Want to Start a Neighborhood Watch? Consider this.


The words “neighborhood watch” are synonymous with safety. These programs are partnerships between homeowners and local law enforcement, and they’ve proven effective in deterring crime in neighborhoods across the nation.

Officially, Neighborhood Watch was founded in 1972. Since that time, it’s spread from coast to coast – and throughout our home state of California. You can find programs everywhere from San Francisco to Sacramento to Santa Clara, Palm Desert, San Diego and beyond.

It works like this: volunteer residents work together with law enforcement to create a visible presence out on community streets. This is a deterrent in itself. And when suspicious activity occurs, it can be reported much more quickly.

If you’re seeking to enhance safety in your community, a good Neighborhood Watch program can help. It boosts awareness, brings residents together, and gets neighbors involved in the shared cause of safety. But before you start, you may want to consider a few things.

1. Neighborhood Watch is a resident effort, not an HOA responsibility.
HOAs and property management companies have a lot of responsibilities. Maintaining common areas, enforcing rules and making the kinds of improvements that enhance property values are all part of their purview. One thing that isn’t? Security – and that includes Neighborhood Watch programs. That responsibility falls to residents.

Given that, you can’t officially connect your Neighborhood Watch program to your association. That would expose you to liability, and would quite possibly be contrary to the association’s defined role. As a result, your Neighborhood Watch program should be founded and run by a separate group of residents, apart from the association. Homeowners should be participant volunteers in the program, and their actions should neither be supported nor sanctioned by the association.

2. Neighborhood Watch members are not crime fighters.
The phrase “don’t be a hero” springs to mind here. Volunteers with Neighborhood Watch should not be expected to – nor invest themselves with the authority to – directly confront suspicious characters. That’s not wise, and it’s certainly not safe. When you’re advising your watch group (which is as involved as the association can get), make sure volunteers are clear on this. They should watch and report, period. “If you see something, say something” are the words to live by for your watch volunteers.

Vigilante activity is not safe, and it’s certainly not legal. Volunteers don’t get uniforms or badges, and they certainly shouldn’t carry weapons. Neither should they express – overtly or implied – an official affiliation with the association as a security force.

3. Work with your local police department.
Your role as a board member should be one of facilitator. With a group of residents interested in starting a Neighborhood Watch program, your next step should be to put them in touch with the local police department or sheriff’s department. That partnership will give your group credibility – not to mention the kind of training they’ll need to operate safely and effectively.

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