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Neighbourhood Safety Initiative - Neighbourhood Watches

Neighbourhood WatchesNeighbourhood Watches are a popular means of mobilising local knowledge in order to improve safety in their neighbourhood. They are autonomous civil society organisations whose members voluntarily give of their time, working within the law.

Neighbourhood Watches are often referred to as ‘the eyes and ears of the police’ in the community, and usually have a close association with state police agencies. They carry out neighbourhood patrols on foot, by bicycle or in vehicles, by day and often by night. Well-resourced communities may invest in radios, cameras and control rooms linking their activities with private security companies and police agencies.

Whatever the level of technical support available to a Neighbourhood Watch, their establishment and operations in effect recognise that neighbourhood safety cannot be brought about by state law-enforcement agencies alone, and that – if they operate within the law that applies to all civilians – their patrolling activities may contribute to improving neighbourhood safety and reducing the opportunities for crime.

Nevertheless, not every local resident who wishes to help create a safe neighbourhood is interested in – or even fitted to – taking part in recognised patrols. The crucial element that Neighbourhood Watch members bring to improving local safety is their local knowledge, and we need to think more broadly about how that knowledge can best be used in a preventive and future-oriented manner. ‘Placemaking’ may include formal patrolling, but is not limited to it.

So, if not only patrolling, what then?

So far, we have been presenting sets of practices (based on the same set of foundational principles) that may be implemented either through state bodies (NSOs, SROs, Focus Tables) or in close association with them (Neighbourhood Watch), but anybody can be a placemaker for public safety. All it takes is

  • Knowledge of your neighbourhood (physical layout, demography, culture and amenities, etc.).
  • An observant eye for signs of potential harm (the ‘broken window’ awareness) and potential for improvement.
  • Knowledge of whom to ask for assistance if needed (police, social services, municipal services, etc.).
  • Respect for the law and proper process.
  • A willingness to think beyond what is usually taken for granted.

 A suggested Code of Good Practice for civil society placemakers, including Neighbourhood Watch:

  • Our aim is to help make our neighbourhood a safe place to live, work and play.
  • We respect all other organisations, agencies and individuals that share this aim, and we undertake to work in cooperation with them.
  • We work and behave within the law.
  • We are transparent and accountable with respect to any funding we may receive in relation to our work as placemakers. We do not use this work as a platform for party-political or sectarian interests.

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