What is a Neighborhood Watch?


A neighborhood watch (also called a crime watch or neighborhood crime watch) is an organized group of citizens devoted to crime and vandalism prevention within a given neighborhood or community. It builds on the concept of a “town watch” dating back to Colonial America.

A neighborhood watch may be organized as its own group or may simply be a function of a neighborhood association or other community association or group.

Neighborhood watches are not vigilante organizations. When suspecting criminal activities, members are encouraged not to intervene but instead to contact authorities.

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 Sheriff’s Association began a concerted effort in 1972 to revitalize the “watch group” effort nationwide.

Today neighborhood watches flourish all across America and have long been recognized by Law Enforcement as one of the most effective tools ever created in reducing crime.

Neighborhood watch is also recognized by the Department of Homeland Security as a intricate part in the fight on Global Terrorism.

In 2002 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized the concept of neighborhood watch groups as an effective tool to facilitate and organize neighborhoods and communities to implement disaster preparedness programs. The CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and NET (Neighborhood Emergency Training) Programs are a direct result of this thinking and hundreds of classes are taught each year all across the country.

Law Enforcement Agencies around the nation report that 63 percent of their civilian volunteers come from community organizations and neighborhood watch groups.


Typically, Neighborhood Watch groups are organized due to occurrences of crime in the area. Often, when the crime has gone away, so does the Neighborhood Watch. A successful Neighborhood Watch does far more than just relieve the immediate threat of crime, the Watch group empowers people to take action, builds partnerships between law enforcement and the communities they serve, and forges communication among all residents. A good Neighborhood Watch is far more than a quick fix for an immediate crisis, it can be a moving force for positive change that tackles the root causes of crime and build upon that change to enhance the overall quality of life within the community .

Successful Neighborhood Watches move beyond the basics of home security, watching out for suspicious activity, and reporting crime to law enforcement. They sponsor community events, neighborhood  cleanups, find solutions to neighborhood problems, and use the community resources to improve the overall quality of life and reduce the fear of crime.