There’s lots of information out there on how to start a Neighborhood Watch and plenty of guidelines for building community involvement and target hardening (making your home and community a more difficult – and less appealing – target for would be criminals) but there’s not much information on what you should actually be reporting. Of course, some incidents are obvious – a guy with a ski mask climbing into your neighbor’s window, drug dealers on the corner, local kids stealing a radio from someone’s car. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll witness such a clear-cut incident and, if you do, you should call the police immediately, not file a report. Everything else is up for grabs and largely depends on the specific needs and problems of your community and the preferences of your local law enforcement liaison.
All to often we see something that seems out of place or suspicious and talk ourselves out of reporting it.
“That car with the tinted windows has just been there sitting in the parking lot for an hour with the engine running. Maybe I should report it.”
“Nah it’s probably no big deal. “
“I don’t know who to call anyway. If I call the police they probably won’t do anything. Maybe it’s nothing and I’ll end up looking like an idiot.”
Or maybe we’re worried about possible retaliation.
“I’d really love to report those kids hanging out on the corner but they’ll probably find out I’m the one who reported them and they’ll slash my tires.”
Or maybe we’re worried that we’ll look like a whiner.
“I’d love to report those kids on the corner but I’d look like a wimp. A real man would just go confront them.”
There are also neighbors who have none of these issues and report every last insignificant detail of their neighbor’s lives, or personal matters that don’t affect the neighborhood in general. You know the guy – every neighborhood has one. Your grass is too long, your trashcan sat out on the curb too long…
While there are many good outcomes attributable to Neighborhood Watch programs – a stronger sense of community, target hardening, etc., the underlying principal of Neighborhood Watch is that you, the community, are serving as the eyes and ears of the police, who can’t be there all the time. The hierarchical structure of Neighborhood Watch (participant, block captain, coordinator, liaison) exists so that the police aren’t overwhelmed by having to manage multiple points of contact with each community they are assigned to and also helps filter the information. This is where Neighborhood Watch typically starts to break down. If you decide to stick your neck out and report the car in our example, it still has to go through someone else before it gets to the police. They may also second guess you or alter the details slightly. Did you ever participate in the exercise in elementary school where the kid at the end of a row of kids is given a short message to pass down the line? He’s told that “Bob found a stray dog while walking home from school with Sally” and by the time the message gets passed down to the last kid it has something to do with a Lama getting stuck in a toaster.
Then there’s the lack of feedback. If people in your community are not actively engaged as participants, they will not participate. Your Neighborhood Watch will die a slow death, vines will eventually cover the signs you posted and the whole thing will be forgotten until homes start getting broken into again. People will be upset, accusations will fly and you’ll have a community meeting and the whole cycle will start over again. People like to know what’s going on in their community. If you’re secretive – reports go to the police but nothing ever goes back to the participants – you will not be successful.
I’m sure you’ve guessed what I’m getting at by now. This is exactly why we’re building Nation of Neighbors. In most communities, if you were to put the little, seemingly insignificant, pieces of information together that are scattered throughout the community you can build a story that will actually help law enforcement and community members find solutions – or catch perpetrators.
Our reporting guideline:
Report anything that may negatively impact public safety or security and has a potential effect on more than yourself that you have first-hand knowledge of.
You can also report any activity that your community would like to collect data on. Accidents, stray animals, crime, drug activity, gang activity, graffiti, and illegal dumping are a few examples of common reports.
Report the car, report the kids on the corner, report anything you like that you believe may adversely affect your community. Most of the reports will be quickly be forgotten. But once in a while pieces will fit together and help you solve a crime or, even better, prevent a crime. Reports are shown to other community members anonymously so you don’t need to worry about looking like an idiot or about retaliation. You can even elect to make your community group ‘private’ – no one will know it exists except the participants and you can hand select those participants.
Click here to learn more about reporting with nation of neighbors. http://www.nationofneighbors.com/pages/reports