All homeowners worry about adequate security, but many HOAs and condo associations overspend on guards, surveillance cameras, and electronic security systems. There are low-tech, more cost-effective solutions for suburban associations, though, like neighborhood watch programs, where involved residents organize themselves to observe and report important concerns.
In New Jersey, neighborhood watch programs have been on the rise for 30 years, according to Howard E. Butt, state coordinator of the New Jersey Citizen Corps, with a sharp growth after 9/11. That’s when the New Jersey State Police, the Office of Emergency Management, the New Jersey Citizen Corps State Council, the League of Municipalities, the Chiefs of Police Association and the Sheriff’s Association joined forces to introduce the Neighborhood Watch-New Jersey initiative.
The program’s goals, Butt writes in a statement called “Neighborhood Watch: A Fresh Perspective,” are to “strengthen and revitalize existing neighborhood watch groups and to establish new groups in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies.” Neighborhood watches are separate from the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) program, which focuses on helping first responders during emergencies and disasters—although, of course, there’s nothing to stop the same individual from participating in both.
High-Tech Isn’t Always Enough
Even if an association employs surveillance cameras and other high-tech systems, there can be potential “blind spots,” making for a false sense of security. Indeed, there is a benefit for criminals to be aware that residents are organized, watching, and on guard through these established programs.
“All prevention methods work best when implemented together,” says Elaine Warga-Murray, CEO and managing partner of Regency Management Group in Howell, New Jersey. “A surveillance system is usually only in certain areas, and even a roving security staff vehicle can’t be everywhere. When there are aware residents who work effectively with staff and the municipality, there is a much safer environment. Usually, this also assists in keeping young adults and youngsters from congregating and creating disturbances or damage to common areas.”