This Georgia neighborhood watch successfully cuts crime

| August 5, 2013

The image is familiar to most: a dark figure in a trench coat and low-brimmed hat, his eyes peering out suspiciously from behind the universal “no” symbol. Above and below it, the announcement, “Warning Neighborhood Watch.”

These signs have dotted American communities since the 1960s when outrage stemming from the lack of witness-response during the murder of Kitty Genovese inspired community members to actively watch out for their neighbors. The programs flourished through the 1980s, but as crime decreased, so did watch groups.

Today, crime watches only enter into our consciousness when a group member crosses the line into vigilantism, but sometime in the last decade, neighborhood watch groups have experienced a resurgence. At MySecuritySign, we talk to members of these groups and other community leaders to find out how they keep their neighborhoods safe.

Three years ago, David Bakke, Editor at Money Crashers Personal Finance, joined the crime watch in his neighborhood just outside of Atlanta. At the time, a few unoccupied homes had been vandalized and graffiti decorated some fences. Wanting a safer neighborhood for his son (now six), Bakke helped passed out fliers, took to the group’s Facebook page, and encouraged the neighbors he knew to attend watch group meetings.

Once the word was out, the group started by cleaning up the neighborhood, spending a weekend painting over the graffitied fences. Next, they established an observation schedule that made each group member responsible for looking out for suspicious activity on a certain night of the week. Like many neighborhood watch groups, this one worked to establish a relationship with the local police in order to better report anything suspect. “Whenever we see someone who looks suspicious or we don’t recognize from the neighborhood, we usually just call the authorities rather than trying to engage them,” Bakke said.

Neighborhood Watch sign with a burglar crossed out.

Another example of a suspicious figure. Available at MySecuritySign.

These efforts have seemed to work. Before taking action, the group surmised that teens from a local apartment complex who hung out in the neighborhood late at night were responsible for the graffiti and vandalism. Since the community started keeping watch, those teens have stayed away.

The watch group—along with the neighborhood—has evolved over the past three years. Community involvement has varied, and multiple group leaders have come and gone. Some worked aggressively to build the organization, including one who scheduled speaking engagements with local community leaders. Others were less active, doing little more than scheduling biweekly meetings. According to Bakke, it’s the aggressive leaders that inspire the most neighborhood participation.

neighborhood watch

David Bakke, Editor at Money Crashers

Today, the neighborhood watch group’s Facebook page is down, but that’s likely because the neighborhood is sufficiently aware of its existence. “Some kids actually came up and thanked us when we first started the group,” Bakke said. “I’ll never forget that.”

These kids now know that if they see something suspicious (a trench-coated, shadowy figure for instance), they should alert the neighborhood watch group, who will then alert the authorities. But so far in this Georgia community, the mere presence of a neighborhood watch group has been enough to deter crime.

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Category: Neighborhood Watch