Neighbourhood Watch is an organisation among citizens to prevent crimes in a neighbourhood. It is mainly about preventive actions to counteract crimes and vandalism. It starts with neighbours being educated in thinking about safety and how to reach a safe environment and raise safety awareness. The most important part of Neighbourhood Watch is that no one should not act alone on crimes, instead they should report to 911 or alike and let the authorities do their job. In America the system is based on what’s called “Town Watch” which goes back to the colonial era. You shouldn´t mix up Neighbourhood Watch with a vigilance committee. The purpose is to prevent, identify and report, not to act. Vigilance committees often move outside the law themselves.
The Town Watch-program is somewhat like the Neighbourhood Watch. The biggest difference is that Town Watch mostly patrols actively in special clothes, like a certain jacket or cap. They often have a direct communication line to police and other authorities. This kind of functions in the society is directly led by the police who educates the people. At the end of a patrol you leave your equipment at the police station or in other settings if the society has a place like that. As the town guard back in the Colonial these people do what they do because they have a genuine interest in having a peaceful and safe society.
Origin and evolving
The existing system in America today had its beginning in an event in the late 60s when a woman named Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered in Queens, New York. The people were devastated when reports came in on there being more than a dozen witnesses and no one did anything to help Kitty or to try and incapacitate the rapist and killer. The book “The death and life of Great American cities” by Jane Jacobs is partly inspired by this event. She also determined that we all need to keep an eye out to the streets and help each other out. We all need to join in the “national law enforcements agencies” and work together and that community members needs to engage in crimes being reported. In some place’s groups were formed to keep control in the nearby areas and to keep an eye out to suspect activity. It didn´t take long before this spread across the country. In the first five years it mainly worked as a link between the people and the authorities but after a while the groups got more involved in the safety work in the areas and started working more with preventive things in the society.
Not only positive
Neighbourhood Watch and its system got very much attention in the media after teenager Trayvon Martin was killed in February 2012. The shooter was a Neighbourhood Watch coordinator, George Zimmerman. Zimmerman meant that he shot in self-defence but was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. In the end he was released from all charges. Prosecutors meant that Zimmerman had profiled Martin and that there were racial motives behind and that one of the arguments was that he had used a car and a gun at the incident despite the fact that it is not in the recommendations of the Neighbourhood Watch.