Neighborhood watch is a hard sell on Southside; there is a way

  In a recent meeting in North Monroe, Monroe Police Chief Eugene Ellis expressed difficulty in setting up neighborhood watch programs in South Monroe. It might mean that the chief will have to put on his thinking cap to come up with a way to help reduce avoidable crimes in South Monroe.

  The chief reported that crime in Monroe is down since he became chief because of increased morale of the police officers. He said the Neighborhood watch program is expanding in North Monroe, but South Monroe presents another problem.

   Most police departments in the country find it easy to set up neighborhood watch programs in low crime, middle-class neighborhoods. In these areas, neighbors watch for people or activity not associated with the neighborhood and report suspicious activities to the police.

    That’s what Monroe found out; it’s easy to get programs in low crime neighborhoods, but it’s harder to get them going in neighborhoods more susceptible to criminal activity. If the goal is to reduce property crimes that happen in public view, such as graffiti and burglaries of cars parked on streets; neighborhood watches work fine, but if the problem is violent activity, murders, stabbings and gang fights, residents usually doubt the effectiveness of the program as a preventative measure.

   In low crime neighborhoods, the term “Watch” means to be on guard or aware.
   However, in many low-income, high crime neighborhoods the word “Watch” is translated as “Snitch.” Snitching can be dangerous in urban neighborhoods. Persons participating in snitching programs expose themselves to the possibility of retaliation from criminal elements. There is no anonymity because the neighbors have signs in their windows or neighborhood watch signage on street corners.

   At the core of the problem of establishing neighborhood watch programs in high crime areas are two fundamental truths that must exist for a Neighborhood watch program to succeed: 1) Neighbors must trust the police and 2) There must be an expectation that actions will achieve results.

   If the department is having difficulty setting up neighborhood programs it might be that in low-income neighborhoods police are not trusted or the neighbors don’t believe their actions will achieve the result.

   Trust is earned over years. It doesn’t happen because we elect a black mayor or get a black police chief. In the interim, there needs to be a full court press to sidestep the “Neighborhood Snitch” image and establish a “Caring Neighbors” approach.

   The caring neighbors approach sidesteps the “snitch” approach and encourages neighbors to care about the people who live on their block.

   In a caring neighborhood, if someone dies the neighbors buy a flower or send a card signed by all. They also look out for the elderly, especially noting if there is a noticeable break in their routine. They speak to each other, know each other’s children by sight and do little things to show themselves neighborly. Among the list of things they do for each other is to keep a watchful eye on each other’s property.

   I live in the Renwick neighborhood. It is one of those caring neighborhoods. There is no neighborhood watch sign, but last November my wife and I were in Arizona, my neighbors knew we were away. When a car parked in our driveway for a long period of time, the neighbors took down the license number and called me. Then they called the police, who responded quickly.

  Caring neighbors help when there are no utilities, small children are walking the street unattended, or someone is having a problem.

  The idea won’t work in every neighborhood, but it will be much easier to establish caring neighborhoods, without signs or “snitch” placards in the windows, than it will be to set up neighborhood watch programs.

   It’s a bit old-fashioned, but old-fashioned approaches such as these are working all over the country.

   Some version of the “Caring neighbors” approach might help the chief breakthrough in South Monroe.

   It’s worth a try.