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What is Neighbourhood Watch?

Neighbourhood Watch is one of the biggest and most successful voluntary crime prevention initiatives. It originated in the United States and in 1982 came to the UK, where it fast became very popular. Neighbourhood Watch is based around the idea of an active community working in partnership with the police, and a shared value focused on bringing local people together. At its most basic level, Neighbourhood Watch consists of a group of like-minded neighbours getting together to help reduce crime where they live and making their communities safer.

Purpose and objectives

The main purpose of Neighbourhood Watch is to help people to protect themselves and their property and improve their local environment.

The objectives of Neighbourhood Watch are to:

  • prevent crime and opportunities for crime and antisocial behaviour by improving security, increasing vigilance, creating and maintaining a caring community and reducing opportunities for crime by increasing crime prevention awareness;
  • assist the police in detecting crime by promoting effective communication and prompt reporting of suspicious and criminal activity;
  • reduce the incidence of domestic fires and environmental damage to residential property;
  • encourage neighbourliness and community cohesion and improve the quality of life for local residents and tenants;
  • reduce undue fear of crime and antisocial behaviour by providing accurate information about risks and by promoting a sense of security and community spirit, particularly among the more vulnerable members of the community; and
  • improve police/community liaison by providing effective communication channels, and by members informing the police of incidents when they occur.

A popular initiative

Neighbourhood Watch has become the largest voluntary community safety organisation across the UK. It has an estimated 10 million members. The 2008 British Crime Survey across England and Wales showed that in that year:
  • Neighbourhood Watch covered approximately 3.8 million households;
  • an estimated 16 per cent of households were members of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme and;
  • 75 per cent of households who were not members said they would join a scheme if there was one in the local area.

For more information, click here for the National and Home Watch Network (England & Wales).

Public Liability Insurance (PLI)

This is available, free of charge, to all Neighbourhood Watch schemes and associations across England and Wales. In 2008 nearly 130,000 schemes were registered for PLI, and more than nine million households are within the areas covered by these schemes.

How does Neighbourhood Watch work?
Neighbourhood Watch works mainly by developing close liaisons between local households and the police. Each Neighbourhood Watch scheme has a different setup and characteristics, depending on the area in which it is situated and its objectives. In other words, Neighbourhood Watch schemes do not follow a set structure. However, most schemes have these important aspects in common:
  • Schemes are run by their members, who all take steps to prevent crime, improve safety and reduce the fear of crime.
  • Schemes are generally led by a resident volunteer co-ordinator, whose job it is to get people working together and make sure things get done. The co-ordinator liaises with the police and acts as a voice for the community. Some schemes also have a committee that meets regularly to plan which problems to target and what actions to take.
  • Schemes are supported by the police, the local authority and sometimes by local Neighbourhood Watch associations. Members receive information and messages from the police, their local association or the local authority. This vital communication link helps to motivate members and keep schemes active. Remember: Each scheme is a community initiative, supported by the police but not run by them. The scheme’s success depends on what the members make of it.
  • Neighbourhood Watch schemes vary in size – they can be large, covering most of the houses on an estate, or they may involve just a few houses.

Local Neighbourhood Watch schemes build into larger groups and associations. Traditionally, Neighbourhood Watch activities have focused on the immediate vicinity of homes, with members looking out for anything suspicious or helping their neighbours as necessary.

However, more and more schemes are broadening their work to target a range of other problems such as antisocial behaviour, vandalism and graffiti.

Schemes should start by finding out from local people what issues worry them the most and focus on a specific problem. By getting a picture of local crime, conducting a ‘fear of crime’ survey and identifying the opportunities for crime, a Neighbourhood Watch scheme can form an action plan to tackle the problem.

Does Neighbourhood Watch reduce crime?

A review was undertaken at the request of Chief Constable Frank Whiteley, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead for Neighbourhood and Home Watch and other Watch Schemes in England and Wales, following lengthy debate at the National Strategy Group For Watch Issues (NSGWI) around the question of “Is Neighbourhood Watch effective in reducing crime?”
The review, published in May 2009, considers the published work on the effectiveness of Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) schemes in reducing crime and summarises the experiences of researchers to date.

It draws mainly on the 14 publications listed in the Bibliography, which are amongst those most frequently referenced in papers on the subject. These documents were themselves selected from a database created for this review containing 443 NHW related titles, 280 of them Research Papers.

Whilst the primary focus of the review is on evidence of crime reduction the paper also uses data from the publications reviewed to consider the categories against which measurements might in future be made. 

The review is quite academic in approach but may interest some readers so we have included it here.

Working together

Neighbourhood Watch works best where there is a strong relationship between the group and the local police. The police cannot deal with the problems and issues arising from crime and antisocial behaviour alone – they need the help of the community.

Neighbourhood Watch volunteers have an important role to play in sharing information with the police about suspicious events in their area. People really can make a difference to the safety of their community by reporting what they see. Neighbourhood Watch also gives people the chance to get to know and help each other better.

Similarly, the police have a crucial role in sharing information about recent crimes in the area. For example, co-ordinators can be warned of local crime trends through electronic communication systems. This enables the co-ordinator of the local group to warn residents, who then have an opportunity to take appropriate precautions to avoid becoming victims themselves.

Neighbourhood Watch groups may also work with other agencies such as the local authority, Community Safety Partnerships and Trading Standards Services.

Neighbourhood Watch roles

Neighbourhood Watch schemes rely on the involvement of local people. As an individual member you can decide how active you want to be, from taking a part in running the scheme to simply keeping an eye on your neighbour’s house while they are away.

Local schemes are generally made up of volunteers and employees in the police force or other agencies:

  • scheme members (volunteers)
  • street co-ordinators
  • group co-ordinators (ward/borough/association)
  • liaison post within the police or another agency.

If you would like more information about Neighbourhood Watch or are interested to start a Scheme in your area please email or visit the Neighbourhood Watch website.