Think back at least 25 years ago to the neighborhoods we lived in. Whether as a child or an adult, that setting is probably much different from our neighborhoods today.
As a child, one remembers playing in the streets; baseball, football, tag, riding bicycles, etc. Or playing in the other kids backyards or homes, swimming, playing little cars, dolls, or hide-n-seek. If it was raining outside, some kids would be in another’s home and their mother would usually have soup, sandwiches or even hot chocolate. If one of the kids got out of line, that kids mother would sure let him/her know. And if one got hurt, she would also care for them. On birthdays, Christmas and Easter, we would go from house to house to see and play with each other’s new toys.
As an adult, one probably remembers the friendships and trust with the other adults and parents in the neighborhood. Keeping eyes on the others homes and children. Even helping each other with kids or home problems if need be. Parents knew their children were safe because all of the adults treated all the kids as if they were their own. Birthdays and holidays were just as fun as it was for the kids because the adults could hangout, laugh, talk and even drink and play cards.
We would rarely ever see the police in most of our neighborhoods. If one kid was sick, that kid was not allowed to play with the other kids until they were better and the other kids knew that that kid was sick and could not play. Neighborhood parents would take turns as a group on Halloween and walk most of the kids around the neighborhood and others. In some neighborhoods, we even went Christmas caroling together. The bottom line is that everyone watched out for everyone, not even knowing that what they were doing essentially was a neighborhood watch.
For many of us, we are sitting back and thinking “wow, those were some good times, what happened?”
Many things have happened. Our neighborhoods have gotten bigger, we have seen cultural differences, language barriers, increase and ease in crime, bullying, the stop snitching movement, kids wanting to be cool with gangsters, drinking and drug use, the economy and on and on.
The current American system of neighborhood watches began developing in the late 1960s as a response to the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. People became outraged after reports that a dozen witnesses did nothing to save Genovese or to apprehend her killer. Some locals formed groups to watch over their neighborhoods and to look out for any suspicious activity in their areas. Shortly thereafter, the National Sheriffs' Association began a concerted effort in 1972 to revitalize the ‘watch group’ effort nationwide.
How would any of us feel if what happened to Kitty Genovese happened to one of our loved ones? Or if one of our children died of a drug overdose? Or worse, from drugs sold out of a house in one of our own neighborhoods? What if one of our loved ones were raped? Or a house on our street was being used for prostitution or even sex slavery? Well, it happens. It is happening now in many of our own neighborhoods.
Can something be done about it? Absolutely. Many people complain about crime and that something has to be done about it. Then do something about it. By not doing anything, we are letting the crime happen. The police cannot be everywhere and see everything all the time. They rely on us to report crime and provide them with as much information as possible to prosecute criminals.
Arresting and prosecuting criminals is not the answer. The solution rather, is prevention. A ‘neighborhood watch’ sign posted in a neighborhood means nothing and criminals know that. However, if the police keep showing up whenever a suspicious person or vehicle is in the neighborhood, or someone is looking into houses or cars, then the word is going to spread that criminal behavior will not stand in our neighborhoods.
Setting up a neighborhood watch is not difficult. Start with contacting your neighbors and find out how many of them are interested in the program and are willing to participate. Flyers and letters are ok, but remember not to put them in mailboxes as this is a federal offence. The more people involved, the more successful the program will be. Next, contact your local law enforcement agencies public information officer or community service representative and they will coordinate a communication plan between them and your neighborhood watch.
Get to know your neighbors. Keep each other informed. Exchange contact information so that the lead watchperson can keep the police representative informed of everything happening so that it can be passed to on- duty officers. Another helpful tool is a neighborhood website that residents can view and post information on, as well as allow police to view.
Keeping our families and neighborhoods safe is our own responsibility, let’s look out for each other.
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