23 May Community-Based Crime Prevention for Dummies : how to join forces with your neighbours
By Antonia Gambineri, VSM Intern
Neighbourhood Watch schemes are implemented in several countries worldwide in order to enhance unity, feelings of safety and belonging in a community and get local citizens involved in crime prevention. In many localities, volunteers from the community, or street pastors like in the UK, actively patrol the streets to prevent illegal activities, deter potential criminals and strengthen the feeling of safety in their neighbourhood. Neighbourhood watch groups also serve the purpose of making residents aware of the importance of simple preventive measures, such as turning the lights on in the evening to show that the house is not vacant. Oftentimes, locals also keep in touch via social media groups and pages.
Neighbourhood watch involves being connected with the members of one’s community, to keep updated on common issues and problems and how to best approach them. Neighbourhood watch schemes are not vigilante groups. Residents cannot take it entirely upon themselves to prevent and/or respond to crime: there are designated authorities that carry out this role. However, being more interconnected and aware of what can be done to prevent crime, as well as who to contact when witnessing criminal activity, can be very beneficial to a local community.
Efforts to set up a neighbourhood watch program can be initiated by community members themselves, and luckily, getting a scheme up and running isn’t as hard as it seems. Maybe someone living close by shares your same concerns, or wants to help prevent crime and make your community feel safer? Find like-minded people that share your concerns and your desire to make your neighbourhood a better place to live in! If you are alarmed about a specific issue in your neighbourhood, your street or your building, and have some form of contact with your neighbours, ask around if anybody is interested in helping you set up the program.
If there is good communication between the community, the police and the local council, you should share resources and ask for help. Before a program can be built, it is important to get locals engaged, hear out their concerns, set objectives and define what the aims of your neighbourhood are. What crimes are most prevalent and how can these be tackled by the program? You can consult your local police station or local council to expand the knowledge of the neighbourhood that you already have as a resident. Neighbourhood watch is not just about crime: any problem that concerns the community, such as noise or anti-social behaviour for instance, can be addressed. Don’t forget: this program serves as a tool to make your neighbourhood better and more liveable, and create a feeling of unity within your community.
A structure for your program should be established as early as possible – who will be the manager or main coordinator and so on? Which entities will be involved? How will communication with these other entities work? How often will you meet? Will you be active online? Make sure to involve professionals or people with relevant experience, perhaps first and foremost, by inviting them to a community meeting in your street, block or local parish. You should start by discussing the most salient and recent issues in the meetings, in order to get a clearer picture of what the community wants and needs. If a meeting is not possible, perhaps the discussions and updates can be shared over social media or email or telephone.
Sharing tips and resources with other localities that have a Neighbourhood Watch scheme or something akin to it in place, might also prove useful to maintain the scheme and get community members engaged. NW exists in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States and is effective in preventing crime, reducing fear of crime and building social capital. Why not give it a try in Malta?
Project WO is funded by the Social Impact Awards
About the author: Antonia Gambineri is a German Criminology student currently in her first year at the University of Malta, and is also engaged as the Education Officer of the Criminology Students’ Association (CSA). Her current area of research is about factors that make someone criminal and crimes directed towards individuals.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Victim Support Malta.