03 Apr A Fresh Look at Neighbourhood Watch : Project Watch Out (WO)
By Jake Boyle, VSM Intern
New York, 1964. Kitty Genovese is brutally stabbed to death outside her apartment. Following the event, the first neighbourhood watch scheme is established in America.
Cheshire, 1982. Following the success of schemes in Chicago, the UK sets up Home Watch. This has since expanded from the local area into a nationwide network, supported by the Home Office, today named as Neighbourhood and Home Watch UK (NHW UK).
Malta, 2017. Project Watch Out is launched by Victim Support Malta (VSM) with the intention of setting a foundation for neighbourhood watch schemes to be implemented in local councils in Malta.
It was with this aim in mind that VSM invited the Community Engagement and Memberships Director at NHW UK, Lianne Taylor, to fly over to Malta and share her knowledge with us. Lianne faced the challenge of having to condense nearly 20 years’ worth of experience into 2 training sessions for VSM staff, Criminology students, police, local government, and local council staff. The task was arduous. However, after 2 days, a lot of caffeine, and a few “Hot Fuzz” references, Lianne got the job done.
We quickly realised that for neighbourhood watch schemes to work and survive they need to evolve into the modern age. NHW UK data shows that the average volunteer is over 50 years old, and from the 3.8 million households covered by NHW in England and Wales, 25% of them are in affluent areas. Compare that with the 6% covered in deprived areas, and it’s clear that there needs to be a change. In the UK, neighbourhood watch schemes have developed a reputation for being made up of people from older generations who like to spy and be nosy. This image has contributed to them not being taken seriously by people in areas where they would be most effective. In Malta, the problem with previous attempts to set up neighbourhood watch schemes is that they failed to gain traction and keep the communities engaged. This became of focal point for discussion during the training.
Over the 2 days we held numerous group exercises on topics such as how to ensure community engagement around the country, as what may work in one area may not work in another. Some communities may like the idea of having group meetings regularly, while others may prefer an online method. We spoke about who would be best to help us approach the locals, in one area it may be the local priest, in another it may be a local celebrity. Who may help us promote neighbourhood watch? Local businesses may be effective in one area, while a local sports team may be more effective in another. What crime should we focus on tackling? While pickpocketing may be prevalent in one locality, vandalism may be common in a different area. As shown, it’s hard to give a direct answer to any of these questions; instead the task we have ahead of ourselves is to provide a flexible yet sustainable framework for a neighbourhood watch scheme that can be adapted to fit into the different lifestyles, and different problems, that face the localities in Malta. After the help and guidance given by Lianne, we are off to a good start. Our part now is to keep the momentum going and deliver what we have been taught to the communities.
For neighbourhood watch to actually work and take hold in Malta, it will need the full co-operation of everyone involved, as each organisation holds a unique experience from their own respective work within the community. As Lianne pointed out, every organisation, whether it be VSM, police, or local government, has to treat the others as equals, as the contribution of all is vital for Project WO and more broadly, neighbourhood watch, to work. Once this co-operation is firmly established, then working with the community will become easier, as will the forming of a working neighbourhood watch scheme that can serve as an effective method of preventing crime.
Participants at the Project WO training, held at the headquarters of Regjun Tramuntana:
Project WO is funded by the Social Impact Awards
About the author: Jake Boyle is a second year Criminology student at the University of Malta. He is also currently serving as President of the Criminology Students’ Association (CSA). Whilst not being Maltese, he has shown interest in contributing to the reduction of crime in Malta, having previously helped compile a list of recommendations for the Crime Prevention Strategy for the Maltese Islands 2017-2021, when it was up for public consultation. His current area of interest is in hate crime and its links with politics.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Victim Support Malta.