Neighbors helping neighbors. It's a simple adage and one that holds immeasurable power when it comes to keeping communities safe. Over the years, neighborhood watch groups have grown in number, having a positive impact on the reduction of crime in communities throughout the country.
According to the National Neighborhood Watch Program, burglaries nationwide decreased more than 30 percent throughout the 1990s, thanks to communities taking a more active role in stopping crime before it starts. "People expect to live in their neighborhoods and have peace and quiet," says Russell Mitchell, neighborhood watch coordinator for the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office in Syracuse, New York and a member of the National Neighborhood Watch Advisory Committee. "That's what we advocate."
And people who live in the seemingly placid suburbs of New York City aren't immune to crime just because they've got lawns and trees in their backyards. According to Detective Lieutenant Al Troianello, who does community outreach and neighborhood watch organization for the sheriff's department in Madison, "Crimes in the cities tend to be crimes against persons—like assaults, or robberies, which law enforcement defines as forcibly taking property from someone, as opposed to breaking into a home and stealing something. Here, we're a suburb of New York City. Crimes here are crimes against property, and car thefts, or people stealing auto parts."
Although it's difficult to measure the effectiveness of neighborhood watch groups against these types of crimes in terms of solid statistics, watch programs are undoubtedly effective, Mitchell says. "I know it's working because I get calls from people after they've made 911 calls and reported problems. When things are happening in our neighborhood, people tell me—and I know they are watching out for things."
Raquel Rivera of the Waldo Avenue Neighborhood Watch in Bloomfield knows her community's program is working too. In the two years since they began, she says they've thwarted three would-be robbers in their two-block neighborhood. "Before we began, there had been a lot of robberies and thefts and we got very tired of it," she says. "We thought that maybe if we got in each other's business, it wouldn't happen as often. And that's been the case."