Summary and Keywords
Neighborhood Watch or Home Watch is internationally regarded as the largest voluntary crime prevention activity in the world. It is typically citizen instigated and police facilitated, with local groups having substantial autonomy in the organization and leadership, some with access to support and materials from overarching national organizations, contingent upon adherence to basic common standards. The local group presents itself as a partnership of people coming together to try to make their community safer, and it is primarily seen as a scheme coordinated between local citizens and their police. The relative autonomy of local groups is reflected in a variety of working collaborations with local or municipal authorities, voluntary agencies, and private business. Neighborhood Watch aims to empower people to protect themselves and their properties and to reduce the fear of crime by means of improved home security, greater vigilance, increased guardianship, and reporting of incidents to the police, and by fostering a community spirit. A further aim of the organization is to improve police and community liaison by developing effective two-way communication processes by which Neighborhood Watch leaders can disseminate up-to-date information among the members. Examples of Neighborhood Watches are now to be found in many parts of the world, and while initially schemes were launched exclusively by the police, as time and the organization have progressed, active citizens are now often initiating the establishment and organization of their own schemes. The closer linkage between police and the Neighborhood Watch organizations is reflected in the fact that the United Kingdom’s Neighborhood Watch national headquarters is located within an operational police station.
What is Neighborhood Watch?
There are no necessary or sufficient attributes of schemes with the ascribed or assumed label Neighborhood Watch (NW). Such schemes perform many functions and have a variety of relationships with criminal justice agencies. Perhaps the core idea is the application of active citizenship to community safety, evident for as long as humans have lived collectively in settlements (Boehm, 2012). The word Watch belies the broader work of NW groups, as reflected in the organization’s internal literature, which characterizes NW as an intended means of delivering diverse, locally appropriate, crime and disorder remedies. That said, the term Watch leads the interested criminologist to see guardianship through surveillance as the active ingredient in NW schemes, arguably more so than may be gleaned from discussions with NW members. A caveat, which is more often experienced than expressed, is that collective citizen engagement with crime is more difficult in more crime-challenged areas. This means that naïve comparisons of crime levels in NW and other areas are unhelpful.
The approach taken here is briefly to describe the history of initiatives flying under the NW flag, while also attempting to determine the mechanisms through which NW may work, and what levels of success in crime reduction they may have enjoyed or could achieve.
The Origins of Neighborhood Watch
The latter half of the 20th century witnessed a raft of changes whose collective effect was to make understanding of, and responses to, crime and disorder less police centered than before [see Titus (1984) for an early U.S. perspective on the movement]. Elements of the move from police to citizen agency in crime control include the advent of victimization surveys, restorative justice, and, in England and Wale, the relabeling of local crime-control agencies as community-safety partnerships. Thus NW (sometimes known as Home Watch or Block Watch), seen against this background, may be considered as an initiative, albeit inchoate, whose time had come in providing a local citizen-led voluntary organization with crime as its focal concern.
It is widely believed that the first coordinated NW began in Queens, New York, in the late 1960s as a direct response to the rape and murder of Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese. The way the media reported the murder occasioned worldwide horror because they claimed her protracted cries for help met no response, and the coverage of the event bewailed the absence of community cohesion. Subsequent accounts, however, reveal that while some neighbors did indeed ignore cries for help, the media grossly exaggerated the number of witnesses, and that only a few had glimpsed parts of the incident or recognized the cries for help. Two people did call the police, and it is now reported that an elderly neighbor ventured out and cradled the dying girl in her arms until they arrived. Yet this incident prompted enquiries into what became known as the “bystander apathy” or “Genovese syndrome,” where there was much speculation as to why neighbors failed to intervene (Latane & Darley, 1969). Some members of the local community formed groups to watch over their neighborhood and to look out for any suspicious activity in their area.
It was not until 1972, however, that the U.S. National Sheriffs Association1 began a concerted effort to revitalize the Watch group approach nationwide. NW has since gone on to be developed across many countries, including the United Kingdom, where the first group was set up in 1982. It is now claimed that in the United Kingdom alone, around 3.8 million households are covered by some form of Neighborhood or Home Watch scheme. In the United States it is claimed that over 40% of the population live in areas now covered by NW schemes.
The wider public’s image of NW is far from uniformly benign and respectful, with comedians lampooning its members as “busybodies” spying on their neighbors from behind twitching net curtains. There are even websites mocking the organization and its efficacy.2 Conversations with police officers often reveal ambivalence toward NW schemes, while recognizing the essential public spiritedness of the organization. (Police officers may sigh about NW’s identification of problems below the level of seriousness meriting police attention.) Officers tasked with liaison with NW groups are not always enthusiastic about the prospect. In a Problem-Oriented Policing Award project,3 a senior U.K. police officer documented that while NW is often seen as an increased demand on police resources—due mainly to the selective vision and hearing of police (Klinger, 1999)—its members are the “eyes and ears” of the community, and therefore should be regarded as a valuable resource. He encouraged officers to see NW members as “brains and doers” who could be seen to help “reduce demand.” There is also often unspoken police concern about the point at which citizen activism becomes vigilantism. Police ambivalence toward NW is understandable, particularly since the Watch formulation implies that any action remains the preserve of the police.
NW functions are not always limited to crime reduction. They may involve many aspects of community safety, including fire safety and community cohesion activities. In many countries, NW may involve formal and informal agencies, such as police, local authorities, businesses, and charities. It aims to empower people to protect themselves and their property and to reduce fears by means of improved home security, greater vigilance, increased guardianship, and reporting of incidents to the police, and by fostering community spirit. A further declared aim of NW is to improve police and community liaison by developing an effective communication process by which NW leaders can disseminate up-to-date information to scheme members.
Most local schemes have a leader, known as a coordinator or captain. The leaders act as liaison points with the local police and other authorities and non-government organizations (NGOs).4 The level of coordinator involvement varies greatly, dependent on the degree of citizen support, the extent of crime in an area, and the intensity of motivation from police, coordinators, and members. The emphasis in NW literature on failing local schemes and resigning coordinators suggests that failing schemes are common. A prominent NW researcher, asked how long the average NW scheme lasted, replied “zero time.” This observation was made not to belittle the NW movement but to stress the practical difficulties of organization that it entails. The role of a coordinator or captain can vary, but in general the role is to set up and maintain a Watch scheme within a neighborhood or area (which could be a street, a block, or a group of homes or businesses). The coordinator is generally the link between the NW group and the local police. The role and tasks of the coordinator vary according to the needs of the neighborhood. NW coordinators enjoy a level of autonomy from their national organizations.
What are coordinators enjoined to do, and what can we infer about how NW is supposed to work on the basis of that? The roles may differ between countries, but there are common threads to be found, such as:
• Developing vigilance among the members and encouraging the reporting of any suspicious incidents to the police
• Receiving crime information and distributing it to NW members
• Identifying area crime-related problems and developing and implementing plans to reduce them
• Encouraging NW members to be aware of, and put into practice, crime-prevention measures, such as property marking and installation of security devices
• Keeping a check on vulnerable households and providing advice to their occupants about how to deal with callers/strangers at the door
• Circulating any newsletters and other relevant information to members
• Welcoming newcomers to the neighborhood and inviting them to be part of the NW scheme
• Supplying new members with NW and crime-prevention literature, such as window stickers and incident report cards
A common theme in reviews of NW is that its essential elements are often poorly specified and that there are typically numerous add-ons to local schemes that render evaluation problematic, and it may be suggested that to attempt to do so constitutes a category error, i.e., that NW is better regarded as a delivery mechanism for other crime-prevention tactics, rather than itself being such a tactic. It may be helpful here to indicate some of the general guidance given to local coordinators and those wishing to set up a scheme in order to get a sense of NW as a delivery mechanism. The general advice given is often as follows:
• It will work as long as there are enough people to look out for each others’ properties and liaise with the police
• The closer the links with the police, the more successful a scheme will be
• Identify your local crime problems
• Decide what you can do to mitigate those problems
• Think about resources
• Anticipate effects realistically
• If plans fail to meet expectations, modify them before implementing them
• Review your scheme annually and modify it so that it remains responsive to the needs of your members
• If the scheme is moribund, relaunch or revitalize it
Within the framework of the term NW, it is recognized that there are many different types of community, i.e., bodies of people with something in common, who may be vulnerable to similar types of problem, and many networks and Watches analogous to NW itself have been introduced and developed over the years. Numerous spin-offs from NW have developed over the years, and the following are just a few examples:
Farm Watch: Often rural communities and farmers are somewhat isolated and do not always fit the “criteria” of a neighborhood; their isolation in itself can make them vulnerable to crimes like theft of equipment and livestock. The aim of Farm Watch is to support the “virtual” community as a whole (with the effort often coordinated by the local police5) and to actively adopt NW methods of information sharing, increased vigilance, and territorial guardianship.
Pub Watch6 is a U.K. voluntary organization, entirely funded by sponsorship from the licensed alcohol retailer7 and hospitality sector, set up to promote best practice through supporting the work of smaller local Pub Watch schemes, the aim being to achieve a safer drinking environment in all licensed premises throughout the United Kingdom. Pub Watch schemes have been in place since the late 1990s. They work closely with local government agencies and support the delivery of public safety campaigns and alcohol-awareness initiatives. Pub Watch is not a trade body, so it has no commercial interests, and it is not a membership organization. The national organization maintains a database of Pub Watch schemes and provides advice and guidance on a range of issues, including alcohol-licensing reforms such as the U.K. government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (2011).8
Similar organizations operate in other countries, such as Canada, where Bar Watch9 is a self-regulated association of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants whose aims are to reduce violence and its associated costs to the businesses, community, and law-enforcement agencies. In 2009, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta voted for and passed Bill 4210 (Gaming and Liquor Amendment Act), which allowed bars and nightclubs to collect a person’s name, age, and photograph, where doing so did not contradict privacy legislation. This demonstrates the Watch movement’s role as a delivery mechanism, as opposed to being a specific operational tactic.
Shop Watch is yet another partnership scheme, in which retailers work together to pre-empt theft in their premises. Shop Watch aims to reduce retail crime and antisocial behavior and to help make shopping areas safer for customers and staff. The schemes vary in size, and are coordinated by a Shop Watch coordinator. They are supported by local police and municipal authorities, who provide help and advice on security for staff and customers, retail crime-reduction initiatives, and developing effective communication systems, such as two-way radios. The radios are effective in taking prompt action against offenders who are seen, or suspected of, committing thefts or causing problems within the store, and by the speedy communication with other local stores, who can be informed of any potential offenders operating in the area. There are numerous examples of Shop, Pub, and Bar Watches available online.11, 12
Speed Watch: Speeding traffic, particularly in suburban locations, is viewed by some communities as one of the factors that affect quality of life and is often regarded, particularly in the United Kingdom, to be a high community priority. Community Speed Watch13 allows members of the community to become police support volunteers who help the police educate drivers who exceed the speed limits. Speed Watch is generally managed by the local police but is run by community volunteers in high-visibility clothing. The volunteers’ tasks often involve using equipment that can monitor the speed of passing traffic and then recording the vehicle registration details, later adding them to a database. This is followed up by vehicle checks undertaken by the police, and letters are sent to the registered owners advising them of the speed limits and informing them that their failure to comply with speed restrictions is seen as a community concern. Speed Watch is not enforcement, but education.
The examples of the above NW spin-offs do not constitute an exhaustive list (Marine and Beach Watches in Australia are further examples) and there is potential to form a “Watch” for any type of local or common interest group. Most have the key attribute of being supported by the local police, and often use signage to identify that a “Watch” is in place, highlighting the guardianship element over a location or target.
Do Neighborhoods Matter?
How do members of a community influence individuals and groups in their neighborhood? Collective efficacy theory (Farmer, 2014) refers to the de facto intervention of members of a community to control the behavior of individuals and groups, thus aiming to create a safe and orderly environment. Adherents of collective efficacy theory claim that measures of increased community control can lead to a significant reduction in crime. Communities with high levels of collective efficacy have been found to experience lower rates of violence, including homicide, suggesting that community participation can reduce crime. Sampson (2014) argues that a neighborhood’s efficacy exists relative to specific tasks and with shared expectations of control.
While the concept of collective efficacy does not feature in NW internal literature, it may be thought to encapsulate the view taken here of NW as a means of delivery of a range of locally relevant measures. Sampson, Raudenbusch, and Earls’ (1997) research is based upon very extensive systematic observation of streets, where the willingness to engage and intervene are the markers of areas exhibiting collective efficacy. Areas with high collective efficacy are lower in crime, other variables having been taken into account. NW may be thought of as an attempt to stimulate collective efficacy.
Social disorganization theory centers on the concept of social control (Shaw & McKay, 1942). The theory is based on the idea that crime prevention results not only from the efforts of formal agents of control (e.g., the police), but more importantly from the informal agents, such as neighbors, friends, and families. While the police have an important role, it is the activities and actions of the people who live in the neighborhood that most centrally maintain order.
Shaw and McKay stated that one of the key factors in understanding why some neighborhoods are better at controlling crime than others has to do with “social networks”—relationships among people in the neighborhood. The premise behind this concept is that the more neighbors know each other and socialize with each other, the less crime there will be. Shaw and McKay state that there are a number of reasons for this. First, knowing our neighbors gives us the feeling that we have a responsibility to watch out for them. Second, this same knowledge tells us when someone is out of place or something inappropriate is going on. Finally, caring neighbors are more likely to agree upon common problems and work together to solve them.
Drew and McGuigan’s (1998) report for the U.S. International Federation for Protection of Officers stated that overall, a neighborhood watch program can be a great thing for any neighborhood, as it brings the community together and helps to reduce serious crime at the same time. They stated that if a successful Watch program was effectively carried out, then there would be no need for people to segregate or isolate themselves in such things as “gated communities.”
How Is Neighborhood Watch Supposed to Reduce Crime?
One can take a synthetic or an analytic approach to the consideration of NW’s putative mechanisms for crime reduction. The synthetic approach suggested by the characterization of NW above would require research along collective efficacy lines, where observers blind to the NW status of an area observe street interactions. This would be supplemented by analysis of acquaintanceship and help patterns across areas according to NW status. The nearest we can get via the analytic approach is to look at those mechanisms that are plausibly part of collective efficacy and are part of the common vocabulary of NW, namely surveillance and guardianship.
The most common mechanism in the lexicon of how NW works is surveillance: that residents keep a “look out” for any suspicious activities, make neighbors aware of any local incidents, and work in collaboration with their local police. As rational choice theory (Cornish & Clarke, 2014) contends, surveillance exists only insofar as it is assumed or recognized by those surveilled. In an unpublished U.K. research paper, Chenery and Pease noted that over half of chronic burglary offenders interviewed stated the greatest deterrent was that “being watched” by neighbors increased their perceptions of risk. NW is also supported by routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979), which, in its simplest version, states that necessary conditions have to exist for a crime to occur: a desired objective, a motivated offender, and an absence of any capable guardian. Whether, or under what circumstances, NW may constitute a capable guardian, is an empirical question.
Guardianship and Territoriality
Guardianship and territoriality are regarded as the cornerstones of effective NW. They involve understanding highly place-specific behaviors and conditions that are socially and culturally determined. As was argued by Taylor (1988), territorial functioning is relevant mainly to specific locations, such as streets or apartment blocks, and not to entire neighborhoods, and that it can reduce conflict and help maintain stability and security. As a crime prevention strategy, it focuses on manipulating the environment to reduce crime by giving residents control over their surroundings. It is defined as a set of attitudes and behaviors that determine how people manage, occupy, and use the space where they live, and the extent to which people believe they have power over events in their lives. It also provides residents with an element of internal locus of control,14 where they are given the confidence to feel that they can help influence events and their outcomes.
Purely changing physical factors alone, however, cannot be relied on to protect residents against crime. Neighborhood design, configuration, and social integration on crime and territorial functioning co-exist in order to provide a platform for NW to become effective. There is substantial empirical evidence that links territorial functioning with low crime rates. Defensible space theory (Newman, 1972) also indicates that a crime-prevention strategy can focus on manipulation of the physical design and on giving residents control over their surrounding environment. NW members are aware of cues within the environment and understand who belongs in a space and who does not.
Defensible Space and Territoriality
Newman suggested that the physical design of a neighborhood can either increase or inhibit people’s sense of control over the spaces in which they reside. He argued that if space is defensible, it should be clear who should and who should not be there, and it should be obvious who has ownership, giving clear signals that potential offenders have no excuse to be in that space. Defensible space can be created by the installation of physical barriers, or with subtle environmental changes that provide evidence that boundaries are being crossed. This then provides an opportunity for potential offenders to be observed or challenged by those who have ownership of that space.
Defensible space should, if working effectively, create territorial responses among the owners or managers of a place, and provide an ideal platform for NW coordinators or members to challenge, or simply make their presence known, thus assuring strangers that they are being observed. Brown and Bentley (1993) interviewed offenders, asking them to identify properties they would deem to be more vulnerable to burglary, and the results revealed that properties showing signs of territorial behavior were perceived by offenders to be less vulnerable to burglary.
Montoya, Junger, and Ongena (2014) also found a significant relationship between signs of territorial responses and burglary risk.
Territoriality is the central concept of defensible space that gives residents control of their environment. The five factors believed to make a defensible space are:
1. Territoriality—the home is seen as sacred
2. Natural surveillance—the link between an area’s physical characteristics and the residents’ ability to see what is happening
3. Image—the capacity of the physical design to impart a sense of security
4. Milieu—features that may affect security, such as proximity to a police substation or busy commercial area
5. Safe adjoining areas—for better security, residents obtain a better ability for surveillance of an adjoining area through design of the adjoining area
Crime prevention through environmental design, commonly known as CPTED,15, 16 draws upon opportunity theories, such as routine activity and rational choice theories, which assert that those involved in, or considering, criminality are influenced (to some extent) by their immediate environment. In the case of burglary, if there is a likely offender who is motivated to commit the offense, and there is an absence of any capable guardians (i.e., residents or neighbors) who would challenge the offender, or perhaps who would call the police to draw attention to the potential event, then an opportunity is created, and the offender will seek to maximize the benefits, and minimize the risks when making decisions about the burglary. CPTED, therefore, is a practical response to the crime risks hypothesized by routine activity and rational choice theories.17 The aim is to prevent or reduce crime by influencing the design, build, and management of the environment.
For example, in avoiding the risks asserted by crime pattern theory (Brantingham & Brantingham, 2008),18 places can be designed to limit the likelihood that potential offenders will pass through, by restricting unnecessary movement, or to provide obvious signs of guardianship. In avoiding the risks asserted by the rational choice perspective and routine activity approaches, places can also be designed to maximize the likelihood that offenders will be observed (or to provide the perception of being observed). In these well-researched and successful approaches to crime prevention, much revolves around “increasing the awareness” of the offender.
Much as been written about situational prevention,19 which comprises opportunity-reducing measures that are directed at highly specific forms of crime, involves the management, design, or manipulation of the immediate environment in as systematic and permanent way as possible, and makes crime more difficult and risky, or less rewarding and excusable (Clarke, 1997). The main concepts of situational prevention are influenced by rational choice and routine activity theories, the focus being that crime can be reduced by altering situations, and by changing how the environment is perceived. Therefore, if NW activities can change perceptions, they can also change situations. The techniques by which this can be achieved are categorized under five headings:
1. Increasing the effort
2. Increasing the risks
3. Reducing the rewards
4. Reducing provocations
5. Removing excuses.
NW signage plays a key role in removing excuses by “stimulating the awareness” of the potential offender. NW signs placed in prominent locations highlight the fact that neighbors may be more diligent. Signs also link to publicity mechanisms; Johnson and Bowers (2003) suggested that the effectiveness of crime-reduction schemes may be significantly enhanced by publicity, and that carefully planned campaigns could represent a powerful, yet cost-effective, tool in crime prevention. Even the presence of NW members active in the area can publicly indicate that offender anonymity may well be reduced. The publicity of activity may enhance crime-prevention efforts and increase the offenders’ perceptions of the risks and efforts involved in perpetrating crimes. While there are many different types of publicity that can be used in relation to crime prevention, NW signage is the most prevalent, and has now become a common part of the landscape.
There are many different types of NW signs, but often they are eye-catching and, as is the case with all good signage, they often look official. Below are a number of examples from around the globe:
Does Neighborhood Watch Work?
A number of reviews of NW effects have been published over the years (see, for example, Husain, 1990; Bennett, 1990) reporting varying levels of crime-reduction effect. The systematic review undertaken in 2008 as one of the Campbell systematic reviews looked at the “effectiveness of NW” based on a narrative review of 19 studies20 (covering 43 evaluations) and a meta-analysis based on 12 studies (covering 18 evaluations) from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Canada (Bennett, Holloway, & Farrington, 2008). The data included both police-recorded crimes and self-reported victimization. The study points to what seems to be the central issue in considering NW’s efficacy: the ambiguity of the mechanism whereby NW works (insofar as it does). The possible “active ingredients” of NW schemes seem to be surveillance and perceived guardianship. The stress on contacts with the police suggests a fear of NW members’ morphing into vigilantes, with the spectre of George Zimmerman, a NW captain in Sanford, Florida, who shot Trayvon Martin dead on February 26, 2012, in the forefront of public consciousness. Zimmerman had been patrolling in his NW role, rang 911 to report a “suspicious person,” and was told by the officer taking his call to stay in his car, an instruction that he ignored. He was subsequently acquitted of murder.21, 22
There are thousands of NWs, some comprising stand-alone schemes, and some that include additional program elements. The most common combination of program elements is what is classed as the “big three”—NW, property marking, and security surveys. The studies selected for inclusion in Bennett et al.’s review were based on schemes that either stood alone or had a combination of any of the “big three” elements and were identified by searching electronic databases, on-line library catalogues, literature reviews, lists of references, and published bibliographies.
The primary objective of the review was to assess the effectiveness of NW in reducing crime, and the main finding of the review was that the majority of the schemes evaluated indicated that NW had been associated with reduced levels of crime.
In 2015, the What Works Centre for Crime Reduction,23 located in the U.K. College of Policing, reviewed research on numerous practices, assessing the evidence on the quality, cost, and impact of interventions. The program also aimed to identify why things work within specific contexts, and any implementation issues. The research appeared to show that NW can reduce crime, but it recognized that it seemed to have been more effective in the United States and Canada than in the United Kingdom. The study found little evidence for how NW works in practice, as schemes varied considerably in terms of coverage, management, funding, and initiation. The investigation concluded that an estimated average of 26 crimes were prevented, for every 100 crimes committed, where NW was in place.
The reviews found difficulty in determining from the current research how NW might have worked. They suggested that NW might reduce crime by a combination of factors, such as:
• Deterring offenders through increasing their awareness of the propensity of residents to look for and report suspicious activity
• Reducing perceived opportunity via increasing signs of occupancy in vacant homes (i.e., moving waste/refuse bins, removing newspapers)
• Enhancing community cohesion and increasing the effectiveness of informal social control
• Facilitating detection via an increased flow of intelligence between public and police
The Bennett et al. (2008) study found complications in determining effectiveness due to the fact that the “Watch” component of NW is often implemented alongside other activities, such as property marking and/or security surveys. Interactions between these elements were not considered in detail. Many of the schemes differed in whether they were initiated by police or by the public, whether they had coordinators or captains, whether they were well organized and held regular meetings, and whether there was regular police liaison.
Despite the fact that researchers are still struggling to understand the effectiveness of NW, it is most frequently considered to be an effective crime- reduction program. Individual examples of the impact of NW have shown crime reduction in specific situations, and yet numerous studies have shown that, when attempts have been made to measure the overall effectiveness using crime reduction alone, the results have been ambiguous.
A review by the Australian Institute of Criminology (Fleming, 2005) argued for a change of focus in what should be determined as a measure of success, as evaluations might suggest schemes were ineffective if they just looked at whether NW prevented and reduced the fear of crime and improved information flows between the community and the police. They proposed that a better way of assessing the efficacy of NW was to view it as a vehicle to enhance partnerships between police, other agencies, and the community, and that these partnerships can effectively improve police/community relations, improve perceptions of safety and security, and enhance community involvement in wider crime-prevention initiatives. They believed that a change in focus was consistent with a “reassurance policing” model, and challenged practitioners, policy makers, and communities who were involved with NW schemes to rethink the outcomes they were seeking to achieve.
Examples of the International Breadth of Neighborhood Watch
NW has expanded greatly over the last forty years and can be found in many countries. In some parts of the world, such as Australasia, Canada, Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, it has become highly organized. Below are a few examples of NW from across the globe.
As in many parts of the world, in Australia NW takes many forms and runs different programs. In 2003, a study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that NW’s national body was taking the emphasis away from crime and was focusing more on “know your neighbor” and on building community resilience (Charlton & Taylor, 2003). The aim became not only to provide information to the police, but also to combat crime before it starts by “letting the neighbors know who you are . . . getting to know the neighbors around you.” Western Australia promotes that NW is a good way to start conversations in your neighborhood, stating that NW can help build safe, strong, caring, connected, and happy communities.
Most NWs are adapted to fit the environment in which people live. For example, in some parts of Australia there are Marine and Beach Watches, which recognize that visitors to the beaches increase over summer and therefore so do opportunistic offenses. Beach Watch encourages people to take ownership of their valuables by not leaving property unattended on the beach or visible in vehicles in car parks.
Social media are increasingly being used by police forces across the globe, and the New South Wales police have more than 80 Facebook pages, including an EyeWatch.24 There are more than 500,000 people connected, and they are provided with crime information, warnings, and crime prevention tips. Each police local area command (LAC) has established a Facebook page. Eyewatch is all about connecting the local community with local police and has been seen as an “outstanding success.” Eyewatch provides the community with an alternative to attending meetings in local halls, and they can connect online.
The Bermuda Police Service25 has been developing NW over many years and believes it is one of the most effective ways to reduce crime and build better relationships between residents. In 2013 the government backed a NW 2.0 Programme,26 which was sponsored by the ministry and a number of private organizations. The program was not a replacement for the existing NW program, but was seen as an enhancement. NW 2.0 was designed to enhance the existing NW program by using technology to connect neighbors and their communities via voice call and text messages. It provides real time communication for the residents of a neighborhood and is seen as another best-practice tool in the fight for safer communities. The objective was to the provide NW 2.0 to residents at no charge by launching a corporate-sponsored adopt-a-neighborhood campaign, and every NW community would be encouraged to have this service in order to create an improved network of connectivity for information sharing.
Bermuda has also created community action groups, which are localized community groups consisting of a number of NW members and are managed by the local community action team (CAT) police officers. Each community action group has assigned CAT police officers who work closely with their local area groups. This is viewed as providing continuity and trust between the police and the community.
From Nova Scotia to British Columbia, examples of NW can be found across Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) work with communities to deliver programs, aimed at both children and adults, that teach residents about personal safety, and also organize a Citizens on Patrol Program (COPP).27 This concept originates from Western Canada, where citizens supplement police patrols in helping reduce crime by keeping a neighborly (guardianship) watch over their communities. Citizens on Patrol have neither the authority nor the mandate to make arrests, nor to take any action that might jeopardize their own safety or that of the public. The role of Citizens on Patrol is to simply observe and report.
Since 1986, the Block Watch program in British Columbia28 has aimed not only to reduce crime and improve relationships between the police and the community, but also to fight the isolation and separation that crime creates, as well as to form bonds among residents and businesses. The Safe City Mississauga’s NW program,29 located in Southern Ontario, “inspires” residents to look out for their neighbors by utilizing crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Each area receives a CPTED audit as well as information, presentations, materials, and resources that support their Watch program, with the aim of helping citizens “reclaim their urban neighborhoods” (Newman, 1996).
NW schemes exist in most European countries. They operate differently depending on legal and social structures, with varied degrees of recognition and cooperation from governmental organizations. The degree of cooperation with the local police also varies, from countries where close cooperation exists, to countries where a history of totalitarian rule (Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the former eastern bloc countries) created a climate of distrust between people and the police and where there is typically very little cooperation.
In Austria, proNACHBAR is one of the biggest private associations informing citizens about ways to avoid becoming crime victims. In an effort to extend its scope of activities and to create an international platform for NW initiatives, proNACHBAR decided in 2014 to establish EUNWA (a European NW Association30), because no such transnational umbrella organization existed. EUNWA was formally established as Verein (association pursuant to Austrian law) and immediately succeeded in convincing 33 organizations (from 21 countries) active in the field of crime prevention to join, either as full members, or as network partners interested in international cooperation in the field of crime prevention. In October 2015, EUNWA held its second international conference, organized by one of the Italian members, after which the number of member organizations increased to 60 (representing 33 countries) from across Europe.
EUNWA also established good relations with other organizations pursuing similar goals, such as the European Crime Prevention Network31(EUCPN) in Brussels, which encompass national prevention authorities from most European countries and the European Forum for Urban Security32 (EFUS). EUNWA not only provides an international platform for communication and exchange of information among NW associations but also disseminates advice and provides assistance, and cooperates in international efforts to improve relations with governments and authorities. It is EUNWA’s declared goal to extend its activities to all European countries.
During recent years, the concept of community policing has been gaining ground in many European countries, and the value of improving relationships between police and residents has been recognized. This has been achieved by local police presence, continuity of assigned officers, changing from reactive to proactive policing methods, and reversing the trend to replace personal acquaintance with information technology, thus giving people a renewed feeling of security and trust. In 2015, EUNWA conducted a survey among existing members and network partners asking respondents to describe the ways national or local police organize their efforts to strengthen bonds between the police and citizens The survey, although not carried out by strict scientific methods, yielded interesting insights into the progress of community policing, showing in some cases where official statements noticeably disagree with the observations of the people who are supposed to benefit from community policing.
In 2013, Delhi police relaunched a NW scheme33 in 23 localities of the city, aiming to strengthen community policing and reduce property-related crimes. It called for enhanced coordination between communities and law-enforcement agencies. The scheme traces its origins to work undertaken in Europe, building on an enhanced coordination between close-knit communities and law-enforcement agencies. Though the NW scheme was initially launched in the capital in the 1980s and existed in other forms for a number of years, it saw its implementation gradually waning. However, when a new chief of police assumed charge, the scheme was given a new lease on life.
The police involve the community in reducing property-related offenses and improving community involvement in crime prevention, increasing police-community relations, and reducing juvenile delinquency by involving youths in local activities.
The increasing efficacy of NW captured the attention of the Community Affairs Department of the Japanese local government in Aichi Prefecture, who, in 2015, sent two representatives to the United Kingdom to learn more about NW. In September 2015, the representatives visited the U.K. Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network (NHWN) headquarters and discussed future strategies and the way forward for the movement. While in the United Kingdom, the representatives also visited a police constabulary, exploring approaches to crime prevention and the role of the police. Although there are various ways in which the local Japanese governments try to involve local citizens in policing, no formal national NW structure exists, and so the representing officers were keen to learn more about the movement and its success in creating safer and stronger communities, with an aim to apply this newly found knowledge. At the time of writing, it is not known whether any NW schemes have yet been adopted in Japan.
In New Zealand, Neighbourhood Support34 was established in 1999 and works closely with the police and other organizations in the community with the aim of reducing crime, improving safety, and coordinating activities in dealing with emergencies and natural disasters. Neighbourhood Support groups enable people to share information, ideas, and insights, and have a remit to
• Encourage neighbors to talk to each other
• Share information that will help reduce the risk and fear of crime
• Help foster a sense of community spirit where everyone is respected and valued
• Educate and empower neighbors to take responsibility for their own safety
• Identify the needs of neighbors and ways to assist each other
• Identify the strengths and skills of neighbors to contribute to solving local problems
• Minimize burglaries and car crime in the local area
• Reduce graffiti, vandalism, violence, and disorder
• Support victims of crime
• Enhance the safety features and appearance of the neighborhood
• Decide on ways to handle any civil emergencies that may occur
• Know when and how to contact police, other emergency services, or support agencies
• Liaise and cooperate with other community groups
New Zealand also has a Junior Neighbourhood Support program35 that aims to promote a sense of pride, safety, and community spirit in children and in the wider school community. Working in partnership with police, fire departments, civil defense & emergency management, and local sponsors, Junior Neighbourhood Support recognizes primary and intermediate students who have assisted others or have done something that demonstrates community spirit and pride, or supports community safety. Some of the activities undertaken are bike safety, preventing bullying, school or street clean ups, reporting graffiti, awareness/assistance with fire, police, and civil defense services, getting their families to join Neighborhood Support, and helping a neighbor. Children performing any of these “safety activities” can be nominated by school staff, families, and members of the community for an achievement award. It is intended that the program will positively reinforce the curriculum and existing school programs and is supported by schools and the community. The program also supports school curriculum key competences, such as relating to others, self-management, participating, contributing, and thinking. The main objectives of the program are to foster pride in school, home, and community, and to be involved by increasing knowledge of key safety organizations within the community and to assist in the prevention of crime and antisocial behavior.
At a NW conference held in Darwin in 2003, participants agreed that there was significant value in forming a national governance structure to assist the growth and development of NW. It was resolved that an Australasia NW National Secretariat be formed (NHWA36) and each year the secretariat will be based in the state or territory hosting the national conference. This was achieved by a group of committed community volunteers and police staff from all states and territories working as one. This is now the overarching organizational body that embraces all NW programs in Australia and the Neighbourhood Support program of New Zealand.
In response to insecurity in Mogadishu, civic activists and civil society groups37 organized numerous initiatives to reduce civilian casualties and to protect people. This was described in an article by the executive director of Somalia Organization for Community Development (SOCDA)38 in 2010, who stated that the absence of a functioning government, NW had provided an alternative and effective mechanism for delivering safety and security. He stated that “in parallel with the Neighborhood Watches, local development of non-government organizations supported a voluntary demobilization program. This helped to reintegrate militias, criminals and unemployed youth in the neighborhoods into the community.”
NW (ciidamada madaniga) was the largest coordinated attempt by civil society organizations to provide protection for civilians in Mogadishu through a structured community policing system. In response, civil society organizations came up with a structured plan to roll out NW. The idea had first been proposed by an elder from the Medina District of Mogadishu during a civil society gathering in October 2002. It was developed further in early 2003 as communities mobilized to address the increasing problem of kidnapping.
The plan divided Mogadishu into 80 neighborhoods, based on the 1990 administrative structure of the city and the security situation of each neighborhood. The neighborhoods were asked to recruit 20 armed community police officers, who were placed under the administration of a four-person security committee selected by the neighborhood itself. The resources to administer the NW schemes and to pay the security forces were raised from respective neighborhoods and were administered by the security committee. This amounted to a contribution of 20,000 Somali Shillings ($1 U.S.) a month by each household. The process proved successful and the scheme was established in all of Mogadishu’s neighborhoods.
The success of the initiative led to proposals to extend the scheme to other towns in south central Somalia. However, the formation of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG39) in 2004 brought with it an expectation that the new administration would provide security for the citizens. Civil society organizations tried to engage the government in a dialogue to maintain the NW, but because many of the ministers were opposed to the scheme, the government refused, and it was disbanded.
In some areas of South Africa, NW works in conjunction with the local police services and the armed response organizations. The remit is similar to elsewhere, in terms of requiring a commitment from people to work together, and identifying that “prevention is better than cure.”
One group of dedicated residents, in partnership with the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Cape Town Community Police Forum (CPF), established Pinelands NW40 in 2001; their objectives were to be achieved through the following mechanisms:
• Community neighborhood patrols/walks/cycles
• Continual development of the existing two-way radio network (ensuring direct communication between the community, SAPS, armed response companies, etc.)
• A system of logging suspicious activity of people and vehicles
• Collection of information on criminal activity that will enable analysis
• A long-term plan to install a license plate recognition (LPR) camera system that alerts patrollers to suspicious vehicles
The Western Cape Oranjezicht Higgovale NW (OHW) even has its own protocol and constitution,41 which provide information on indemnity, liability, accountability, functions, identity cards, conduct, patrol procedures, and working with SAPS.
In the United Kingdom, NW (also known as Home or Our Watch) has evolved into wider regional associations and has a coordinated NW Network (NHWN42), which in 2015 developed a 5-year strategic plan, and has implemented a set of national minimum standards to ensure that their associations are “accountable, fit for purpose, and meet the needs of the membership.”
There is recognition, however, that they cannot meet some of these challenges alone, and that working with other public agencies and the private sector will ensure that their volunteers are supported and feel empowered to help make their neighborhoods safer. Their priorities are that, by the year 2020, they will have:
• Encouraged and supported a national coordinated approach to crime prevention
• Encouraged effective collaboration between national and regional partners, stakeholders, and policy decision makers
• Encouraged the membership and public to promptly and confidently identify and report crimes, suspicious acts, and other relevant information
• Collated and made available a national library of effective good practice
• Produced toolkits and support materials in line with members’ and partners’ needs
• Devised an effective mechanism to measure impact and effectiveness across the movement
• Identified pathways to help enable communities in high-crime-rate areas to protect themselves from becoming a victim of crime or antisocial behaviour
NHWN consists of 3.8 million households and 173,000 coordinators43 from across the 43 police areas of England and Wales, with each one providing a representative and a “single point of contact” (SPOC). The network is managed by voluntary representatives who are accountable to a board of trustees. The network more recently has begun to offer support and guidance in the prevention of cyber crime, providing useful information with regard to Internet and telephone security, recognizing that this is a growing threat, and aims to equip vulnerable members to protect themselves against potential cyber threats.
The report of the 2000 National Crime Prevention Survey (National Crime Prevention Council44) estimated that 41% of the American population lived in communities covered by NW.
NW schemes vary in terms of the size of the area covered. Some of the earlier schemes in the United States were based on areas covering just a few households. More recent schemes can cover many thousands of households; one of the largest reported was the Manhattan Beach NW scheme in Los Angeles, covering a population of over 30,000 residents (Knowles, Lesser, & McKewen, 1983).
In more recent times, NW schemes have been launched mainly at the request of the public, although some police departments continue to initiate their own schemes, particularly in areas that were unlikely to generate public-initiated requests. In the United States, Block Watches are usually run by a block captain who is responsible to a block coordinator or block organizer. The coordinator acts as the liaison person to the local police department. Sponsored by the National Sheriffs’ Association,45 NW can trace its roots back to the days of colonial settlements, when night watchmen patrolled the streets. The modern U.S. version of NW was launched in 1972 in response to requests from sheriffs and police chiefs who were looking for a crime-prevention program that would involve citizens. The promoted objectives are:
• Working with the police or sheriff’s office. These agencies are seen as critical to a Watch group’s credibility and are a source of valuable information and training.
• Linkage with a victims’ services office, who can provide training to help victims of crime
• Holding regular meetings to help residents get to know each other and to decide upon strategies and activities.
• Consider linking with existing organizations, such as a citizens’ associations, community development offices, tenants’ associations, or housing authorities, who may be able to provide useful existing infrastructures.
• Canvass door to door in order to recruit members.
• Ask people who seldom leave their homes to be “window watchers,” who can look out for children and report any unusual activities in the neighborhood.
• Translate crime and drug prevention materials into Spanish or other languages needed by non-English speakers in the community, and if necessary provide translators at meetings.
• Sponsor crime- and drug-prevention fairs at venues like church halls, temples, shopping malls, or community centers.
• Gather the facts about crime in the neighborhood. Check police reports, conduct victimization surveys, and educate residents about crime. Often, residents’ opinions are not supported by facts, and accurate information can reduce the fear of crime.
• Physical conditions like abandoned cars or overgrown vacant lots contribute to crime. Sponsor clean ups, encourage residents to beautify the area, and ask them to turn on outdoor lights at night.
• Work with small businesses to repair rundown storefronts, clean up littered streets, and create jobs for young people.
• Start a block parent program to help children cope with emergencies while walking to and from school or when playing in the area.
• Emphasize that Watch groups are not vigilantes and should not assume the role of the police. Their aim is to ask neighbors to be alert, observant, and caring—their duty is to report suspicious activity or crimes immediately to the police.
The Future of Neighborhood Watch
Studies have consistently shown that NW is valued by the community at large, frequently for the reassurance that it provides, that the effectiveness of NW in reducing crime should now be considered proven, and that further measures of effectiveness might now be improved by shifting the focus from “Is it effective?” to “How is it effective?” The manifestation of active citizenship in NW is no doubt unstoppable, and if one takes the view that its momentum makes it unstoppable, the question becomes how it might be refined to enhance collective efficacy optimally. Further research may be necessary in order to make clear how schemes might be optimized.
Community engagement, participation, and guardianship are seen as the key factors in this ever-growing voluntary organization. NW is seen as providing an opportunity to develop interaction between police and communities, and the informal mechanisms of social control play a significant role in developing cohesion. NW has shown it has to be flexible and to fit the individual needs of the community, and it must be recognized that NW is more complex than just a sign on a lamppost.
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(4.) A non-governmental organization (NGO) is an organization that is neither a part of a government nor a conventional for-profit business. Usually set up by ordinary citizens, NGOs may be funded by governments, foundations, businesses, or private persons. Some avoid formal funding altogether and are run primarily by volunteers. NGOs are highly diverse groups of organizations engaged in a wide range of activities, and take different forms in different parts of the world.
(7.) Public houses, bars, or taverns are licensed places where people gather to drink liquor/alcohol.
(14.) A person’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) is conceptualized as either internal, whereby the person believes they can control their life, or external, meaning that they believe their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors that they cannot influence.
(15.) Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) is defined as a multidisciplinary approach to deterring criminal behavior through environmental design. CPTED strategies rely upon the ability to influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts by affecting the built, social, and administrative environment. Pronounced sep-ted, it is known by various labels or names around the world, such as Designing Out Crime and others.
(17.) Rational choice theory assumes that offenders will try to actively maximize their advantage in any situation and therefore consistently try to minimize their losses. The theory is based on the idea that all humans base their decisions on rational calculations, act with rationality when choosing, and aim to increase either pleasure or profit. Rational choice theory also stipulates that all complex social phenomena are driven by individual human actions.
(18.) Crime pattern theory is a way of explaining that crime is not random and why it is committed in certain places. It focuses on crime as a complex event that requires many different elements for its occurrence.
(19.) Situational crime prevention strategies are aimed at reducing the criminal opportunities that arise from the routines of everyday life. Such strategies include “hardening” of potential targets, improving surveillance of areas that might attract crime (e.g., closed-circuit television surveillance), and deflecting potential offenders from settings in which crimes might occur.
(22.) Zimmerman accidentally shot himself while loading a gun almost exactly two years later.
(43.) These numbers are based on 2015 data, which are bound to change. However, it gives an indication of the size of the national network, and its potential strength.