Mark Caserta: Neighborhood Watch groups effective
In a day and age when many look to the government for solutions to their daily woes, there remains a program which looks to the local community for results -- the Neighborhood Watch.
You may recall the Neighborhood Watch program took center stage in the investigation of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, in Sanford, Fla. But reporting of the incident was supremely inadequate in recognizing the Watch program for its incredible benefits when properly executed.
Sponsored by the National Sheriffs' Association since 1972, Neighborhood Watch can trace its roots back to the days of colonial settlements, when night watchmen patrolled the streets. Today's modern version of the Neighborhood Watch was developed in collaboration with sheriffs and police chiefs who were looking for a crime prevention program which would engage citizens in a unified effort to reduce crime in their communities.
A thriving Neighborhood Watch program counts on citizens to organize themselves in a manner that demonstrates their presence at all times, day or night, and to be the "eyes and ears" in their community for law enforcement.
Unlike the vigilante aura portrayed by some media outlets in the case of George Zimmerman, Neighborhood Watch is designed to "increase" the flow of information to and from law enforcement and strictly guards against engaging a potential criminal.
Group members meet regularly to discuss crime trends, how to react to suspicious activity and even tips on how each family may do their part to prevent crime in the neighborhood.
An example of a great tip shared by a leader in our watch program was to keep your car keyless remote by your bedside. If you hear a suspicious sound or suspect an intruder in or around your home, depress the "panic" button so your nearby car horn would begin to sound to alert the neighborhood and definitely startle the intruder!
Many Neighborhood Watch groups communicate privately via a social networking venue. This offers timely distribution of information to all members regarding suspicious activity in the neighborhood.
Beyond the unified effort to detect criminal activity, Neighborhood Watch programs also focus on reducing the opportunities for crime. Often, members remove newspapers from a vacationing neighbor's home, gather their mail or even mow their lawn to suggest a homeowner presence.
According to studies conducted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a branch of the Department of Justice, Neighborhood Watch areas were nearly always associated with lower levels of crime.
Neighborhood Watch represents far more than just a group of citizens concerned for their community's safety. It conveys the very heart of our American heritage and our history of self-sufficiency while drawing upon the power of unity.
Our community is blessed with a vibrant Neighborhood Watch group. Members understand the prevention of crime, particularly in residential areas, must be a joint effort between citizens and law enforcement.
Is your neighborhood ready to resist crime or is it a target for intruders?
A successful Neighborhood Watch program may make the difference.
If interested in beginning a Neighborhood Watch program in your community, contact Sheriff Tom McComas and the Cabell County Sheriff's Department for more information.
Mark Caserta is a Cabell County resident and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page.