There are a two basic ways in which people can start a neighborhood watch program, depending on the type of program they want. In many regions, local law enforcement agencies have a neighborhood watch outreach program, and people who wish to join can follow a specific set of rules to be officially recognized as a neighborhood watch. It is also possible to create an informal association, in communities where official recognition is not available.
The goal behind a neighborhood watch program is to organize a neighborhood so that people look out for each other and keep their eyes open for signs of criminal activity. In a typical program, meetings are held on a regular basis to discuss public safety issues and to provide information about what to do in various situations. The members of the watch usually have a phone list to contact each other with, along with phone numbers for local law enforcement agencies. At least one yearly meeting is recommended, along with regular flier distributions to keep people up to date on neighborhood issues like reports of thefts, vandalism, and other recurrent issues.
In the case of an officially recognized neighborhood watch program, someone must decide to coordinate the neighborhood. The first step is establishing the “neighborhood,” which can be a single block, or a set of streets. The coordinator then goes from house to house to see how many people are interested. If more than 50% of the neighborhood will commit to joining the neighborhood watch, the coordinator can contact a law enforcement agency for official recognition.
Working with the coordinator, a law enforcement official will set a date for an official organizing meeting, to which all members of the community are invited. At the meeting, additional members of the neighborhood can sign up for the neighborhood watch program, and information will be provided. Many law enforcement agencies also offer training meetings which cover specific topics, like how to propose measures to city government, how to report crimes, and so forth. Official recognition as a neighborhood watch association entitles neighborhoods to training meetings, access to supplies like safety lighting, and signage in the neighborhood to alert visitors to the fact that a neighborhood watch is active.
If no program for official recognition through a local police department, sheriff's office, or other law enforcement agency is available, people can create their own neighborhood watch. An organizer can test interest by going from house to house in the neighborhood, and set a date for a neighborhood watch meeting. At the meeting, a phone list can be created, and people can talk about safety issues which are specific to the neighborhood, and agree to meet on a regular basis to keep the neighborhood watch program active and current.
When organizing meetings, people should consider the possible number of attendees, and secure a space which is large enough for the meeting. Providing food and drink is also recommended, with some neighborhood watch groups holding periodic potlucks to promote neighborhood involvement.
Neighborhood crime prevention is only effective if people are active. Citizens need to be comfortable with calling law enforcement to report problems, ranging from emergencies to chronic issues like illegal parking. Neighbors should also get to know one another, and consider setting up a buddy system which promotes neighborhood bonds. For example, buddies can call each other when they are going out of town, to ask neighbors to keep a close eye on their homes.