Is neighbourhood watch effective?
According to ourwatch.org.uk, more and more residents are signing up every year to create Neighbourhood Watches around the UK. So what is it exactly and how does it work?
Neighbourhood Watch is an organisation of members of the community helping the police to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour within a neighborhood. The first Watch developed in New York in 1964 after reports that witnesses did nothing to stop the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese. A few years later, some efforts were made to make the movement nationwide in the US.
The scheme was duplicated in the UK in 1982 and in 2007 grew to a national organisation endorsed by the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers. Its aim is to bring neighbours together, educate them on security and safety and create communities where crimes are less likely to happen and where members are encouraged to report it to authorities.
Today it has more than 173,000 coordinators, covering 3.8 million households across England and Wales.
But here is the catch, while there are plenty of examples of successful Neighbourhood watch stories around the world, studies show varied results when it comes to crime fighting.
Out of the 13 major studies made worldwide between 1977 and 2006, the effect of Neighbourhood watch on the number of crimes was modest at best, often non-existent.
Cirel et al. (1977), Lowman (1983), Research and Forecasts Inc. (1983), Henig (1984), Anderton (1985), Veater (1984), Jenkins and Latimer (1986), Forrester, Chatterton and Pease (1988), Bennett (1990), Matthews and Trickey (1994), Tilley and Webb (1994), Matthews and Trickey (1994b)
In areas where crime decreased while a Neighbourhood Watch was in place, there is no clear indication that it was due to the organisation. (Medford, 2014)
In addition to having little impact on crime, it was also observed that the majority of Neighbourhood watch creations are taking place in low to medium crime rate areas and not in high crime rate areas where it is needed most. (Skogan 1990, Hope & Trickett 1995)
So why keep a system that has little to no effect on crime? The principal role of the Neighbourhood watch is less about fighting crime and more about building a stronger relationship between the police force and community. A community that is focused on trust and respect, creating a society where no one has to feel afraid, vulnerable or isolated in the place where they live.
When asked about the perceptions of how the Neighbourhood Watch scheme has worked, instead of calculating more tangible factors such as crime levels, researchers found something really interesting.
People believe that the biggest impact of the Neighbourhood Watch program was on building a strong relationship between Police and the community and the development of community empowerment. And there lies the real power of Neighborhood Watch, it fights the isolation and the fear generated by crimes by creating a bond among area residents and between the police and the communities they serve.
In recent years, raising confidence in police and increasing feelings of safety in the community has been a central part of police reform in the UK.
The reduction of crime may become a benefit of the Neighbourhood Watch program, rather than the principle objective. (Willis 2004)