How to Start a Neighborhood Watch Group

a neighborhood watch sign in Crystal Lake, IL

 A neighborhood watch brings neighbors together to look out for one another, address issues, and tackle those issues as a united front. Learn how to start a neighborhood watch in your community, as well as tips for making your neighborhood watch a success.

What are the First Steps in Creating a Neighborhood Watch?

First, check if there are any neighborhood watch groups in your area already. If you don't have one that covers your area, reach out to leaders of existing groups in nearby neighborhoods to get tips on how to start a successful neighborhood watch and the best methods for recruiting neighbors and generating interest.

Next, reach out to neighbors via phone, text, email, social media, or door-to-door. It helps to have crime statistics ready so you and your neighbors know what the biggest issues in the neighborhood are. This is also a great time to listen to your neighbors' concerns about their perception of neighborhood crime. People are more likely to participate when they feel like the issues that are most important to them will be addressed. Try to get at least a few people who can commit some time to help you organize and recruit more neighbors.

It is essential that your neighborhood watch group works in cooperation with local law enforcement. Prior to your first meeting, reach out to your local law enforcement so they can send a liaison or resource officer to attend. The officer can answer questions, establish trust between the police and the community, provide statistics, and help with resources and training for community watch members. The resource officer should be able to use their experience in helping other community watch groups to guide your group in the right direction.

Once you have generated interest among your neighbors and coordinated with your local law enforcement, it is time to hold your first meeting! Try to hold the meeting at a time when most people can attend. For example, a weekday afternoon might be a good time if the majority of your neighbors are retired, but for a neighborhood full of working professionals, a better meeting time would probably be in the evening after office hours. You can hold your meeting at someone's house, a local business, a place of worship, or your local library. Anywhere large enough to accommodate your group that is convenient for the greatest number of people will work great.

At the first meeting, you'll want to share your concerns for the community as well as share what you have learned from your neighbors prior to the meeting. This is a great time for people to discuss their concerns with the law enforcement representative and work out a community action plan. You will also want to establish a leadership team for your neighborhood watch, including a president and block or building captains as needed. These can either be elected positions or filled on a volunteer basis. Before the end of the meeting, get a list of everyone's addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Establish a communication plan and/or a phone tree to keep members in the loop. Here is a handy checklist put out by the National Crime Prevention Council.

How Do I Register a Neighborhood Watch?

It is important to register your new neighborhood watch group, and it's free! Click here for the National Neighborhood Watch's registration page. There is also an in-depth manual created by the National Sherriff's Association and the Bureau of Justice Assistance designed to guide new neighborhood watch organizers. You can find that manual here.

What Does a Neighborhood Watch Group Do?

Now that you have had your first neighborhood watch meeting, met with a local law enforcement liaison officer, and registered your watch group, it is important to keep your members engaged. Even if you send members regular updates via email or social media, it's a good idea to meet in person once in a while to stay connected. Go over your neighborhood goals and action plans together and evaluate their progress. Celebrate your successes, and take some time to socialize! You can organize fun community activities like block parties, youth activities, or neighborhood clean-ups.

How Can I Find a Local Liaison Officer?

Police departments each have different divisions that aid neighborhood watch programs. Here are links to some community outreach divisions in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Algonquin Neighborhood Watch
Village of Antioch Police Services
Village of Cary Crime Prevention
Crystal Lake Community Services
Fox Lake Police
Huntley Area Seargents
Johnsburg Police Contact Information
Kane County Sheriff's Office Contact Info
Lake County Sheriff's Office Community Services Team
Lake in the Hills Neighborhood Watch
Lake Villa Neighborhood Policing Program
City of McHenry Police Support Services
McHenry County Sheriff's Office Community Relations Division
Village of Spring Grove Contact Form
Village of Wonder Lake Police Department 
Woodstock Community Programs

By: Brad Sowell
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