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Neighbourhood watch! April 13, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Interesting piece in Slate.com a while back on Neighbourhood Watch programmes. This was on foot of the fatal shooting of a young black teenager in Florida by a ‘self-appointed captain of an unregistered neighbourhood watch’. The story itself is a tragic one which points to serious deficits in the law in that state in relation to the powers of individuals to use firearms.

But a central question asked is whether such programs decrease crime rates. The evidence according to the piece is very very unclear. The single most exhaustive examination of data on the subject was conducted some years back by the University of Glamorgan.

…looking at 19 studies conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia since 1977. Its authors conclude that neighborhood watch programs produce a 16-percent drop in crime, on average, but they concede research in this field is complicated. Many of the studies are anecdotal. Very few are adequately controlled or randomized, and the best-known experiment to date—one that was carried out in Minneapolis during the 1980s—showed no impact on crime whatsoever.

As interesting is the following.

Most programs spring up in white, middle- or upper-income communities—the kind of places where crime isn’t a major problem to begin with. As a result, the programs don’t have the potential to make a significant impact, and any effect they might have on crime rates is difficult for researchers to detect. Neighborhood watches also tend to be short-lived in affluent communities, as residents stop meeting when they realize their increased vigilance is making little difference.
The program can even have a negative impact on middle-class communities. Some studies suggest that neighborhood watch makes residents feel less safe, because it constantly reminds them of the possibility of crime.

This is fascinating in terms of class aspects. Given the media discourse people would be forgiven for thinking that crime was prevalent everywhere, but of course it impacts disproportionately on those on lower and no incomes. There’s a telling passage in a Lawrence Block novel – one based on his semi-humourous Bernie Rhodenbarr character, who is himself a burglar, where Rhodenbarr notes that those in working class areas have the most security on their doors, using simple but effective traditional locks whereas those in expensive apartments tend to trust in single expensive locks which are relatively easy to break when the right tools are available. Let’s not assume that’s a scientific study of the area, but there’s a certain element of truth in it one suspects.

Neighborhood watch has the potential to make a difference in low-income, high-crime communities, but it rarely gets off the ground in those areas. Many residents don’t trust their neighbors, so they won’t attend or host community meetings, let alone patrol the streets at night. Distrust of police is also a factor, as local sheriffs are often the ones who provide training and support for the program. In the Minneapolis study of the 1980s, researchers found that, no matter how much effort they put into advertising neighborhood watch in high-crime communities, participation remained low.

Those with experience of such matters here will know the difficulties attendant on organising in communities. It’s not that there’s no support for community activism, but there are some fairly clear fault lines. And there’s also the issue that, as the Slate piece notes ‘people were spending more time watching television and less time sitting on their stoops or looking out their front windows’. That can – ironically – be a societal good. The valley of the squinting windows phenomenon wasn’t a chimera by any means, and in some communities that still operates. But at the same time it is important to have people who will engage with a community on a continuing basis. It’s very noticeable to me how in some communities it is often women in their fifties and upwards who take a lead role in community and residents groups and provide the core of community activism. Often that’s not political, or at least not party political, but it is very real and it filters back into the broader context and environment in a generally positive way.


1. Jim Monaghan - April 13, 2012

I would agree with some but not all of this. The Concerned Parent movement (which was not controlled by the police) had an initial success.Then t hey were a sort of peoples police organised y “subversives” and thus a threat rather than an ally of the status quo. Fg threatened an auxiliary police force during one coalition. It made my conservative mother worry about blueshirts acting the B Special.
Perhaps we should broaden this topic into a debate on communities doing it for themselves rather than the Gardai. In many poor areas the Gardai are not liked and the feeling is mutual.Most Guards despise the entire community and would die rather than live in the area.
Squinting windows. Social control can be a good or bad thing. Restraints on ant-social behaviour because your community will reject you, can be good. But it can be a mandate for a religion (and not just the Catholic one) or busybodies to widen the scope of anti-social behaviour to cover a lot of things.
In the USA, the Black Moslems patrol poor areas and have got a lot of respect for opposing crime and drug gangs.


2. Paul Wilson. - April 13, 2012

I was in my local neighbourhood watch in London, it can be a good or a bad thing depending on the people involved and the area. As well as crime it had other functions, keeping an eye out for elderly people living on their own for example and organising social events. Some of the criticisms i have heard in the past about Neighbourhood Watch schemes remind me of the attacks on the CDR’s in Cuba. There is nothing wrong with people joining together in principle, far from it.


3. Starkadder - April 13, 2012

Slight tangent, I found this interest piece on the Huffington Post
about a case similar to the Trayvon Martin one and how it’s linked
to the NRA here:



4. CL - April 13, 2012

‘Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney vowed to gun owners on Friday he would reverse what he called the restrictive gun policies of President Barack Obama, in an appeal to conservatives as he heads toward sealing the Republican nomination.’


Contrast this with the views of Mayor Bloomberg, NYC

“These laws are vigilantism masquerading as self-defense, and getting 25 states to pass them is one of the best con jobs the NRA’s leaders have ever pulled off,” Bloomberg said. “They don’t give a damn whether innocent people are shot and killed. And they don’t give a damn about the integrity of the American justice system. They want to create a nation where disputes are settled by guns instead of gavels, and where suspects are shot by civilians instead of arrested by police. These laws destabilize our justice system, they degrade our society, and they destroy innocent lives. We can’t be silent — and we can’t let them stand.”

And here is what Bloomberg said on Wednesday at the National Press Club, on the day when he and national African-American leaders announced a new partnership to reform or repeal shoot-first laws now on the books in Florida and 24 other states:

“The NRA’s leaders weren’t interested in public safety. They were interested in promoting a culture where people take the law into their own hands and face no consequences for it. Let’s call that by its real name: vigilantism.”


5. Bartley - April 14, 2012

It struck me that we\’ve had two major examples of so-called community policing on this island in the last few decades.

One involved neighbours intimidating thugs into leaving, whereas the other involved thugs intimidating neighbours into submission.

One effort met with temporary success in displacing the thugs, the other was instrumental in consolidating the thugs power-base.


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