If you aren't actively working to establish a neighborhood watch I'd be willing to bet you have no idea what neighborhood watch is really about. No, it's not primarily about crime reduction or law enforcement or even about making a neighborhood safer. Those are desirable by-products of the real work of neighborhood watch.
Neighborhood watch is primarily about restoring that lost sense of neighborhood. A few days ago I wrote about how and why our towns have lost that sense of neighborhood and I urge you to find it in my archive and read it but in today's post I want to write about how our lost sense of community dictates how a neighborhood watch coordinator must respond to that lost sense of neighborhood, how that lost sense of neighborhood shapes and dictates the community-building work a watch coordinator must do before he or she can get the by-products of crime reduction and safer neighborhoods.
The job title "neighborhood watch coordinator" is a misnomer. It should be called "neighborhood creator" or "neighborhood builder" because until you first establish a neighborhood, you can't establish a neighborhood watch. No matter which watch model your program follows - police-run, city government run or civilian run - the neighborhood watch coordinator must first create a neighborhood before he or she can organize that neighborhood into a neighborhood watch.
For reasons I discussed in an earlier post, we no longer have neighborhoods. We can't even name some of the people who live on our streets much less know how to email them, phone them or text them to invite them to a watch meeting or ask them if the guy who just entered his house is supposed to be there.
So the first thing you have to do as a neighborhood watch coordinator is to identify the people in your ward or neighborhood and then try to capture contact info like smart phone numbers and email addresses. No, your local police aren't likely to have that information. Your mayor may not have it. Your city council person may not have it. Just the other day I spoke at length with a small-town police chief who is trying to start a neighborhood watch group in his town. I asked him if his city of 8,000 people has some kind of master list of its residents that includes phone numbers and email addresses and he told me they didn't. You're going to have to go door-to-door and gather this information the hard way.
And don't be surprised when a lot of people won't tell you their name or their email address or their phone number. But you can't have an effective, functional neighborhood watch program until everybody knows how to reach everybody else in the group. So your first role as a neighborhood watch coordinator is Identifier In Chief and Contact Information Documentarian. Good luck. It's hard. It's time consuming.
If you're lucky, you'll have some block captains who will gather that information from the people who live in their immediate areas, but, I have to be honest, when you ask somebody to be a block captain he'll stop walking his dog past your house for fear that you'll ask again. People want the by-products of neighborhood watch organizing - the safer neighborhood and increased property values - but they don't want to do any work to make that happen.
Think about it: if you don't have time to walk your entire ward by yourself before each meeting and you don't have money to mail fliers to every address in your ward and you don't have email addresses and phone numbers for the people in your ward, how will you make your neighbors aware that there even is a neighborhood watch?
If you're like me and the neighborhood watch coordinators I know, you'll find yourself creating newsworthy events that seemingly have nothing to with neighborhood watch, you'll find yourself mailing media releases to members of the news media, you'll find yourself doing more social media than an introvert like me wants to do.
By the way, here are the speakers in our 2013 St. Albans Ward 4 Speaker Series:
Sept 3 - Delegate Suzette Raines
Oct 1 - Magistrate Mike Sisson
Nov 5 - Probation Officers Michael Lazo and Michael Shaffer
Dec. 3 - Delegate JB McCuskey
Higginbotham At Large reads all submitted comments but only PUBLISHES comments from clearly identified submitters. There's no Ring of Gyges for me so there's no Ring of Gyges for you. Besides, Higginbotham At Large has no respect whatsoever for cowards who won't sign their names to their opinions.