated housing, and the like.
A group of mothers in Richmond, Washington, decided that by working with other mothers around the country they could help stop the violence that was taking away their children’s freedom even their lives. They organized Mothers Against Violence in America (MAVIA) and began educating themselves and others, asking for policy changes and working with others in the community who shared their goals. Teenagers formed school-based groups Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) that not only promote nonviolent ways to handle anger and conflict in school settings, but stage violence-free Teen Nights, hold anti-violence poster contests, host forums and speakouts against violence, and sponsor country-wide anti-violence planning conferences.
In Hartford, Connecticut, the city’s nine branch libraries have become part of the solution to violence problems. Each branch has taken up the challenge to become a center of positive activity for kids in its neighborhood, including acting as homework centers. No new funds were used—libraries were asked to refocus existing resources to tackle this neighborhood need.
Work together to establish safe conditions in your neighborhood—a physical environment that doesn’t invite crime or offer opportunities for violence to brew. With a group of neighbors, scan streets, yards, alleys, playgrounds, ball fields, parks, and other areas. Look with a child’s eye; even invite some children to go with you. Ask your police department or sheriff’s office if they’ll provide pointers or other help.
Look for things like overgrown lots, abandoned vehicles or appliances, public play areas blocked form public view, intersections and streets that need lighting or traffic control improvements, unsafe equipment or structures, abandoned buildings, hazards in nearby businesses or commercial areas, and signs of vandalism, especially graffiti.
Talk with children in the neighborhood about what worries or scares them and about where and how they have felt threatened by violence. Interview teachers, school staff, crossing guards, and bus aides. Add these concerns to your list.
Look around to see what happens to kids between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Are there supervised programs for younger children? Opportunities for teens and preteens to work with children, help retirees, tackle neighborhood problems, get or give help with homework? After-school programs in many areas are located in schools themselves, known most often as Safe Havens or Beacon Schools.
Work with your neighbors; with the police or sheriff’s department and other government agencies like parks, transportation, public works, and highways; and with local elected officials to get dangerous conditions corrected. Recheck the neighborhood periodically at least once a year to catch new conditions that need attention.
Start a discussion of neighborhood views on weapons in the home, use of toy weapons by children in play, children and violent entertainment, and how arguments should be settled. Knowing that parents agree on what’s acceptable makes it easier to insist on these standards for all children. If some people hold different views, at least be clear about what rules you’ll enforce in your home and for your children.
Be sure you know where and how to report potentially violent situations or concerns about conditions in your neighborhood, or about conditions that could lead to violence. Ask your police department especially your community policing officer for help in identifying what to report, when, to whom, and how.
Consider an event that lets children turn in weapons, especially those that might be mistaken for real firearms, in exchange for public thank-yous, donated non-violent toys, books, or coupons from local merchants.
If there’s a family facing problems in your neighborhood, reach out in friendship and support. Sometimes people just need to know that they can talk to someone who’s concerned. Offer to take on routine chores, to babysit, to provide transportation, or just to listen.
Recognize that it’s already your problem if violence is about to erupt in your neighborhood.
Learn about hotlines, crisis centers, and other help available to victims of crime. Find out how you can help those who are touched by violence to recover as quickly and completely as possible.
If you see a crime or something you suspect might be a crime, report it. Agree to testify if needed.
Police in Baltimore County, Maryland, reasoned that firearm safety was no less important than traffic safety and designed a one-hour lesson plan for third graders that they now teach in 90 percent of the county’s public and private schools. Short talks are mixed with role playing to help emphasize what kids should do if they find a suspected gun (toy or real), how to resist peer pressure to play with guns, and where to turn for help. In less than one year, two children found and properly reported weapons, saying they knew what to do because of the program. Both the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (STAR Curriculum) and the National Rifle Association (Eddie the Eagle) sponsor courses that address gun violence prevention among young people.
Terming firearms a “public health crisis,” the Policy Council on Violence Prevention established by the California Attorney General has recommended sweeping changes in that state’s gun laws and vigorous enforcement of laws now on the books. Proposals include banning the manufacture of Saturday Night Special-style handguns in the state, mandating that gun manufacturers build in or provide child safety devices on all firearms sold in the state, requiring that all gun dealers register with the local police or sheriff’s department, and launching an educational campaign to promote firearms safety.
Strengthening the Community
Violence anywhere in the community affects all of the community. By working on community-wide anti-violence efforts, you are protecting yourself, your family, and your neighborhood. Equally important, community policies and regulations can boost neighborhood violence prevention measures.
Work to build community standards and expectations that reject violence and other crimes. All kinds of groups—civic clubs, houses of worship, social clubs, the school system, professional associations, employee groups and unions, business groups, and government agencies—can sponsor educations efforts, conduct forums, develop community service messages for media, and create community-wide networks to prevent or reduce violence.
Emphasize prevention as the preferred way to deal with violence. Ask what schools, law enforcement agencies, public health agencies, libraries, workplaces, religious institutions, child protective agencies, and others are doing to prevent, not just react to, violence. What policies do they have to prevent weapons-related violence? How can they help the community?
Make sure that adequate services are available for victims of violence and other crimes including help in following their cases through court, if necessary, and in recovering from physical, emotional, and financial losses.
Enlist those familiar with the costs of violence—parole and probation officers, judges, doctors, emergency room staffs, victims and survivors (especially youth), local and state legislators and chief executives, youth workers, and others—in pushing for prevention strategies and educating the public about their effectiveness. Personal testimony can be powerfully persuasive.
Make sure your community offers ways people can learn about anger management, conflict mediation, and other nonviolent ways to handle problems.
Find out what positive, enjoyable opportunities there are for young people to have fun in your community. What services are there for kids facing problems? What programs help kids of various ages spend the critical 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. hours (when the largest numbers are without adult supervision) in safe, productive ways?
Establish policies that reduce danger from weapons, especially firearms. Make safe storage of firearms a community expectation, even a law. Ensure that licensing laws are rigorously enforced. Some states and communities have outlawed sale of weapons to those under 18 or 21. Others have imposed age restrictions on permits to carry concealed weapons. In at least one state, conviction of a firearm violation can cost a young driver his or her license.
Work with police to help community residents get rid of unwanted weapons through turn-ins, “amnesty days,” and even buy backs. Join forces with other community groups and government agencies to publicize, finance, and staff these events.
Learn your state and local laws on firearms. Insist that these laws be enforced vigorously but fairly. Support police, prosecutors, judges, and other local officials who enforce laws designed to prevent gun violence.
Encourage local and state resources to go toward both prevention and enforcement.
In San Antonio, Texas, a year-long planning process brought dozens of civic leaders together and led to a 57-point plan to address crime problems in the community. Energized residents and leaders turned that plan into action, increasing services to troubled youth, involving businesses in prevention strategies, devising public education campaigns, engaging schools in teaching conflict management and mediation skills, and more. The city, within a year after implementation had started, saw a 20 percent drop in reported crime.
The Missing Peace, Inc., a community-based group that encompasses the entire Washington, DC, metropolitan area, has conducted gun turn-ins throughout the area in cooperation with the region’s police departments and sheriff’s offices. Providing a way for people to dispose safely of unwanted firearms not only reduces risks of accidents, thefts, and assaults; each weapon turned in results in $25 donated by a local business alliance to the local children’s hospital’s division of child protection.
In Oklahoma, parents can be fined if their child brings a weapon to school. In North Carolina, failure to store firearms safely in homes where children are present can result in prosecution and fines. Twenty-one states have enacted laws mandating gun-free school zones and imposing sharply increased penalties for firearms possession or use in such areas. Florida and Maryland are among the states that have set up special statewide organizations to help address school-related violence, including gun use. More than two dozen states have increased judicial or prosecutorial discretion to try youth involved in especially violent offenses as adults.
Insist that local law or regulations require that confiscated or surrendered weapons be melted down rather than auctioned off or sold to dealers.
Make sure that local laws mandate the most secure possible storage of any firearm stored in a private home.
Use Crimestoppers, a similar hotline system, or even 911 to encourage reporting of illegal weapons.
Reach out to educate the whole community about ways to stop or prevent violence. Find out what’s going on now and support it. Help start what’s needed. Some ideas:
Promote public service advertising that offers anti-violence programs and services. Get several groups to cooperate in this effort. Include programs to help kids headed for trouble.
Develop and distribute widely a directory of community anti-violence programs and services. Get several groups to cooperate in this effort. Include programs to help kids headed for trouble.
Help spread the news about available violence prevention training and programs through gropus you belong to, your workplace, and other local institutions. Invite speakers on violence prevention to talk to your club or organization.
Participate in public forums that allow residents to talk with elected and appointed leaders about violence prevention needs.
Work with business groups and individual businesses to develop workplace violence prevention programs that include employee training, anti-violence procedures, and physical security measures. Have explicit, written policies about possession of firearms in or on the worksite.
Talk with school personnel, juvenile officers, and youth workers to find out the nature and extent of gangs or “wanna-be” groups in your community. Support gang prevention and intervention programs. Volunteer to help keep kids out of gangs.
Work with schools, colleges, employers, civic and social clubs, religious organizations, and professional associations to create the widest possible array of resources to discourage violence. Make sure that services are accessible to those who need them most, consumer-friendly, and confidential if necessary.
Put anti-violence policies in place in your state or community through laws or regulations. Weapons control policies can include ammunition taxes, safe storage laws, ownership restrictions, laws limiting weapons in public places, zoning requirements for firearm sales, and more.
Talk with school administrators about anti-violence policies and particularly about policies to reduce possession of weapons in or near schools. Your community may want to establish gun-free zones around schools or parks.
Urge adoption of anti-violence courses that help children learn ways to manage anger without using fists or weapons. Second Step, from The Committee for children, Resolving Conflict Creatively, from Educators for Social Responsibility, and We Can Work It out!, created through Teens, Crime, and the Community, are only three of many such courses.
Enlist children from elementary grades to senior high in solving the violence problems in the school and community. Encourage them to teach violence prevention to younger children, reach out to educate peers, work with adults on community-wide problems, and identify and tackle community conditions that they are concerned about.
In Kansas City, Missouri, police selected an 80-block area hard-hit by gun violence for specialized enforcement. In this area, which had a gun homicide rate 20 times the national average, a specially trained group of police dedicated their energy to checking for firearms in the course of their duties. They worked 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. seven days a week. Careful attention was paid to ensuring that residents’ constitutional rights were protected. Results were dramatic—gun seizures increased by 64 percent; gun-related crime dropped 49 percent. There were no increases in crime in the surrounding area and there was no similar drop in crime in a comparable area elsewhere in the city.
Civic leaders in Mobile, Alabama, concerned about sharp increases in weapons incidents in schools, conducted a campaign in 1992 to educate the community and get weapons out of the hands of kids. “Kid With a Gun? Call 911” used billboards, bumper stickers, news stories, and public transit ads to highlight the consequences of youth handgun possession and remind adults of their responsibility for children’s and the community’s safety. Law enforcement authorities agreed to respond immediately to any call about a kid in possession of a gun.
ADT Security Systems, Inc., has provided “panic alarms” for women severely threatened by domestic violence. In participating communities, local officials determine those women at greater risk, and ADT places the alarms in the women’s homes. Using the alarm immediately summons help to deal with the abuser. Participating women must have court orders of protection and must agree to prosecute the offender to the fullest extent of the law. The AWARE program is free to participating communities.
Volunteer to mentor young people who need positive support from adults. Programs ranging from Big Brothers and Big Sisters to Adopt-a-School include mentoring as a central ingredient.
Protect domestic violence victims (and their children) through policies as well as laws that offer them prompt and meaningful response to calls for help and appropriate legal recourse.
Work with others in your community to develop comprehensive, coordinated plans that direct civic resources to deal with immediate symptoms of violence, help neighborhoods strengthen themselves, and work on problems that cause violence. Enlist all kinds of groups; compare notes to avoid duplicating efforts and to benefit from each other’s know-how.
To get a free printed copy of this publication, call 800-WE-PREVENT.
Getting Together To Fight Crime
Something may be wrong in your neighborhood. There’s too much violence, or there’s an ever-present threat. Perhaps a child you know was robbed. Maybe you’ve seen signs of drug dealing. Maybe a string of break-ins has you wondering what’s coming next. You’re uneasy — even frightened — for yourself and your family. Perhaps nothing violent has happened, but you see warning signs — such as graffiti, vandalism, abandoned cars, loitering, litter — that crime and violence may be reaching your neighborhood soon.
You can change things by getting together with neighbors who share your worries. There are two things you need to do: look out for your families and yourselves, and get involved in your community.
People just like you have cleared drug dealing out of their neighborhoods, made parks safe for children and sidewalks secure for play, curbed assaults, reduced muggings, eliminated rapes and murders, wiped out graffiti and vandalism, started programs for teens.
What Kind of Neighborhood?
The neighborhood may be a development of single homes, a row of townhouses, a commercial corridor, an apartment complex, or even a school. Crime may be right there scaring everyone off the streets, or just looming on the horizon. Whatever your neighborhood’s like, getting together to fight crime, violence, and drugs can help create communities where children can be children and people once isolated by crime and fear can enjoy being a part of a thriving neighborhood.
Things May Look Fine, But…
Whether it’s a quiet neighborhood where teens haven’t much to do, or a rural town that’s been stable, even communities that seem calm can be facing a crime threat. Things may be OK now, but how do you keep them that way?
Everyone can see the early warning signals — the little worries that alert you to the need to prevent bigger problems. The trick is to swing into action at the first sign of trouble, not to wait until it comes to your front door. Abandoned autos, people loitering, vacant homes, graffiti, a rash of break-ins, or other signs of possible trouble should be a clue to act now. Acting right away on small problems can prevent big ones later.
It’s Too Rough for Me To Get Involved
Maybe crime has a strong grip in your neighborhood — street violence, muggings, drug dealing, shootings. People see the situation as out of hand. Some people are scared that the criminals will take revenge if they act.
There are at least three ways to counter fear. First, join together. There is strength in numbers. Most criminals attack victims who are alone — not in groups. And groups can rally, march, and hold vigils to demonstrate their commitment. Second, you can work with the police to set up a system that lets people remain anonymous and still report crimes. Third, you don’t have to meet where the problem is. In one neighborhood, people met several blocks away at a local church. No one felt singled out, and everyone gained as crime was slowly but surely driven out.
First, find out what’s already going on. Groups that are already working against crime and drugs will welcome and help you. Ask the local police, especially the crime prevention staff; check with community associations and civic groups as well as clubs.
Is there an existing group that ought to be involved in preventing crime? A home-school organization like PTA; a tenants’ group; a fraternity or sorority; a community service club such as Lions, Rotary, or JayCees; a social club; a church; a mental health association; a taxpayers’ or homeowners’ association — these are just some kinds of groups that can be a base for action.
No group ready to adopt crime prevention? Start a group in your neighborhood — even if it’s just on your block. You don’t have to be the leader, but you could organize the first meeting.
Getting Neighbors Together
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.
– 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 basement, a school classroom, or a business or community meeting room is available.
– Plan to keep the meeting 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’s 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, parents and youth may need drug prevention education, but the more immediate problem might be closing down drug sales in the neighborhood.
– 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.
– 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.
Getting Organized To Get Results
Your group has gotten together. You’ve picked a problem to work on that’s important to many of you. Maybe it’s keeping children safe going to and from school. Perhaps you want to do something to stop fights that keep breaking out among youth. Maybe you’ve decided to try to close a drug house. Everyone’s agreed to take a part in the work. You’re ready to act.
Agree on what to do about the problem, picking one or two approaches or strategies at most. Ideas from existing programs may help. Neighborhood Watch, for instance, can reduce burglaries and help keep a lookout for suspicious activity. It can also be the base for other programs. The McGruff House (block parent) program is one way to build a neighborhood network to protect kids.
Decide whose help you’ll need or want. How will you approach these people for assistance? What do you want them to do? Think about contacting police crime prevention specialists, who have lots of ideas and expertise.
Child protection agencies, drug prevention organizations, community development offices, public health offices, the local library, and many others can lend a hand. Enlist these groups early — if they help in identifying problems and developing solutions, they’ll be more committed to getting the job done. What you really want is to build partnerships.
Sometimes the solution comes from the problem. What if everyone’s concerned about the teenagers “hanging out” at the corner? Ask the teens what they’d rather be doing instead. Ask them to help plan ways to do those better things. Check with after-school programs, local youth clubs, and similar resources to see if they can join in your creative problem-solving.
Agree on who will take what roles, how tasks will get done, and how you will coordinate efforts. Build in some checkpoints to be sure all is going well or can be fixed or changed as needed.
Some Ideas From the Experienced
Here are some things that people have found important in carrying out activities.
Keep it simple: If you want to get rid of graffiti, why not just paint over it (with the owner’s OK)? Sometimes the quickest and most obvious route is the best.
Invite everyone to get into the act: People will do things if they’re asked, and the more people you recruit, the more come along as volunteers.
Follow through: If you promised to discuss a problem at the next meeting, do so. If you announce a rally, hold it. If an official promises action or a report, keep asking for it, and go higher up if necessary.
Start with success: A small success — a goal that’s quickly reachable — can boost enthusiasm, confidence, and willingness to tackle tougher tasks that take more time. One example of a short-term goal: hold one well-attended anti-violence rally. Success builds group confidence and attracts new members. Everybody wants to work with a winner.
Say thanks: Congratulate each other for progress, even if only with a round of applause. Taking before and after pictures can help you appreciate the difference your hard work has made. Acknowledge officials, agencies, and groups that have pitched in.
Build leaders: “Volunteer leader” should not be a life sentence. It’s bad for the group and the leaders. If people think one leader always controls everything, they may not join. And leaders get tired. Divide up the work. Make sure all leaders get praise and recognition. This way, you help train new leaders and make use of everyone’s talents.
Be flexible: Hold meetings when and where people can attend — weekends instead of week nights, at church instead of someone’s home, during the day rather than in the evening if many people work shifts or if seniors are involved.
Build links: Work on common concerns with government and other agencies, establishing a positive climate of trust which can lead to strong partnerships to help your neighborhood.
Keep in touch clearly, often, and in different ways: You may get so busy that you forget to let others know what’s going on. Suddenly fewer people come to meetings; there aren’t as many volunteers. A newsletter, fliers on special events, news releases to local media, a telephone network of members — these all help keep everyone interested and informed. And accurate information helps reduce fear.
Check on where you are: Your real goal may get overlooked in the bustle of “doing something.” You may stick with a goal only to find out it’s outdated. You can reduce these risks by setting up some checkpoints. Decide in advance how you’ll know if you’re headed in the right direction. What changes should you expect? If you’re not on target, rethink either the goal or the activity. Your group’s energy is too important to waste.
Overcoming Reluctance and Fear
Not everyone will join up. A very few people just don’t care; some people don’t think they have anything to offer. Some think they can’t make a difference. Some think it will take too much of their time. Others are afraid of failing. Some may be afraid of retaliation.
There are ways to overcome these roadblocks. For starters, assume that everyone can, should, and would like to help. Many people will help readily if you ask for a skill you know they have or offer to teach them. Someone who’s housebound can watch the neighborhood from a window, reporting suspicious or criminal activity to the police. Challenge the neighborhood gardeners to organize kids to spruce up the vacant lot. Ask a business person to help with planning.
Fear of crime can block participation, deprive you of volunteers, cut into community liveliness, and create unhealthy tension. To conquer fear, the group needs accurate facts (what’s true, what’s rumor?), a sense of control over the situation (one reason early successes are important), and action by groups rather than individuals (safety in numbers).
You don’t have to tackle the scariest problem first. Start where the group is comfortable. If people are afraid to be on the street in the evening, a residents’ patrol is probably not a good first move for your group. Working toward better street lighting and arranging free home security surveys by police may be better starting points. And success helps overcome fear, so your next action can be more direct.
Police and sheriffs are where people generally look first for help in preventing crime. It’s logical; preventing crime is their primary job. Increasingly, they focus on helping neighborhoods solve problems that interfere with security and well-being, not just responding when trouble’s already struck. Police have the facts about the crime situation in your area; they can help you pick effective strategies for prevention. Most police departments have a crime prevention officer, who can help in many ways.
Other government agencies, social service organizations, and community associations can also help. There’s often more than one way to get the job done. Nuisance abatement laws, public health regulations, housing codes, fire codes, and building codes all can be used to drive out drug dealers and other criminals. Occupancy permits, liquor licenses, business permits, and vendor licenses can be revoked if a “business” is a hazard to the community. Work with the people in local government who issue the permits and enforce the codes.
Schools, libraries, public transit, housing, public works, recreation, health, social services, and other groups can all help solve neighborhood problems. Enlisting them early can help build stronger relationships and better results, because they see themselves as part of the solution. Besides, these agencies have useful information that can help identify solutions and resources.
Resources To Get the Job Done
Preventing crime doesn’t start with spending cash. Four out of five Neighborhood Watches rely on volunteers, but these no-cost (or very low-cost) programs work. Residents say their communities are safer than ones nearby with no Watch.
What if you pick a problem that requires skills or materials that you can’t find for free? Take another look. You might be surprised at what’s available from your own group. Or you can often trade or borrow to get materials and services you may need — printing your newsletter, supplying refreshments for a meeting, even designing and analyzing a survey.
If you’ve chosen a strategy that does require a lot of cash, you’ll need to do some research on sources of funding in your community. Locally based foundations and corporations (or local offices of national corporations) frequently have special funds for local groups. Local and state government (and possibly federal agencies) may be sources of funds for your project, through departments of community action, drug prevention, public safety, public housing, neighborhood revitalization, or economic development. Local libraries often have information on funding resources in your community, and special resources such as The Foundation Directory. The Chamber of Commerce, the economic development office, or your congressional representatives may have some excellent suggestions. Such programs as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) or AmeriCorps may offer “free” staff.
Don’t overlook local talent. Work with and learn from groups from other neighborhoods, community-wide groups, special focus groups, and agencies that work on these issues. A ministers’ alliance, a mental health association, a civic club (such as Exchange Club, Kiwanis, League of Women Voters, or JayCees), a veterans’ group, or a school might be glad to help.
Think creatively about solutions, based on resources. If your neighborhood worries about latchkey kids, talk with libraries that offer children’s programs or discuss setting up special schedules with local schools; check with recreation directors about attractive programs; set up a warmline with friendly teens or adults whom kids can just talk with; investigate daycare programs that might offer a group discount.
Part of the reason for all your hard work was to create a neighborhood you all could enjoy. Remember? Give each other rounds of applause. Take time for a picnic or block party; recognize achievements with certificates or ribbons to your volunteers and to outsiders who helped. Buy “team” T-shirts. Use your newsletter to say “thanks” in public to policymakers, funders, and others who’ve helped. Celebrate the small victories. Each success builds the strength and commitment of your group.
Celebrate all kinds of good news — kids’ poster contests, a new youth center that offers positive choices, a park now buzzing with honest activity, any sign of progress. Don’t forget to tell the local news media. Publicity — local newspaper stories, radio reports, TV news clips — can help spread the word about your success, attract new members, and build your group’s credibility with partners and funders.
Celebrations not only are fun; they give you the chance to step back, realize how far you’ve come, and revitalize the whole group for the work ahead. Plan for them, learn from them, enjoy them.