Do neighborhood watches make citizens safer or do they only feel safer? Let’s begin by looking at how burglars select their targets.
Success as a burglar is similar to success as a jackal. Wild dogs don’t pursue meals that are dangerous or difficult to catch when an easy meal is available. In the same way, a thief will not risk a fight or incarceration if he doesn’t have to.
A convicted burglar admitted to a Neighborhood Watch meeting why he targeted the elderly and the trusting. His first crime happened because it was easier than working.
He sold carbon-monoxide detectors door-to-door. After installing one for an older lady, she paid him from an envelope full of cash. He asked her for a glass of water and stole the envelope while she was filling the glass.
From then on, the job was only a way into homes he would rob.
What Burglars Avoid
He never robbed adult males. He watched out for work boots on the doorstep. He stayed away from cameras.
If asked for ID, he would say it was in his van.He would leave and not return.
And he avoided Neighborhood Watch signs. He always took the easy path.
But do Watches Work?
According to that thief, the presence of signs and patrols are a deterrent. Concerned citizens patrolling the streets make burglars find another neighborhood.
The mere existence of a watch group will not work long if the members don’t use certain tactics. For neighbors away from home a long time, the watch must create the illusion of occupancy. A thief will strike if he believes the home is vacant.
Pick up the daily paper, collect mail and bring in the trash if the occupant cannot. Encourage the use of timer-activated lights and leave the radio on.
Buy a big pair of steel-toe boots, stomp them in the mud and leave them by the welcome mat.
In a 2008 study, the United States Justice Department discovered a 16% decrease in crime for communities with a Neighborhood Watch compared to neighboring communities without one. 19 of 36 communities studied saw a drop in crime.
That’s not a large decrease. Watches are often formed in response to a single crime. The resulting lack of crime may just be a coincidence.
The study also pointed out that watches usually form in safe, stable neighborhoods and rarely in the ones that truly need them.
Be the Hard Target
A thief should choose someone other than you. A neighborhood watch will help. So will good locks, cameras, alarm stickers and alert neighbors.
Always ask for identification from a stranger at your door. A professional will always have it.
Remember: it’s your door and your choice. You don’t have to let anyone in.
A neighborhood watch won’t protect you if you act like an easy victim.