Neighborhood Safety

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 valuables.

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 threaten.

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