Who Watches the Watchmen? The 411 on Neighborhood Watches

 Back in the 1980s, McGruff the Crime Dog taught children and parents alike to “Take a bite out of crime.” The tough but affable, anthropomorphic bloodhound was created by the Ad Council  for the National Crime Prevention Council and used by police officers to build  crime awareness programs among American families. McGruff’s mission is essentially the same as countless proactive home owner associations  nationwide—sniffing out criminals.  

 “Neighborhood watches or citizen patrol groups can be effective,” says Attorney Louis Caplan of the Boca Raton-based Sachs Sax & Caplan. Caplan, chair of the law firm’s Condominium and Homeowners Association practice, adds, “The main way that they would help to prevent crimes, and have been successful,  is primarily the result of having what appears to be somewhat of a police  presence.”  

 Value in Security?

 According to Neighborhoodscout.com, there is good reason for vigilance. For  example, recent annual statistics found that there was 101,969 violent crimes  and 669,035 property crimes in the state of Florida. With over 18 million  residents, the chance of becoming a victim of a violent crime is 1 in 184 while  the property crime rate is 1 in 28.  

 The severity of crime statistics varies by region, but crime will occur  regardless of location which is why it’s surprising that more homeowner associations are not initiating a watch group. Attorney Russell Robbins of the Coral Springs-based law firm of Mirza Basulto & Robbins says that a cost-benefit analysis on establishing a neighborhood watch  is scarce. “My primary concern from the association’s perspective is liability and potential discriminatory or selective enforcement  in the actions of the neighborhood watch.”  

 For many homeowners associations, there is a false sense of security resulting  from otherwise proactive, visible security measures such as expensive cameras  and other technologies. “Crime occurs and will go down, it’s not realistic to think otherwise,” says Carmen Caldwell, the executive director of the Miami-Dade Citizens Crime  Watch, who has 30-plus years experience helping associations build watch  programs. “Those living in gated communities, with guards and high walls have a false sense  of security as often crime occurs from within.”  

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