The impact of Neighborhood Watch and crime reduction in the U.S.

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Crime-watch programs gained popularity in the 1970s and still offer protection to more than 50% of the U.S. residential population.

Neighborhood Watch programs are a part of America’s security initiatives managed by citizens within a locality, with approval and collaboration from government agents. It typically involves recruiting residents to attend security-themed community meetings and conduct various surveillance tasks around properties and common areas.

An ideal Neighborhood Watch organization usually has a block captain and coordinator who plays a leadership role and coordinates with local police as a liaison.

According to a 2008 meta-analysis by the U.S. Justice Department titled “Does Neighborhood Watch Reduce Crime?”, results of 18 research projects and related studies were examined to understand the relationship between U.S. crime rates and community policing programs. Source of research data were findings from investigations conducted on Neighborhood Watch programs in the U.S., U.K., and Canada between 1977 and 1994.

Reports from the reviews are as follows:

  • Community policing programs have a significant impact on crime reduction. An average of 16% decline was recorded in Neighborhood Watch communities when compared with other areas.
  • Mixed results of evaluations showed that some programs are more effective in some areas while others appear to work less well or not at all.
  • However, there insufficient data to prove why such programs are associated with positive outcomes.

It is believed that potential offenders might be deterred from committing a crime if they believe that Neighborhood Watch areas are too risky. Other possible factors include improved police investigation and the efficiency of law enforcement officials. Yet, it remains unclear whether Neighborhood Watch deters offenders or enhances police investigation.

The report noted that other investigations on the hypotheses have cast doubt on such community policing programs, for instance, a 2002 study prepared for Congress by the National Institute of Justice and the University of Maryland which concluded that “the oldest and best-known community policing program, Neighborhood Watch, is ineffective at preventing crime.”

“The primary problem found by the evaluations is that the areas with highest crime rates are the most reluctant to organize,” the researcher wrote.

“… Many people refuse to host or attend community meetings, in part because they distrust their neighbors.

“Middle class areas, in which trust is higher, generally have little crime to begin with, making measurable effects on crime almost impossible to achieve.

“The program cannot even be justified on the basis of reducing middle class fear of crime and flight from the city, since no such effects have been found.”