2020’s civil unrest brought fear of safety to many communities, to an extent that was unprecedented for many of us. Chicago’s unrest spread into many suburbs, triggering curfews and increases in firearm applications. But no resident wants to feel even the slightest bit unsafe in and near their home. Further, as mental health struggles rose due to the events of 2020, it is crucial that we all get back to feeling safe as soon as possible.
Creating community safety plans can not only reduce incidents of crime, but brings a community closer together. In this article, we outline how to begin, and what a plan entails.
Assess your space
First, evaluate your community to ensure homes are secure.
Get to know your neighbors
To get started, make it a point to get familiar with the people around you. This makes suspicious activity easier to spot, and identifies opportunities to align with individuals on safety. Some ideas for getting to know your neighbors include:
- Attend community association meetings, even when they are virtual. Demonstrate your interest to others by asking safety and security questions. You will likely find neighbors who agree.
- Plan community events such as a block party, Easter Egg Hunt, or getting together to gift an ornament or cookies to homes that decorated outside for the holidays. Don’t go it alone; find one or two neighbors interested in helping plan.
- Join Nextdoor. Nextdoor is a free social media discussion site and app for residents in neighborhoods that are near one another. You can discuss safety concerns, get local recommendations, and find people with common interests.
While security features do not always prevent crimes, they most certainly reduce the occurrences of crime in an area. Here’s a list of features to evaluate your neighborhood homes for:
- Motion sensor lights nearest the residences
- Protocol for changing locks in condo and townhome communities
- Good lighting throughout the night along parking areas, streets and alleyways
Community Safety Plan
Criminals don’t want to get caught. They look for vulnerabilities where they can get away with something. The more you can remove vulnerabilities and introduce barriers to easy crime access, the safer your community will be. Here is a specific community safety plan and how to implement it.
Create a Neighborhood Watch
A neighborhood watch is an organized way in which neighbors watch for and report suspicious activity. Studies in the U.S. and abroad consistently show lower levels of crime associated with neighborhood watch programs. Once you’ve organized as many neighbors as you can get who are willing to participate, follow these steps to create your own neighborhood watch group.
- Find out the local law enforcement requirements by which you need to abide.
- Get law enforcement to assign a liaison to be part of the group. This is a good idea even if they don’t require it.
- Schedule a meeting to discuss member concerns and develop an action plan. It is ideal if your law enforcement liaison can attend as many meetings as possible. Either way, always ensure you are working in collaboration with law enforcement.
- Assign a Neighborhood Watch Coordinator. This role, similar to a project manager, is critical to the success of the program. It is a role best suited to someone with a little extra time at home, such as a retiree.
- Choose a Block Captain for every 10-15 residences. Effective Block Captains are already, or will make a point to be, directly involved with those neighbors. You can choose whether this role and the Coordinator will be elected or volunteer.
- If your neighborhood is large and/or plans on fundraising, you may want to have a Citizen’s Advisory Board as an overarching organizational body. Law enforcement will guide you on whether or not you need this.
- Create your meeting schedule and communication mechanism(s). Communication can be via an online group such as on Facebook, via email or text, or a combination.
Read more about the leadership roles above and having successful meetings here.
Create an online community safety group
For neighborhood watch groups and individuals alike, online apps like NextDoor are excellent vehicles for discussing community safety issues. It is likely many neighbors are already members, and you simply need to post your concern to begin awareness and discussion. This can be a means by which to recruit Neighborhood Watch members, and to get ideas from nearby neighborhoods on how they handle community safety. Further, if even a few of your neighbors are on Neighbors by Ring, you’ll find the alerts very helpful.
Invest in neighborhood security devices
Security investments can make a huge difference in neighborhood safety. This can include security cameras, motion sensor lights, video intercoms, access controls, and security protocols to respond to and review camera footage. Work with your neighbors or your HOA to get a security system installed.
Coordinate with law enforcement
Not only is it crucial to coordinate with law enforcement on all of your community safety efforts, but also engage your HOA and property management company. Be sure to include any local ordinances or guidelines for local safety groups outlined by law enforcement, such as registration requirements or hotlines to contact.
Host neighborhood safety briefings
Neighborhood safety briefings can be rolled into HOA meetings, or can be held separately. Talk about discussion topics that will be helpful at these meetings, including assigning roles and the importance of staying informed when maintaining a community safety group. Amend and enforce new bylaws or rules for safety purposes as needed, and hire a property manager who specializes in HOAs, condominiums, or townhouse communities for support.