Neighborhood Safety “Look Out For Each Other”
Law enforcement has always been aware that
residential neighborhoods are popular targets for criminal opportunists who prey
on the unprepared. Most people are unwilling to create a fortress-like
atmosphere in their homes even though it may prevent crime because no one wants
to feel that they must live in an armed camp.
Police officers have counseled residents for years
on ways to benignly “harden the target” of their homes through traditional
methods of making the property look occupied. We know that burglars generally
try to avoid human contact when committing their crimes. If they believe that
someone is home they tend to move on to a different location.
Even when homeowners try their best to fool the
criminal, very often the bad guys will “test” to see if someone is actually at
home. The criminal will knock on the front (or back) door to see if someone
answers. If the resident opens it the thief will have prepared a “plausible”
story for why they are there such as looking for a person or address. If there
is no answer they will likely force open the door and quickly look for
Law enforcement agencies will never have sufficient
manpower to saturate patrols in neighborhoods. We have always relied on citizen
reports of suspicious activity to guide us toward problem areas. Through the use
of a new neighborhood watch paradigm called “Look Out For Each Other” we
in public safety hope to capitalize on the power of neighbors to alert emergency
services whatever the need.
“Look Out For Each Other” gives everyone an
equal benefit and responsibility in neighborhood vigilance. Since there are no
titles or specific duties conferred on individuals there is no schedule or work
load to be distributed among participants.
As in any volunteer organization the “traditional
neighborhood watch” participants suffer “burn out” after a period of time.
It is usually due to the tendency of a few people to do the lion’s share of the
work. There is no problem until the “honeymoon period” of an exciting new
program wears off in a few months. By then the few leaders are tired of being
the “doers” and want to pass the torch to someone else in the group. Too often
the next tier of volunteers lacks the same motivation and passion as found with
the original leaders and the entire organization begins to falter.
Regardless of the physical configuration of a
neighborhood everyone living there has an equal opportunity to make the vicinity
less attractive to criminals. With the exception of sparsely populated rural
areas most homes are arranged so that in a general sense, neighbors are
positioned on either side, across the street and behind that house with varying
degrees of visibility.
The “Look Out For Each Other” paradigm uses
an uncomplicated approach to solving the problem of long term participation by
residents. No one has any more or less responsibility for neighborhood safety
than their neighbor. We are using the figurative interpretation of “Look Out
For Each Other” to emphasize a commitment to a community of people who will
keep everyone’s best interests at heart. We are also using the phrase in a
literal context so people get into the habit of looking past their own property
lines when they look outside or are out in the yard.
Law enforcement is constantly asking for the
public’s help when it comes to reporting crimes and suspicious activity. We know
that the likelihood of an officer being an eyewitness to criminal activity is
remote. It’s a matter of numbers. In Porter County for example there are on
average seven officers patrolling in a 425 square mile area at any given time.
That equates to one sheriff’s officer for every sixty square miles. Obviously
the chances are much greater that one of the 165,000 residents of the county
will be “at the right place at the right time.”
Consider that two of the greatest technological
advances of the 20th century are in large part responsible for our
lack of neighborhood camaraderie; television and air conditioning. Those
two inventions have brought more people indoors from their front porches and
fences than anything else we can imagine. Many of us can think back to the
simple pleasure of sipping lemonade on the porch and having the neighbor from
across the street come over for a chat.
Sadly, most people can no longer name the other
families that live on their block. We rely on electronic media to give us
information about the world, our nation and even our local community.
Ironically, we can find the best example of a
vigilant neighbor on television. For those of us old enough to remember the
Bewitched situation comedy, think about the character from that program that
you’d want living on your street if you are concerned about crime. Gladys
Kravitz was in a state of constant turmoil because she was always seeing the
strange goings on over at the Stevens’ house where
Samantha practiced her witchcraft. Nothing happened
on that block without Gladys knowing about it!
We have the potential to create a network of
connected, observant neighbors with very little effort on their part. “Look
Out For Each Other” requires only that households that are adjacent to one
another make a personal connection, one time. (With luck people will want to
nurture that further, but it isn’t necessary.) People must commit to walking
over to (or calling) each house that is on either side, across the street and
directly behind their own house.
Simply explain that you want to look out for
their interests and safety while they are away from home. You will consciously
look out to see what may appear “out of the norm” and by exchanging names
and telephone numbers, you can alert them. If you witness an emergency you will
call the appropriate public safety agency for them.
Many neighborhoods have houses where “the
kids” live that are the cause for much of the uproar in the area. Either the
parents are unaware or unconcerned that their own children or their friends have
been terrorizing the neighbors. “Look Out For Each Other” has potential
to work even if some households wish to remain reclusive. If the
surrounding families have received a cold or even hostile reception from “the
problem house” when they offer to watch for suspicious activity, a message has
already been sent. Remember, the neighbor is making a benign offer to help, not
The mere fact that people have come to their door
saying that there is a watch program puts that household on notice that the
police department will get calls; maybe from multiple neighbors when there is a
disturbance. The homeowner may not like the attention but will be far more
likely to keep things quiet, or better yet tell their kids to go to their
friends’ houses because of the “nosey neighbors.” So even though those folks
“don’t play well with others” the neighborhood can still reap the benefits of
the watch network.
We have created a graphic to make it easy for
people to remain connected. It shows a woman holding a telephone looking out the
window of a home. Below are spaces to record the names and contact phone numbers
of the four surrounding homes.
These have been made into refrigerator magnets so
they are readily accessible when needed.
Look Out For Each Other Form
Look Out For Each Other Pledge
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