It’s often said that safety starts at home—and while many HOAs spend lots of money on sophisticated security and access control systems to protect residents and property, others opt for lower-tech solutions to neighborhood security and crime prevention. One such solution is the neighborhood watch organization: a group of concerned residents coming together to make a commitment to be vigilant and observant and to do what they can in their own community to prevent crimes like vandalism, burglary, and even arson.
One of the more severe effects of economic downturns is the downsizing of public services by municipalities that are seeking to cut corners and save money in a variety of ways. The recession usually means not only freezes on raises and hiring but damaging layoffs that can result in fewer police officers on patrol. The neighborhood watch program can provide a successful alternative, in many cases.
The neighborhood watch is not a new idea but a variation on an older theme, says Officer Kelly Carsillo, a crime prevention officer with the West Palm Beach Police Department. “It goes back to the years when our grandparents would sit on the porch and wave to little Johnny down the street, when you knew what people were up to. Today we live in a society where people don’t get to know each other as much. Mostly, people just want to come and go. We advocate that people need to know each other, what their emergency contact numbers are, what cars they drive, what hours they generally keep, to go knock on their door, and to pay attention to what’s going on in your community.”
One of the challenges facing many watch groups is the consistency and dedication of the volunteers, says Carsillo. “As far as neighborhood watches go, I don’t have any that have gone long term. What I find is that I get a lot of calls when a rash of incidents happen, such as auto burglaries, but once the threat passes it typically just falls apart.”
This may be encouraging for those living in housing communities. “What I have found to be more effective is dealing with existing homeowner’s associations, because they already have monthly meetings. Because the structure is already in place, it’s easier for me to get a crime prevention message into that group. So I can incorporate everything into those meetings.”