Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch, Town Watch, Crime Watch --
whatever the name, it's one of the most effective and least costly
ways to prevent crime and reduce fear. Neighborhood Watch fights
the isolation that crime both creates and feeds upon. It forges
bonds among area residents, helps reduce burglaries and robberies,
and improves relations between police and the communities they
for more information about town watch and about National Night
The ABCs of Neighborhood Watch
- Any community resident can join -- young and old, single
and married, renter and home owner.
- A few concerned residents, a community organization, or a
law enforcement agency can spearhead the effort to organize a
- Members learn how to make their homes more secure, watch
out for each other and the neighborhood, and report activities
that raise their suspicions to the police or sheriff's office.
- You can form a Watch group around any geographical unit:
a block, apartment, park, business area, public housing complex,
- Watch groups are not vigilantes. They are extra eyes and
ears for reporting crime and helping neighbors. Neighborhood
Watch helps build pride and serves as a springboard for efforts
that address community concerns such as recreation for youth,
child care, and affordable housing.
Forming a Neighborhood Watch is a challenge. Here are a few
tips to get your group started.
- Contact the police or sheriff's department or local crime
prevention organization for help in training members in home
security and reporting skills and for information on local crime
- Select a coordinator and block captains who are responsible
for organizing meetings and relaying information to members.
- Recruit members, keeping up-to-date on new residents and
making special efforts to involve the elderly, working parents,
and young people.
- Work with local government or law enforcement to put up Neighborhood
Watch signs, usually after at least 50 percent of all households
Neighbors Look For...
How to Report
- Someone screaming or shouting for help.
- Someone looking into windows and parked cars.
- Unusual noises.
- Property being taken out of closed businesses or houses where
no one is at home.
- Cars, vans, or trucks moving slowly with no apparent destination,
or without lights.
- Anyone being forced into a vehicle.
- A stranger sitting in a car or stopping to talk to a child.
- Abandoned cars
- Report these incidents to the police or sheriff's department.
Talk with your neighbors about the problem.
- Give your name and address.
- Briefly describe the event -- what happened, when, where,
and who was involved.
- Describe the suspect: sex, race, age, height, weight, hair
color, clothing, distinctive characteristics such as beard, mustache,
scars, or accent.
- Describe the vehicle if one was involved: color, make, model,
year, license plate, and special features such as stickers, dents,
It's an unfortunate fact that when a neighborhood crime crisis
goes away, so does enthusiasm for Neighborhood Watch. Work to
keep your Watch group a vital force for community well-being.
- Organize regular meetings that focus on current issues such
as drug abuse, bias-motivated violence, crime in schools, child
care before and after school, recreational activities for young
people, and victim services.
- Organize community patrols to walk around streets or apartment
complexes and alert police to crime and suspicious activities
and identify problems needing attention. People in cars with
cellular phones or CB radios can patrol.
- Adopt a park or school playground. Pick up litter, repair
broken equipment, paint over graffiti.
- Work with local building code officials to require dead bolt
locks, smoke alarms, and other safety devices in new and existing
homes and commercial buildings. Work with parent groups and schools
to start a McGruff House or other block parent program (to help
children in emergency situations.)
- Publish a newsletter that gives prevention tips and local
crime news, recognizes residents of all ages who have made a
difference, and highlights community events.
- Don't forget social events that give neighbors a chance to
know each other -- a block party, potluck dinner, volleyball
or softball game, picnic.
Why Organize Your Neighborhood Against Crime? Crime and fear
of crime threaten a community's well-being -- people become afraid
to use streets and parks, suspicion erupts between young and
old, shops gradually leave. Crime in turn feeds on the social
isolation it creates. Today's lifestyles -- many homes where
both parents work, more single parent families, and greater job
mobility -- can contribute to this isolation and weaken communities.
You and your neighbors can prevent or break this vicious cycle,
and in the process, build your community into a safer, friendlier,
and more caring place to live. Statistics tell the story. Police
and sheriffs' departments in cities, small towns, and suburbs
throughout the country report substantial decreases in crime
and fear due to local crime prevention efforts.
Start with a Neighborhood Watch or block club to address immediate
crime problems, focus on home security, and build neighborhood
cohesion. Then move into other areas such as educating residents
about child protection, drug abuse victim services, and domestic
violence. Explore circumstances in the community that might contribute
to crime -- the physical design of buildings, traffic patterns,
drug trafficking, few jobs or recreational opportunities for
teenagers, lack of affordable housing -- and look for long-range
Neighborhood Watch, Block Watch, Town Watch, Apartment Watch,
Crime Watch -- no matter what it's called, this is one of the
most effective and least costly answers to crime. Watch groups
are a foundation of community crime prevention, they can be a
stepping stone to community revitalization.
Phase One: Getting Started -- Meetings, Block
Captains, and Maps
- Form a small planning committee of neighbors to discuss needs,
the level of interest, possible challenges, and the Watch concept.
- Contact the local police or sheriffs' department, or local
crime prevention organization, to discuss Neighborhood Watch
and local crime problems. Invite a law enforcement officer to
attend your meeting.
- Publicize your meeting at least one week in advance with
door-to-door fliers and follow up with phone calls the day before.
- Select a meeting place that is accessible to people with
- Hold an initial meeting to gauge neighbors' interest; establish
purpose of program; and begin to identify issues that need to
be addressed. Stress that a Watch group is an association of
neighbors who look out for each other's families and property,
alert the police to any suspicious activities or crime in progress,
and work together to make their community a safer and better
place to live.
Phase Two: When the neighborhood decides
to adopt the Watch idea
- Elect a chairperson.
- Ask for block captain volunteers who are responsible for
relaying information to members on their block, keeping up-to-date
information on residents, and making special efforts to involve
the elderly, working parents, and young people. Block captains
also can serve as liaisons between the neighborhood and the police
and communicate information about meetings and crime incidents
to all residents.
- Establish a regular means of communicating with Watch memberse.g.,
newsletter, telephone tree, e-mall, fax, etc.
- Prepare a neighborhood map showing names, addresses, and
phone numbers of participating households and distribute to members.
Block captains keep this map up to date, contacting newcomers
to the neighborhood and rechecking occasionally with ongoing
participants. With guidance from a law enforcement agency, the
Watch trains its members in home security techniques, observation
skills, and crime reporting. Residents also learn about the types
of crime that affect the area.
If you are ready to post Neighborhood Watch signs, check with
law enforcement to see if they have such eligibility requirements
as number of houses that participate in the program. Law enforcement
may also be able to provide your program with signs. If not,
they can probably tell you where you can order them.
Organizers and block captains must emphasize that Watch groups
are not vigilantes and do not assume the role of the police.
They only ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caringand
to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.
The Watch concept is adaptable. There are Park Watches, Apartment
Watches, Window Watches, Boat Watches, School Watches, Realtor
Watches, Utility Watches, and Business Watches. A Watch can be
organized around any geographic unit.
Tips for Success
- Hold regular meetings to help residents get to know each
other and to collectively decide upon program strategies and
- Consider linking with an existing organization, such as a
citizens' association, community development office, tenants'
association, housing authority.
Canvas door-to-door to recruit members.
- Involve everyone -- young and old, single and married, renter
Gain support from the police or sheriffs' office. This is critical
to a Watch group's credibility. These agencies are the major
sources of information on local crime patterns, home security,
other crime prevention education, and crime reporting.
- Get the information out quickly. Share all kinds of news
-- quash rumors.
- Gather the facts about crime in your neighborhood. Check
police reports, do victimization surveys, and learn residents'
perceptions about crime. Often residents' opinions are not supported
by facts, and accurate information can reduce fear of crime.
- Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant
lots contribute to crime. Sponsor cleanups, encourage residents
to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights
- It's essential to celebrate the success of the effort and
recognize volunteers' contributions through such events as awards,
annual dinners, and parties. To help meet community needs, Neighborhood
Watches can sponsor meetings that address broader issues such
as drug abuse, gangs, self-protection tactics, isolation of the
elderly, crime in the schools, and rape prevention.
Don't forget events like National Night Out (bookmark our
Events Calendar) or a potluck dinner that gives neighbors a chance
to get together. Such items as pins, t-shirts, hats, or coffee
mugs with the group's name also enhance identity and pride.
Your Neighborhood Watch
When crime drops or the neighborhood problem is alleviated,
some Watch programs slowly lose momentum. To keep a Neighborhood
Watch program vital, blend crime prevention into other community
Have your Watch group identify the neighborhood's strengths
and problems and then brainstorm on what members can do to improve
the quality of community life. Here are some ideas to get you
- Encourage schools to teach crime and drug prevention in the
- Cooperate with parent associations, recreation departments,
and schools to organize after-school programs for children and
- Start a block parent program to help children cope with emergencies
while walking to and from school or playing in the area. These
programs can be a reliable source of help for children in emergency
or frightening situations. Volunteers must meet specific standards,
including a law enforcement records check. Programs are established
locally as a partnership among law enforcement, schools, and
- Spearhead a Gang or Violence Prevention Task Force to assess
those problems and develop prevention strategies or solutions.
- Translate crime and drug prevention materials into Spanish
or other languages needed by non-English speakers in your community.
- Get a local Boys & Girls Club or other youth organization
to help the elderly with marking valuables, enhancing home security,
or going to the store. In turn, senior citizens can help youth
with such needs as tutoring or recreational programs, oral history
projects, or cooking classes.
- Turn a vacant lot into a park, playground, playing field,
or community garden.
- Work with small businesses to repair rundown storefronts,
clean up littered streets, and create jobs for young people.
- Link up with victim services to train your members in assisting
victims of crime.
Recruit utility workers, cab drivers, and other people with two-way
radios or cellular phones to extend your Neighborhood Watch network.
- Ask people who seldom leave their houses to be "Window
Watchers," looking out for children and any unusual activities
in the neighborhood.
- Encourage businesses to hold lunch-time crime and drug prevention
seminars and special events for employees and their families.
- Sponsor a crime and drug prevention fair at a shopping mall
or community center.
- Get banks and other businesses to include crime prevention
tips in their statements and bills.
- Work with local media -- newspapers, radio, TV stations --
to publicize events and thank supporters.
- Sponsor a seminar for the elderly and others on how to avoid
becoming victims of con games and fraud.
- Get a local theater group to produce a play teaching children
how to protect themselves from violence, drug abuse, or other
- Work with the telephone company or local schools to teach
children how to use 9-1-1 or other emergency numbers.
- Establish a "buddy" system for the elderly and
people with disabilities, in which someone checks with them daily
by phone and summons help if needed.
- Link Neighborhood Watch to efforts promoted by other groups:
drug prevention, child protection, antivandalism projects, arson
prevention, neighborhood cleanup, recycling. Share resources
and promote each other's activities. Invite guest speakers to
Neighborhood Watch meetings.
- Publicize your program and its successes in local media ranging
from civic association newsletters to local radio shows to television.
- Start a community crime prevention newsletter. Block captains
or volunteers (including kids and teenagers) can distribute the
newsletter, which also helps them keep in touch with residents.
- Work with businesses to develop a Business Watch program.
Ask them to help pay for fliers and a newsletter, provide meeting
places, and distribute crime prevention information.
MAKES A SUCCESSFUL WATCH?
Typically, Neighborhood Watch groups organize to respond to
an immediate threat -- a series of rapes, a sharp increase in
burglaries, rising fear of street crime. Often, when the crisis
is resolved, membership and commitment to the Watch start to
fade away. After all, why keep looking out for criminals if they've
been arrested or gone elsewhere?
This short-sighted attitude ignores key benefits of the contemporary
Neighborhood Watch -- a Watch group empowers people to prevent
crime, forges bonds between law enforcement and the communities
they serve, and builds a foundation for broader community improvement.
Neighborhood Watch is far more than a quick fix for an immediate
crisis -- it can be a moving force for positive changes that
tackle root causes of crime.
Why Do Some Neighborhood Associations Thrive and Others Die?
In the mid-1980s, the Citizens Committee of New York City
(CCNYC), with funding from the Ford Foundation, undertook the
Block Booster Project, a two-year study of relationships among
block associations, crime, and community development. The study
found that active block associations substantially reduced fear
of crime, encouraged crime reporting, stimulated members' involvement
in crime prevention, inhibited drug trafficking, and spurred
beautification activities. According to Project Director David
Chavis, "Block associations weave a tight social fabric
and have a profound effect on the sense of community and the
way people help each other."
The Block Booster Project also examined why some groups thrived
while other withered and died. Use of resources emerged as the
key factor. Active, healthy block groups had the same resources
as inactive ones, but they used them more effectively. Here are
key survival tactics discovered by the Block Booster Project:
- Spell out roles and responsibilities of the association and
its members. Adopt bylaws and elect officers.
- Decentralize planning and work. Delegate tasks and establish
- Keep in touch with members. Use personal contacts, in and
outside of meetings. Distribute a newsletter to communicate regularly
- Plan for and train new leaders. Don't burn out existing ones.
- Mobilize collective resources and use them. Know members'
skills and personal and business contacts. Be realistic about
how many people you need to do a job.
- Use outside resources, such as government agencies and community-based
Strike a balance between business and pleasure. Conduct business
meetings on time and efficiently, but have a time for socializing
before or after the meeting.
- Involve all elements in the community -- single parents,
renters as well as homeowners, teenagers, senior citizens, business
owners and managers.
Extending the Scope of Neighborhood Watch
Successful Neighborhood Watches move beyond the basics of
home security, watching out for suspicious activities, and reporting
them to law enforcement. They sponsor community cleanups, find
solutions to local traffic problems, collect clothing and toys
for homeless families, organize after-school activities for young
people, help victims of crime, tutor teens at risk of dropping
out of school, reclaim playgrounds from drug dealers, and for
task forces that influence policymakers.
Looking for Leaders
A Neighborhood Watch's effectiveness depends heavily on its
leaders. Good block captains usually:
- Are reliable.
- Get along well with people.
- Have good communication and negotiating skills.
- Do not view the position as a power trip or a chance for
- Are willing to delegate tasks and listen to others' opinions.
- Are organized and can conduct meetings efficiently.
- Don't get discouraged easily.
- Don't stop at prevention -- have a long-range vision for
Motivating Volunteers and Leaders
- Hold special training events. Look to police departments,
community action and social service organizations, religious
institutions, colleges, business associations, schools, and youth
organizations for help.
- Provide public recognition through awards and articles in
newsletters and newspapers.
- Issue certificates of appreciation from the mayor or chief
law enforcement executive.
- Organize a coalition of Neighborhood Watch captains so leaders
can learn from each other and join forces to address community-wide
- Always look for emerging issues that could affect the community's
quality of life.
Mobilizing Community Resources
Community businesses and organizations offer numerous resources
for crime prevention programs. Look to:
- Religious institutions for meeting space, copying machines,
and access to volunteers.
- Service clubs and businesses for partnerships in fundraising
- Libraries for research materials, videos, computers, and
- Printing companies for free or discounted services for newsletters,
fliers, and certificates.
- Parent groups and labor unions for advice on organizing and
- Local media for publicity.
- Senior centers and schools for facilities and equipment.
An effective tool for some Neighborhood Watch programs to use
is a citizen patrol. It is up to the community in conjunction
with law enforcement to decide whether a patrol is needed. Citizen
patrols are volunteers who walk or drive an area on a regular
basis to report incidents and problems to the police and provide
a visible presence that deters criminal activity. They have no
policing powers, carry no weapons, are non-confrontational, and
always coordinate activities with law enforcement. A citizen
patrol can cover a neighborhood, an apartment lobby or complex,
a business district, or a park; some use bicycles, in-line skates,
or cars to cover larger areas. They contact the police dispatcher
through two-way radios or cellular phones donated by a local
business. Cameras or video equipment may be used to record suspicious
activity. Many patrols are based in a Neighborhood Watch program
or work closely with one.
A good resource for your citizen patrol is the Community Policing
Consortium. They will work with your local cellular phone carrier
to arrange for phones to be donated to your program
Make sure your citizen patrol:
- Undergoes training by law enforcement and have their support;
- Works in teams;
- Wears identifying clothing -- t-shirts, caps, vests, jackets
-- or reflective clothing or patches;
- Never carries weapons of any kind -- e.g., guns, black jacks,
mace, baseball bats, or knives;
- Never challenges anyone;
- Always carries a pad and pencil, and a flashlight if it is
- Is courteous and helpful to residents of the area being patrolled;
- Keeps logs and files reports with the local law enforcement
- Remember that citizen patrols can take on extra duties, such
as escort services, crowd and traffic control at community events,
identifying neighborhood nuisance concerns, monitoring graffiti
sites, checking on homebound residents, and reporting abandoned
Youth In Neighborhood Activities
A healthy neighborhood effort will endeavor to involve all members
of the community. If you are interested in tapping the energy
of your neighborhood's youth, you will find that the results
are well worth the effort. Here are some ideas for engaging the
attention and interests of youth.
Like any program, one targeting youth should follow a basic
development cycle -- a process that is systematic and ongoing:
- Assessing the community's needs
- Planning the program
- Lining up resources
- Acting on the plan
- Nourishing, monitoring, and evaluating....and back to number
- Within this basic cycle, experience has shown youth involvement
at all stages to be a necessary ingredient for generating interest,
enthusiasm, and results. The degree of involvement can vary --
from adults presenting young people with a series of options
in the planning stage to adolescents identifying needs and designing
programs with minimal adult guidance. In all cases partnership,
not paternalism, is the by-word.
Project Ideas for Youth
- Victim assistance
- Graffiti Prevention
- Warm Lines
- Puppet Shows
- Community Clean-Ups
- Forging Partnerships With Young People
For a program to truly benefit teens and the community,
- Have a plan to attract participants and supporters. Involve
teens at all levels of the project -- planning, fundraising,
carrying out the project, evaluating.
- Address a problem or issue perceived as important by teens.
- Offer opportunities for teens to make their own decisions
and cope with the consequences. Include a learning component.
Earn the community's respect.
- Promote responsibility and enhance self-esteem.
- Encourage participation of all teens, not just those who
are easily motivated.
- Build on teens' need for friendship -- a central theme in
adolescents' daily life.
The Adult Role
The adult partner in any teen program will function with the
less frustration and most influence by abandoning the role of
director and assuming the role of mentor and resource person.
The following suggest suggestions should help in this transformation:
- Stress the collaborative nature of the program in the needs
assessment and design stages.
- Move to action as quickly as possible.
- Get to know each teen in your program and listen to his or
her opinions, concerns, ideas. Assess his or her strengths, talents,
- Teach and guide teens as the program proceeds. Don't withdraw
when the activities get underway, but shift as much as possible
to being a participant rather than the leader.
- Help teens to secure community resources and support.
- Provide opportunities for teens to reflect on and evaluate
their experiences with the program.
- Reward and recognize personal growth and other accomplishments.
- Demonstrate respect for teens' abilities and contributions.
- Be consistent in your leadership approach.
In MultiCultural Neighborhoods
The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in cultural
and ethnic diversity in the last decade. According to the 1990
census, 19.7 million persons -- just under 8% of the population
-- were foreign-born. Never before have so many immigrants lived
in this country. This wave of immigration has spread unevenly
throughout the nation, with the Northeast and West experiencing
far greater increases in foreign-born residents than the Midwest
Organizing a Neighborhood Watch in a multicultural community
poses unique challenges -- recent immigrants may not speak English,
and many may still be adjusting to life in this country. Disputes
or misunderstandings can erupt between neighbors of different
cultures, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Cultural conflicts arise
because two groups of people have established different values,
different standards of acceptable behavior, different traditions
and communication patterns, and different ideas about such things
as dress and attitude. Often, the hardest thing for everyone
to learn is that different does not equal wrong or improper.
When working with individuals raised in different cultures,
you need to consider such things as:
- Their length of time in the United States
- English or other language skills
- Possible distrust of law enforcement, stemming from a fear
of people in uniform and in government offices based on experiences
in their native country
- Educational level and social class (especially the social
class in the native country for immigrants and first-generation
- Role expectations for males and females, parents, grandparents,
- Religious and ethical values
- Rules and expectations for interpersonal relationships
- Ways to share and get to know cultural differences: international
potluck suppers, international youth performances, international
music, oral histories by elders
When You Start To Organize
Determine the ethnic groups of non-English speaking residents
and what languages they speak. Then look to local government
agencies, private advocacy and service organizations, religious
institutions, mediation services, and other groups experienced
in dealing with immigrants for help. A translator is essential
when you hold a Neighborhood Watch or crime prevention meeting
-- learn to speak slowly and establish rapport with the translator.
Print materials in different languages if possible.
Don't be discouraged. In talking about his efforts to organize
Neighborhood Watch presentations in ethnically diverse Modesto,
California, crime prevention officer David Huckaby says, "It's
tough, but Asians -- Cambodians, Lao, and Hmong -- and Hispanics
are very interested in crime prevention information."
Law Is On Your Side, Use It!
No one thinks drug dealers are good neighbors -- not the people
who live in the neighborhood, not the businesses trying to make
a living there, not the children who play in the parks, not the
police officers who patrol the area.
Taking back the streets and making them safer takes hard work,
trust, and courage from all these people.
The law is on your side, but it works best when everyone with
a stake in the neighborhood's health works together. Use partnerships
with police, businesses, and local government to drive illegal
drugs from your streets.
- Create a group -- call it an advisory commission, task force,
neighborhood committee, or partnership. Make sure it includes
residents, business owners, law enforcement, housing and other
local agencies, religious groups, youth centers, schools, senior
citizen centers, public housing managers.
- At the first get-together, let everyone talk about their
concerns, even if that means criticizing the police and other
- Decide on what problems take top priority (for example, other
than drugs, these might include vandalism, rape, burglary, auto
theft, or prostitution). Discuss realistic solutions, develop
specific short- and long-term projects, and take action -- forging
bonds among the community partners along the way.
- Involve young people -- if they are part of the problem,
they've got to be part of the solution.
Look at Laws
- Asset forfeiture laws say that authorities can seize assets
from convicted drug dealers -- cars, jewelry, cash, real estate,
sell them, and use the money to support drug abuse prevention,
enforcement, and treatment programs.
- Nuisance abatement laws allow individuals and government
attorneys to bring suit in civil court against property owners
who let drugs be used or kept on their property or permit other
nuisances, such as graffiti or excessive noise. Penalties include
fines, closing the building, and liens against the property.
- Drug-free school zone laws set stiffer penalties for drug
offenses committed in areas next to schools. Communities can
adapt these laws to expand the drug-free zone idea to parks and
other public spaces.
Neighbors can take property owners to small claims court to recover
damages inflicted on the neighborhood. When individual residents
from the neighborhood all sue the property owners, damages quickly
add up and owners clean up their act.
- Drug paraphernalia laws prohibit the possession, manufacture,
distribution, and advertising of drug paraphernalia.
Anti-loitering ordinances can provide another tool to break up
Go to the Police
- Ask for more police patrols (especially foot patrols) in
areas that are known drug markets. Perhaps a mini-station could
be opened in your community.
- Install a 24-hour telephone line that people can call to
report suspicious activity anonymously to law enforcement or
public housing security officers. Make sure everyone knows about
the line. Use volunteers or an answering machine to take the
calls. (This in not a 9-1-1 emergency line.)
- Work with a community organization to hand out "hot
spot" cards. Residents can anonymously identify drug houses
or markets on the cards and turn them in, and the organization
then passes the information on to the police.
Go to the Government
- Public housing agencies often have tough policies for quickly
evicting tenants found with drugs. Make sure they enforce these
rules, working in cooperation with other concerned tenants and
law enforcement. Some cities' public housing rules evict tenants
whose activities or visitors' behavior seriously disrupt other
residents' quality of life.
- Drug houses are often rundown properties. Ask fire, health,
and housing departments to investigate drug houses for code violations
and shut down these hazardous properties if possible. Piles of
trash, broken windows and doors, rats, and cars that don't run
violate most city housing and health codes.
- Urge government to tear down abandoned buildings or sell
them to civic organizations who can rehabilitate them.
- Some cities, with a neighborhood's approval, have put up
barriers across intersections that create a maze of dead-end
streets and make life very difficult for drug dealers. Check
with the government department that handles traffic and roads.
- Find out who's responsible for towing abandoned cars in your
area. Report the abandoned vehicles in your neighborhoods, and
report again and again until action is taken. Young people in
the neighborhood can help.
- Do the same for broken street lights, graffiti, cracked pavements,
and trash removal.
Go to Businesses
- Property owners can give police permission to enter private
property, such as parking lots or outside stairs, to investigate
and possibly arrest loiterers.
- Telephone companies can fix pay phones so they can be used
only for calls out -- then, drug dealers can't use them to conduct
- Utility companies can investigate gas and electric connections
that drug houses may be using illegally.
- Property owners can rewrite their leases to include specific
bans on illegal drug activity.
Things You and Your Neighbors Can Do
1. Work with public agencies and other organizations
- neighborhood-based or community-wide - on solving common problems.
Don't be shy about letting them know what your community needs.
2. Make sure that all the youth in the neighborhood have
positive ways to spend their spare time, through organized recreation,
tutoring programs, part-time work, and volunteer opportunities.
3. Set up a Neighborhood Watch or a community patrol,
working with police. Make sure your streets and homes are well
4. Build a partnership with police, focused on solving
problems instead of reacting to crises. Make it possible for
neighbors to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear
5. Take advantage of "safety in numbers" to
hold rallies, marches, and other group activities to show you're
determined to drive out crime and drugs.
6. Clean up the neighborhood! Involve everyone - teens,
children, senior citizens. Graffiti, litter, abandoned cars,
and run-down buildings tell criminals that you don't care about
where you live or each other. Call the city public works department
and ask for help in cleaning up.
7. Ask local officials to use new ways to get criminals
out of your building or neighborhood. These include enforcing
anti-noise laws, housing codes, health and fire codes, anti-nuisance
laws, and drug-free clauses in rental leases.
8. Form a Court Watch to help support victims and witnesses
and to see that criminals get fairly punished.
9. Work with schools to establish drug-free, gun-free
zones; work with recreation officials to do the same for parks.
10. Develop and share a phone list of local organizations
that can provide counseling, job training, guidance, and other
services that neighbors might need.
and Communities Safer From Violence
It's time to stop the violence that is killing our children
and our communities. It's time to help each other build neighborhoods
where each of us kids, teens, adults can feel safe and secure
from crime. A tough task? Yes, but it's a challenge that each
of us can do something about. We can reclaim our communities
child by child, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood.
This booklet explains some of the many ways you can help. You
can do a lot in your home, in your neighborhood, and throughout
Why accept this challenge? Because every child deserves a
safe and healthy childhood. Because no community can afford the
costs of violence. Because a healthier, safer community benefits
each of us. Because failing to act costs lives and resources.
Because our children should not have to raise their children
amid violence. Because if we don't stop it, no one will.
It's everyone's business
Violence holds victims, families, friends, and neighborhoods
hostage. It rips communities apart or prevents them from coming
together. Violence takes many forms. Assaults, rapes, robberies,
and homicides are directly violent, but crimes like burglary
are often cloaked in violence and cause sometimes-paralyzing
Violence is not just about attacks by strangers. In about
half the rapes in this country, the rapist knew the victim. In
more than half the murders, the murderer and victim knew each
other. Assaults are more likely between people who know each
other than between strangers. Domestic violence wrenches apart
millions of families each year. Child abuse, overwhelmingly involving
someone close to the child, hurts more than a million children
a year. Only robberies more commonly involve strangers than acquaintances.
Weapons are part of the problem. They make violence more deadly
and less personal. Nine out of ten murders involve a weapon;
eight of ten involve a firearm. Most robberies involve the use
of a weapon, most frequently a gun. One in five children has
reported taking a weapon of some kind to school, most often for
self-protection against others whom they believe have weapons.
But weapons are only part of the story. Attitudes, emotions,
and reactions are just as important. Without working on all aspects
of the issue, you can make only limited progress.
Why go beyond protecting yourself and your family? Because
violence penetrates schools, workplaces, and public spaces. It
sucks the life out of communities everywhere.
Even if you're safe from harm, violence still robs you. The
costs of violence are enormous. The annual cost of caring for
gunshot victims is more than $14 billion. The costs of private
security measures, including those against violence, is estimated
at $65 billion a year. Violent crime is responsible for much
of the $90 billion a year it costs to run our criminal justice
Can we stop violence? Yes. Strictly enforced policies against
weapons in schools have helped restore a sense of calm in many
classrooms. Conflict management courses have taught elementary
school children to fight less and negotiate more. Concerted community
efforts have reduced or prevented gangs and the violence they
But these things only happened because someone did something.
What you can do?
Work with your family, in your neighborhood, and in your community.
Pick a place to start where you are comfortable.
Recognize that violence has many causes. Some are immediatea
specific argument, easy availability of a weapon, a situation
in which an aggressor thinks violence will bring quick rewards,
an anger that sees no other outlet. Some are less direct for
example, a community tolerance of high violence levels, reinforced
by news and entertainment media. Some are individual inability
to see another way to settle disagreements, for instance. Some
involve situations such as peer pressure that measures or boosts
self-esteem through violence.
No one needs to confront all these aspects of violence at
once. The point is, there's something everyone can do.
The residents of Seattle, Washington, led by their mayor, have
launched a citywide campaign against violence. One key element
is Partners Against Youth Violence a coalition of more than two
dozen agencies and organizations seeking "to prevent youth
gun violence by educating the community, specifically young people
and their parents, about the consequences of youth gun possession
and related gun violence." Partners include a major local
hospital, crisis clinics, school administrators, several civic
and professional groups, the prosecutor's office, the city council,
the state medical association, and the police department's crime
prevention, youth, D.A.R.E., and school safety units.
Buttressed by local statistics on youth homicides and gun-related
injuries, the program points out that almost four of ten unnatural
deaths among youth are from gunshot wounds, and that gunfire
is the second-leading cause of death for area youth. The "Options,
Choices, and Consequences" program has been developed using
local statistics, local laws, and local experts to teach adults
and teens the legal and medical consequences of illegal firearms
possession and use. Several partner organizations are training
community volunteers to conduct these programs.
The police department has agreed to strengthen investigation
and prosecution of those suspected of selling guns illegally
to youth; to investigate and help prosecute youth who illegally
possess handguns; to support the youth and adult education programs;
to build parent and community awareness of youth violence; and
to dedicate extra prevention and enforcement efforts in parts
of the city where levels of youth gun violence are high.
Washington State University has researched the violence issue
on behalf of the partners and identified interventions and alternatives
to violence that have proved effective elsewhere. Its findings
supported the partners' approach of using multiple strategies
including school-based curriculum, outreach to parents, a media
campaign, and firearms regulation and enforcement with hard evidence.
By investing time in recruiting partner organizations, identifying
local conditions and needs, researching effective approaches,
and designing activities that invest partners and enlist even
more members of the community younger and older Seattle has launched
a thoughtful, tailored, flexible initiative to address a difficult
Helping self and family
Making self and family safer from violence is, for most of
us, the highest priority. Work with your own children, with other
kids you care about, and with teens and adults you care about
to reduce the risk that you or someone you love will fall victim
Think long and hard about having weapons, especially firearms,
in your home. Studies show that a firearm in the home is more
than forty times as likely to hurt or kill a family member as
to stop a crime. A gun in the home increases the likelihood of
homicide three times and the likelihood of suicide five times.
More than a quarter of a million firearms are stolen and possibly
used in other crimes every year.
If you do keep a firearm in your home, ensure that you are
trained and that everyone elseadult and childis fully
trained in firearms safety. Refresh that training at least once
Make certain that the weapon is safely stored, unloaded, trigger-locked,
and in a locked gun case or pistol box, with ammunition separately
locked and with different keys for all locks. Store keys out
of reach of children, in locations away from weapons and ammunition.
Check frequently to make sure that storage is secure. Follow
all federal, state, and local laws about storage, registration,
carrying, and use.
No one wants to see children victimized by violence. No one
wants to see kids hurt others. Talking with your kids can be
a powerful anti-violence weapon, especially when combined with
your actions as a positive role model. Make it clear that you
do not approve of violence as a way to handle anger or solve
problems. Do your best to match your actions to your words.
Even very young children can learn not to hit, kick, or bite.
Discipline without threatening violence. "Time outs,"
removal of privileges, restrictions, and similar penalties are
successful, violence-free strategies that many parents have used,
even with preschoolers.
Use the world around you.
As children get older, help them learn to think about the real
consequences of violent events and entertainment. Ask how else
a conflict might have been settled, what the angry person might
have done instead, what unseen or unspoken consequences violence
Listen carefully, openly, and constructively.
Letting children lay out their thoughts about violence helps
them learn how to think through this and other issues.
Sometimes it's difficult for adults to know how to react when
children approach them about a real or possible danger. You may
be a neighbor, an aunt or uncle, or a grown-up who happens to
be nearby. Suddenly a child comes to tell you something's wrong.
How can you handle it helpfully?
The child may be excited, nervous, or scared. Repeat what you've
heard to make sure you understand clearly. Kneel down if necessary
to communicate at the child's height.
Take it seriously.
Children don't casually ask for help out of the blue. Even if
it's not a serious problem to you, it probably is from the child's
If the child has found a weapon or a possible weapon or describes
some other immediate danger; go to the scene at once, if you're
not putting yourself at risk.
Get help if necessary.
Call police if you find a weapon, even if it might be a toy.
Call other professionals (such as fire department, child protection
services, public works department) if the situation warrants.
If it turns out to be a "false alarm," reassure the
child that telling a grown-up was a smart thing to do.
Make sure that your children know what to do if they ever
find a firearm or something that might be a weapon stop, don't
touch, get away, and tell a trusted adult.
Teach your children ways to handle conflicts and problems
without using force. Act as a role model for them. Handle disagreements
with other adults, including those close to you, in nonviolent
ways. You can learn more by checking with your library, a school
counselor, the pediatrician, mental health association, or neighborhood
dispute resolution center.
Discourage name-calling and teasing. These can easily get
out of hand, moving all too quickly from "just words"
to fists, knives, and even firearms. Teach children that bullying
is wrong; help them learn to say "no" to bullies and
to get adult help with the situation if need be. Remember that
words can hurt as much as a fist.
Take a hard look at what you, your family, and your friends
watch and listen to for entertainmentfrom action movies
to cop shows, from soap operas to situation comedies, from video
games to music lyrics. What values are they teaching? Do they
make violence appear exciting, humorous, or glamorous? How do
characters solve problems? Are the real-life consequences of
violence clear? Watch TV with your children; talk about how violence
is handled in shows and what each of you did and didn't like.
Set clear limits on viewing and provide active, positive alternatives
for free time.
Teach children basic strategies for personal safety to prevent
violence and reduce their risk of victimization.
Help them learn and practice common courtesies. "Please,"
"thank you," "excuse me," and "I'm sorry"
help ease tensions that can lead to violence.
Emphasize the importance of being drug free. Research shows
use of alcohol and other drugs is closely linked with violence,
including the use of guns and other weapons.
Encourage children to stick with friends who steer clear of
violence and drugs. Make your home a comfortable place for these
kids to gather; help them find positive, enjoyable things to
Remind children of simple self-protection rules not to go
anywhere with someone they (and you) don't know and trust; how
and when to respond to phone calls and visitors if you are unavailable,
how to deal with adults (or other children) who approach or touch
them inappropriately, what are safe routes to favorite neighborhood
Rehearse what to do in urgent situations, like finding a weapon
or being approached inappropriately by a stranger or seeing something
Help your children to both learn and practice ways to keep
arguments from becoming violent.
It started in a Minneapolis suburb. Two people wondered what
it would be like if, for one day, everyone would just refuse
to be entertained by violence. No violent music, no violent movies
or videos or TV shows or computer games. The idea grew quickly.
Within a year, Turn Off the Violence Day has spread throughout
the metropolitan area. Schools, police departments, mental and
public health agencies, religious groups, and businesses joined
in. Within three years, it had gained national attention and
communities around the country picked up on the theme. No censorship
is involved. Each individual decides what he or she should avoid.
What emerges is thoughtful discussion of how violent messages
can shape our thinking and a new awareness of the way violent
ideas can creep into our daily lives.
Young people in Oakland and Los Angeles, California, realized
that they could be a powerful force to educate their peers about
the costs of gun violence, ways to prevent it, and how to spread
the word that gun violence is not cool. Teens on Target, all
of whose members have been touched by firearms violence, train
others their age and younger in preventing firearms violence,
work on promoting positive alternatives and opportunities, and
educate adults in the community about what they believe is required
to reduce firearms deaths and injuries. "Our solution,"
one youth explained, "is to give opportunities to young
people so they won't even want to use guns." Speaking from
personal experience, these teens bring zeal and commitment to
their task and credibility to their messages. They reach and
teach thousands of youth and adults annually. The program gets
support from a statewide anti-violence agency, YOUTH ALIVE!
Use news reports and other everyday examples to help older
children learn how violence affects the community and their own
lives. Let them know that teens are more frequently victimized
by crimes, both violent crimes and property crimes, than any
other age group. Help them think about the costs of crime and
the benefits of prevention.
Encourage young people to tackle the problem. Urge them to
how they can learn simple strategies to prevent crime against
themselves and their friends;
how groups can settle disagreements without using fists or weapons;
what drug-free, alcohol-free positive activities are available
for teens and how these can be improved to attract even more
Building a safer neighborhood
We and our families cannot be safe if our neighborhoods are riddled
with violence. Research shows that there's less crime where communities
are working together. Help your neighborhood become or stay healthy.
Get to know your neighbors. You can't do it alone.
Start, join, or reactivate a Neighborhood Watch or Block Watch.
Include discussions of ways neighbors can watch out for situations
that might involve children in or threaten them with violence.
Consider starting a formal block parent program such as McGruff
House so that children will have reliable, recognizable places
to go in the neighborhood, if they feel threatened, bullied,
Talk with other adults in the neighborhood about how fights
among children should be handled. Who should step in? How? Under
what conditions? Make sure children in the neighborhood know
that adults are prepared to help stop any form of violence.
Share information on basic child protection from this booklet
or other good sources. Help each other learn about signs of drug
abuse and gangs, along with where to go for help in your community
to address these problems.
Agree on what a "trusted adult" will do for children
in the neighborhood in case of troubling situationsbeing
threatened, finding a gun or drugs, being approached by a stranger.
Get to know and encourage the kids in your neighborhood. Many
young people say that carrying weapons gives them a sense of
power, a sense you can help them get in far more positive ways.
Many communities have information and referral services that
keep extensive records of the government and nongovernment groups
that can help address neighborhood issues. These are usually
listed in the telephone directory. United Way and similar groups
sometimes operate referral services. Local taxpayer and civic
associations can often provide information. It's smart to find
out in advance who can help with such issues as abandoned cars,
dangerous intersections, broken or inadequate lighting, over-grown
or littered vacant lots, deteriorated housing, and the like.
A group of mothers in Richmond, Washington, decided that by working
with other mothers around the country they could help stop the
violence that was taking away their children's freedom even their
lives. They organized Mothers Against Violence in America (MAVIA)
and began educating themselves and others, asking for policy
changes and working with others in the community who shared their
goals. Teenagers formed school-based groups Students Against
Violence Everywhere (SAVE) that not only promote nonviolent ways
to handle anger and conflict in school settings, but stage violence-free
Teen Nights, hold anti-violence poster contests, host forums
and speakouts against violence, and sponsor country-wide anti-violence
In Hartford, Connecticut, the city's nine branch libraries
have become part of the solution to violence problems. Each branch
has taken up the challenge to become a center of positive activity
for kids in its neighborhood, including acting as homework centers.
No new funds were usedlibraries were asked to refocus existing
resources to tackle this neighborhood need.
Work together to establish safe conditions in your neighborhooda
physical environment that doesn't invite crime or offer opportunities
for violence to brew. With a group of neighbors, scan streets,
yards, alleys, playgrounds, ball fields, parks, and other areas.
Look with a child's eye; even invite some children to go with
you. Ask your police department or sheriff's office if they'll
provide pointers or other help.
Look for things like overgrown lots, abandoned vehicles or
appliances, public play areas blocked form public view, intersections
and streets that need lighting or traffic control improvements,
unsafe equipment or structures, abandoned buildings, hazards
in nearby businesses or commercial areas, and signs of vandalism,
Talk with children in the neighborhood about what worries
or scares them and about where and how they have felt threatened
by violence. Interview teachers, school staff, crossing guards,
and bus aides. Add these concerns to your list.
Look around to see what happens to kids between 3:00 p.m.
and 6:00 p.m. Are there supervised programs for younger children?
Opportunities for teens and preteens to work with children, help
retirees, tackle neighborhood problems, get or give help with
homework? After-school programs in many areas are located in
schools themselves, known most often as Safe Havens or Beacon
Work with your neighbors; with the police or sheriff's department
and other government agencies like parks, transportation, public
works, and highways; and with local elected officials to get
dangerous conditions corrected. Recheck the neighborhood periodically
at least once a year to catch new conditions that need attention.
Start a discussion of neighborhood views on weapons in the
home, use of toy weapons by children in play, children and violent
entertainment, and how arguments should be settled. Knowing that
parents agree on what's acceptable makes it easier to insist
on these standards for all children. If some people hold different
views, at least be clear about what rules you'll enforce in your
home and for your children.
Be sure you know where and how to report potentially violent
situations or concerns about conditions in your neighborhood,
or about conditions that could lead to violence. Ask your police
department especially your community policing officer for help
in identifying what to report, when, to whom, and how.
Consider an event that lets children turn in weapons, especially
those that might be mistaken for real firearms, in exchange for
public thank-yous, donated non-violent toys, books, or coupons
from local merchants.
If there's a family facing problems in your neighborhood,
reach out in friendship and support. Sometimes people just need
to know that they can talk to someone who's concerned. Offer
to take on routine chores, to babysit, to provide transportation,
or just to listen.
Recognize that it's already your problem if violence is about
to erupt in your neighborhood.
Learn about hotlines, crisis centers, and other help available
to victims of crime. Find out how you can help those who are
touched by violence to recover as quickly and completely as possible.
If you see a crime or something you suspect might be a crime,
report it. Agree to testify if needed.
Police in Baltimore County, Maryland, reasoned that firearm
safety was no less important than traffic safety and designed
a one-hour lesson plan for third graders that they now teach
in 90 percent of the county's public and private schools. Short
talks are mixed with role playing to help emphasize what kids
should do if they find a suspected gun (toy or real), how to
resist peer pressure to play with guns, and where to turn for
help. In less than one year, two children found and properly
reported weapons, saying they knew what to do because of the
program. Both the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (STAR Curriculum)
and the National Rifle Association (Eddie the Eagle) sponsor
courses that address gun violence prevention among young people.
Terming firearms a "public health crisis," the Policy
Council on Violence Prevention established by the California
Attorney General has recommended sweeping changes in that state's
gun laws and vigorous enforcement of laws now on the books. Proposals
include banning the manufacture of Saturday Night Special-style
handguns in the state, mandating that gun manufacturers build
in or provide child safety devices on all firearms sold in the
state, requiring that all gun dealers register with the local
police or sheriff's department, and launching an educational
campaign to promote firearms safety.
Strengthening the Community
Violence anywhere in the community affects all of the community.
By working on community-wide anti-violence efforts, you are protecting
yourself, your family, and your neighborhood. Equally important,
community policies and regulations can boost neighborhood violence
Work to build community standards and expectations that reject
violence and other crimes. All kinds of groupscivic clubs,
houses of worship, social clubs, the school system, professional
associations, employee groups and unions, business groups, and
government agenciescan sponsor educations efforts, conduct
forums, develop community service messages for media, and create
community-wide networks to prevent or reduce violence.
Emphasize prevention as the preferred way to deal with violence.
Ask what schools, law enforcement agencies, public health agencies,
libraries, workplaces, religious institutions, child protective
agencies, and others are doing to prevent, not just react to,
violence. What policies do they have to prevent weapons-related
violence? How can they help the community?
Make sure that adequate services are available for victims of
violence and other crimes including help in following their cases
through court, if necessary, and in recovering from physical,
emotional, and financial losses.
Enlist those familiar with the costs of violenceparole
and probation officers, judges, doctors, emergency room staffs,
victims and survivors (especially youth), local and state legislators
and chief executives, youth workers, and othersin pushing
for prevention strategies and educating the public about their
effectiveness. Personal testimony can be powerfully persuasive.
Make sure your community offers ways people can learn about
anger management, conflict mediation, and other nonviolent ways
to handle problems.
Find out what positive, enjoyable opportunities there are
for young people to have fun in your community. What services
are there for kids facing problems? What programs help kids of
various ages spend the critical 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. hours
(when the largest numbers are without adult supervision) in safe,
Establish policies that reduce danger from weapons, especially
firearms. Make safe storage of firearms a community expectation,
even a law. Ensure that licensing laws are rigorously enforced.
Some states and communities have outlawed sale of weapons to
those under 18 or 21. Others have imposed age restrictions on
permits to carry concealed weapons. In at least one state, conviction
of a firearm violation can cost a young driver his or her license.
Work with police to help community residents get rid of unwanted
weapons through turn-ins, "amnesty days," and even
buy backs. Join forces with other community groups and government
agencies to publicize, finance, and staff these events.
Learn your state and local laws on firearms. Insist that these
laws be enforced vigorously but fairly. Support police, prosecutors,
judges, and other local officials who enforce laws designed to
prevent gun violence.
Encourage local and state resources to go toward both prevention
In San Antonio, Texas, a year-long planning process brought
dozens of civic leaders together and led to a 57-point plan to
address crime problems in the community. Energized residents
and leaders turned that plan into action, increasing services
to troubled youth, involving businesses in prevention strategies,
devising public education campaigns, engaging schools in teaching
conflict management and mediation skills, and more. The city,
within a year after implementation had started, saw a 20 percent
drop in reported crime.
The Missing Peace, Inc., a community-based group that encompasses
the entire Washington, DC, metropolitan area, has conducted gun
turn-ins throughout the area in cooperation with the region's
police departments and sheriff's offices. Providing a way for
people to dispose safely of unwanted firearms not only reduces
risks of accidents, thefts, and assaults; each weapon turned
in results in $25 donated by a local business alliance to the
local children's hospital's division of child protection.
In Oklahoma, parents can be fined if their child brings a
weapon to school. In North Carolina, failure to store firearms
safely in homes where children are present can result in prosecution
and fines. Twenty-one states have enacted laws mandating gun-free
school zones and imposing sharply increased penalties for firearms
possession or use in such areas. Florida and Maryland are among
the states that have set up special statewide organizations to
help address school-related violence, including gun use. More
than two dozen states have increased judicial or prosecutorial
discretion to try youth involved in especially violent offenses
Insist that local law or regulations require that confiscated
or surrendered weapons be melted down rather than auctioned off
or sold to dealers.
Make sure that local laws mandate the most secure possible
storage of any firearm stored in a private home.
Use Crimestoppers, a similar hotline system, or even 911 to
encourage reporting of illegal weapons.
Reach out to educate the whole community about ways to stop
or prevent violence. Find out what's going on now and support
it. Help start what's needed. Some ideas:
Promote public service advertising that offers anti-violence
programs and services. Get several groups to cooperate in this
effort. Include programs to help kids headed for trouble.
Develop and distribute widely a directory of community anti-violence
programs and services. Get several groups to cooperate in this
effort. Include programs to help kids headed for trouble.
Help spread the news about available violence prevention training
and programs through gropus you belong to, your workplace, and
other local institutions. Invite speakers on violence prevention
to talk to your club or organization.
Participate in public forums that allow residents to talk
with elected and appointed leaders about violence prevention
Work with business groups and individual businesses to develop
workplace violence prevention programs that include employee
training, anti-violence procedures, and physical security measures.
Have explicit, written policies about possession of firearms
in or on the worksite.
Talk with school personnel, juvenile officers, and youth workers
to find out the nature and extent of gangs or "wanna-be"
groups in your community. Support gang prevention and intervention
programs. Volunteer to help keep kids out of gangs.
Work with schools, colleges, employers, civic and social clubs,
religious organizations, and professional associations to create
the widest possible array of resources to discourage violence.
Make sure that services are accessible to those who need them
most, consumer-friendly, and confidential if necessary.
Put anti-violence policies in place in your state or community
through laws or regulations. Weapons control policies can include
ammunition taxes, safe storage laws, ownership restrictions,
laws limiting weapons in public places, zoning requirements for
firearm sales, and more.
Talk with school administrators about anti-violence policies
and particularly about policies to reduce possession of weapons
in or near schools. Your community may want to establish gun-free
zones around schools or parks.
Urge adoption of anti-violence courses that help children
learn ways to manage anger without using fists or weapons. Second
Step, from The Committee for children, Resolving Conflict Creatively,
from Educators for Social Responsibility, and We Can Work It
out!, created through Teens, Crime, and the Community, are only
three of many such courses.
Enlist children from elementary grades to senior high in solving
the violence problems in the school and community. Encourage
them to teach violence prevention to younger children, reach
out to educate peers, work with adults on community-wide problems,
and identify and tackle community conditions that they are concerned
In Kansas City, Missouri, police selected an 80-block area hard-hit
by gun violence for specialized enforcement. In this area, which
had a gun homicide rate 20 times the national average, a specially
trained group of police dedicated their energy to checking for
firearms in the course of their duties. They worked 7:00 p.m.
to 1:00 a.m. seven days a week. Careful attention was paid to
ensuring that residents' constitutional rights were protected.
Results were dramaticgun seizures increased by 64 percent;
gun-related crime dropped 49 percent. There were no increases
in crime in the surrounding area and there was no similar drop
in crime in a comparable area elsewhere in the city.
Civic leaders in Mobile, Alabama, concerned about sharp increases
in weapons incidents in schools, conducted a campaign in 1992
to educate the community and get weapons out of the hands of
kids. "Kid With a Gun? Call 911" used billboards, bumper
stickers, news stories, and public transit ads to highlight the
consequences of youth handgun possession and remind adults of
their responsibility for children's and the community's safety.
Law enforcement authorities agreed to respond immediately to
any call about a kid in possession of a gun.
ADT Security Systems, Inc., has provided "panic alarms"
for women severely threatened by domestic violence. In participating
communities, local officials determine those women at greater
risk, and ADT places the alarms in the women's homes. Using the
alarm immediately summons help to deal with the abuser. Participating
women must have court orders of protection and must agree to
prosecute the offender to the fullest extent of the law. The
AWARE program is free to participating communities.
Volunteer to mentor young people who need positive support
from adults. Programs ranging from Big Brothers and Big Sisters
to Adopt-a-School include mentoring as a central ingredient.
Protect domestic violence victims (and their children) through
policies as well as laws that offer them prompt and meaningful
response to calls for help and appropriate legal recourse.
Work with others in your community to develop comprehensive,
coordinated plans that direct civic resources to deal with immediate
symptoms of violence, help neighborhoods strengthen themselves,
and work on problems that cause violence. Enlist all kinds of
groups; compare notes to avoid duplicating efforts and to benefit
from each other's know-how.
To get a free printed copy of this publication, call 800-WE-PREVENT.
Together To Fight Crime
Something may be wrong in your neighborhood. There's too much
violence, or there's an ever-present threat. Perhaps a child
you know was robbed. Maybe you've seen signs of drug dealing.
Maybe a string of break-ins has you wondering what's coming next.
You're uneasy -- even frightened -- for yourself and your family.
Perhaps nothing violent has happened, but you see warning signs
-- such as graffiti, vandalism, abandoned cars, loitering, litter
-- that crime and violence may be reaching your neighborhood
You can change things by getting together with neighbors who
share your worries. There are two things you need to do: look
out for your families and yourselves, and get involved in your
People just like you have cleared drug dealing out of their
neighborhoods, made parks safe for children and sidewalks secure
for play, curbed assaults, reduced muggings, eliminated rapes
and murders, wiped out graffiti and vandalism, started programs
What Kind of Neighborhood?
The neighborhood may be a development of single homes, a row
of townhouses, a commercial corridor, an apartment complex, or
even a school. Crime may be right there scaring everyone off
the streets, or just looming on the horizon. Whatever your neighborhood's
like, getting together to fight crime, violence, and drugs can
help create communities where children can be children and people
once isolated by crime and fear can enjoy being a part of a thriving
Things May Look Fine, But...
Whether it's a quiet neighborhood where teens haven't much
to do, or a rural town that's been stable, even communities that
seem calm can be facing a crime threat. Things may be OK now,
but how do you keep them that way?
Everyone can see the early warning signals -- the little worries
that alert you to the need to prevent bigger problems. The trick
is to swing into action at the first sign of trouble, not to
wait until it comes to your front door. Abandoned autos, people
loitering, vacant homes, graffiti, a rash of break-ins, or other
signs of possible trouble should be a clue to act now. Acting
right away on small problems can prevent big ones later.
It's Too Rough for Me To Get Involved
Maybe crime has a strong grip in your neighborhood -- street
violence, muggings, drug dealing, shootings. People see the situation
as out of hand. Some people are scared that the criminals will
take revenge if they act.
There are at least three ways to counter fear. First, join
together. There is strength in numbers. Most criminals attack
victims who are alone -- not in groups. And groups can rally,
march, and hold vigils to demonstrate their commitment. Second,
you can work with the police to set up a system that lets people
remain anonymous and still report crimes. Third, you don't have
to meet where the problem is. In one neighborhood, people met
several blocks away at a local church. No one felt singled out,
and everyone gained as crime was slowly but surely driven out.
First, find out what's already going on. Groups that are already
working against crime and drugs will welcome and help you. Ask
the local police, especially the crime prevention staff; check
with community associations and civic groups as well as clubs.
Is there an existing group that ought to be involved in preventing
crime? A home-school organization like PTA; a tenants' group;
a fraternity or sorority; a community service club such as Lions,
Rotary, or JayCees; a social club; a church; a mental health
association; a taxpayers' or homeowners' association -- these
are just some kinds of groups that can be a base for action.
No group ready to adopt crime prevention? Start a group in
your neighborhood -- even if it's just on your block. You don't
have to be the leader, but you could organize the first meeting.
Getting Neighbors Together
You've already talked with some neighbors -- at the grocery
store, on the sidewalk, over the back fence, at the bus stop,
across the kitchen table. You know people are unhappy about the
way things are, that they'd like to see something done.
The next step -- make that discussion a bit more purposeful
and organized. Set up a meeting to decide how you want to change
things. Here are some tips for that first session.
- Be sure it doesn't conflict with other important events.
- Make sure there is enough room at the meeting place for everyone
to be comfortably seated. Not enough room at a home in the neighborhood?
Maybe a church basement, a school classroom, or a business or
community meeting room is available.
- Plan to keep the meeting fairly brief -- less than two hours
is probably good. Have an agenda prepared for the group's approval.
- Invite people in person, by phone, by flier -- whatever's most
appropriate. Knock on doors, send notes, or make phone calls
to remind them.
- Invite schools, businesses, and houses of worship to send representatives.
Ask local officials -- law enforcement, elected officials, social
services, others -- to send someone who can explain how they
- Share the work so that people work together from the start.
One person can organize refreshments; another can be in charge
of reminder calls. Someone else can set up the room. Someone
can take notes and write up your group's decisions. Another neighbor
can be the "researcher," gathering information in advance.
Another can lead the discussion.
- Allow people to share their concerns. You'll be surprised how
much you all have in common. But don't get caught in a gripe
- Remember, you're there as a group to decide what problems you'll
tackle and what actions you'll take, not just to talk. Everyone
should have a chance to take part, but be sure the group makes
some clear decisions.
- Your group should consider surveying neighbors, either in person
or by phone, to get a better idea of the range of their problems
- Don't plan to tackle every problem at once. The group should
identify one or two issues that need immediate action -- but
keep track of (and get back to) other problems. For instance,
parents and youth may need drug prevention education, but the
more immediate problem might be closing down drug sales in the
- List next steps and who will take them. Try to get everyone
to commit to helping with your plan. Agree on the next time,
date, and place for a meeting and the subjects that should be
- Unsure about how to run a meeting? Talk to a member of the
clergy, a local civic leader, a business person, the League of
Women Voters, or the Chamber of Commerce. One of them will be
glad to share experiences in making meetings effective.
- Everyone Can Do Something
As you get under way, it's important to enlist the help of as
many people as possible from your community. There's something
each person can do to help. Anyone can hand out educational brochures.
Young children can pick up litter or learn to settle arguments
without fighting; older youth can teach younger ones about preventing
violence or organize positive activities like concerts that can
replace drug traffic in a nearby park. Caring adults can help
troubled youth; families can help each other. Business people
can help manage programs and raise funds; civic activists can
round up local agencies to meet needs like recreation, housing,
or education. Many things help cause crime, violence, and drug
abuse problems in a community; many kinds of activity will help
to end the problems. Some may be more direct than others, but
all will help.
Anyone -- and everyone -- can take the most basic actions,
like reporting suspicious behavior or crimes in progress to the
police. Whatever the contribution of time, energy, talent, and
resources -- small or large -- it will help.
Getting Organized To Get Results
Your group has gotten together. You've picked a problem to
work on that's important to many of you. Maybe it's keeping children
safe going to and from school. Perhaps you want to do something
to stop fights that keep breaking out among youth. Maybe you've
decided to try to close a drug house. Everyone's agreed to take
a part in the work. You're ready to act.
Agree on what to do about the problem, picking one or two
approaches or strategies at most. Ideas from existing programs
may help. Neighborhood Watch, for instance, can reduce burglaries
and help keep a lookout for suspicious activity. It can also
be the base for other programs. The McGruff House (block parent)
program is one way to build a neighborhood network to protect
Decide whose help you'll need or want. How will you approach
these people for assistance? What do you want them to do? Think
about contacting police crime prevention specialists, who have
lots of ideas and expertise.
Child protection agencies, drug prevention organizations, community
development offices, public health offices, the local library,
and many others can lend a hand. Enlist these groups early --
if they help in identifying problems and developing solutions,
they'll be more committed to getting the job done. What you really
want is to build partnerships.
Sometimes the solution comes from the problem. What if everyone's
concerned about the teenagers "hanging out" at the
corner? Ask the teens what they'd rather be doing instead. Ask
them to help plan ways to do those better things. Check with
after-school programs, local youth clubs, and similar resources
to see if they can join in your creative problem-solving.
Agree on who will take what roles, how tasks will get done, and
how you will coordinate efforts. Build in some checkpoints to
be sure all is going well or can be fixed or changed as needed.
Some Ideas From the Experienced
Here are some things that people have found important in carrying
Keep it simple: If you want to get rid of graffiti,
why not just paint over it (with the owner's OK)? Sometimes the
quickest and most obvious route is the best.
Invite everyone to get into the act: People will do things if
they're asked, and the more people you recruit, the more come
along as volunteers.
Follow through: If you promised to discuss a problem at
the next meeting, do so. If you announce a rally, hold it. If
an official promises action or a report, keep asking for it,
and go higher up if necessary.
Start with success: A small success -- a goal that's quickly
reachable -- can boost enthusiasm, confidence, and willingness
to tackle tougher tasks that take more time. One example of a
short-term goal: hold one well-attended anti-violence rally.
Success builds group confidence and attracts new members. Everybody
wants to work with a winner.
Say thanks: Congratulate each other for progress, even
if only with a round of applause. Taking before and after pictures
can help you appreciate the difference your hard work has made.
Acknowledge officials, agencies, and groups that have pitched
Build leaders: "Volunteer leader" should not
be a life sentence. It's bad for the group and the leaders. If
people think one leader always controls everything, they may
not join. And leaders get tired. Divide up the work. Make sure
all leaders get praise and recognition. This way, you help train
new leaders and make use of everyone's talents.
Be flexible: Hold meetings when and where people can attend
-- weekends instead of week nights, at church instead of someone's
home, during the day rather than in the evening if many people
work shifts or if seniors are involved.
Build links: Work on common concerns with government and
other agencies, establishing a positive climate of trust which
can lead to strong partnerships to help your neighborhood.
Keep in touch clearly, often, and in different ways: You may
get so busy that you forget to let others know what's going on.
Suddenly fewer people come to meetings; there aren't as many
volunteers. A newsletter, fliers on special events, news releases
to local media, a telephone network of members -- these all help
keep everyone interested and informed. And accurate information
helps reduce fear.
Check on where you are: Your real goal may get overlooked in
the bustle of "doing something." You may stick with
a goal only to find out it's outdated. You can reduce these risks
by setting up some checkpoints. Decide in advance how you'll
know if you're headed in the right direction. What changes should
you expect? If you're not on target, rethink either the goal
or the activity. Your group's energy is too important to waste.
Overcoming Reluctance and Fear
Not everyone will join up. A very few people just don't care;
some people don't think they have anything to offer. Some think
they can't make a difference. Some think it will take too much
of their time. Others are afraid of failing. Some may be afraid
There are ways to overcome these roadblocks. For starters,
assume that everyone can, should, and would like to help. Many
people will help readily if you ask for a skill you know they
have or offer to teach them. Someone who's housebound can watch
the neighborhood from a window, reporting suspicious or criminal
activity to the police. Challenge the neighborhood gardeners
to organize kids to spruce up the vacant lot. Ask a business
person to help with planning.
Fear of crime can block participation, deprive you of volunteers,
cut into community liveliness, and create unhealthy tension.
To conquer fear, the group needs accurate facts (what's true,
what's rumor?), a sense of control over the situation (one reason
early successes are important), and action by groups rather than
individuals (safety in numbers).
You don't have to tackle the scariest problem first. Start
where the group is comfortable. If people are afraid to be on
the street in the evening, a residents' patrol is probably not
a good first move for your group. Working toward better street
lighting and arranging free home security surveys by police may
be better starting points. And success helps overcome fear, so
your next action can be more direct.
Police and sheriffs are where people generally look first
for help in preventing crime. It's logical; preventing crime
is their primary job. Increasingly, they focus on helping neighborhoods
solve problems that interfere with security and well-being, not
just responding when trouble's already struck. Police have the
facts about the crime situation in your area; they can help you
pick effective strategies for prevention. Most police departments
have a crime prevention officer, who can help in many ways.
Other government agencies, social service organizations, and
community associations can also help. There's often more than
one way to get the job done. Nuisance abatement laws, public
health regulations, housing codes, fire codes, and building codes
all can be used to drive out drug dealers and other criminals.
Occupancy permits, liquor licenses, business permits, and vendor
licenses can be revoked if a "business" is a hazard
to the community. Work with the people in local government who
issue the permits and enforce the codes.
Schools, libraries, public transit, housing, public works,
recreation, health, social services, and other groups can all
help solve neighborhood problems. Enlisting them early can help
build stronger relationships and better results, because they
see themselves as part of the solution. Besides, these agencies
have useful information that can help identify solutions and
Resources To Get the Job Done
Preventing crime doesn't start with spending cash. Four out
of five Neighborhood Watches rely on volunteers, but these no-cost
(or very low-cost) programs work. Residents say their communities
are safer than ones nearby with no Watch.
What if you pick a problem that requires skills or materials
that you can't find for free? Take another look. You might be
surprised at what's available from your own group. Or you can
often trade or borrow to get materials and services you may need
-- printing your newsletter, supplying refreshments for a meeting,
even designing and analyzing a survey.
If you've chosen a strategy that does require a lot of cash,
you'll need to do some research on sources of funding in your
community. Locally based foundations and corporations (or local
offices of national corporations) frequently have special funds
for local groups. Local and state government (and possibly federal
agencies) may be sources of funds for your project, through departments
of community action, drug prevention, public safety, public housing,
neighborhood revitalization, or economic development. Local libraries
often have information on funding resources in your community,
and special resources such as The Foundation Directory. The Chamber
of Commerce, the economic development office, or your congressional
representatives may have some excellent suggestions. Such programs
as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) or AmeriCorps may
offer "free" staff.
Don't overlook local talent. Work with and learn from groups
from other neighborhoods, community-wide groups, special focus
groups, and agencies that work on these issues. A ministers'
alliance, a mental health association, a civic club (such as
Exchange Club, Kiwanis, League of Women Voters, or JayCees),
a veterans' group, or a school might be glad to help.
Think creatively about solutions, based on resources. If your
neighborhood worries about latchkey kids, talk with libraries
that offer children's programs or discuss setting up special
schedules with local schools; check with recreation directors
about attractive programs; set up a warmline with friendly teens
or adults whom kids can just talk with; investigate daycare programs
that might offer a group discount.
Part of the reason for all your hard work was to create a
neighborhood you all could enjoy. Remember? Give each other rounds
of applause. Take time for a picnic or block party; recognize
achievements with certificates or ribbons to your volunteers
and to outsiders who helped. Buy "team" T-shirts. Use
your newsletter to say "thanks" in public to policymakers,
funders, and others who've helped. Celebrate the small victories.
Each success builds the strength and commitment of your group.
Celebrate all kinds of good news -- kids' poster contests,
a new youth center that offers positive choices, a park now buzzing
with honest activity, any sign of progress. Don't forget to tell
the local news media. Publicity -- local newspaper stories, radio
reports, TV news clips -- can help spread the word about your
success, attract new members, and build your group's credibility
with partners and funders.
Celebrations not only are fun; they give you the chance to
step back, realize how far you've come, and revitalize the whole
group for the work ahead. Plan for them, learn from them, enjoy