Crime Prevention Theories and Concepts: Neighborhood Watch

The most effective approaches to crime prevention are community policing and reducing opportunities for crime through strategies like block watch, target hardening or promoting a more careful behavior. These could result to decreased crime rates, the level and the fear of crime, neighborhood risks, and higher quality of life (Whittemore, 1989). Historically, the missions of the criminal justice system include crime prevention and the processing of crimes and criminal defendants.

The latter involves reported crime investigation, alleged perpetrator apprehension, processing cases through trials or plea bargains, punishment administration through sanctions like incarceration, and court system maintenance in the local, state, and federal levels (Kilpatrick, 2004). Opportunity-Reduction refers to a means of making it impossible for the criminal to attack or commit a crime and making it unattractive or inaccessible to any person.

This approach is used to help potential prevent crime victims from becoming violent or aggressive (Freedy & Hobfoll, 1995). An effective strategy for this approach is Neighborhood Watch. In this paper, the concept and strengths and weaknesses in implementing neighborhood watch programs are discussed in detail. Program Description, Philosophy and Goals Neighborhood Watch, as one of the most effective strategies in crime prevention program is implemented in both local and national levels in the United States (U. S. ) and other countries like the United Kingdom (U. K. ).

The main philosophy of Neighborhood Watch is that “citizens can promote community stability and improve the quality of neighborhood life” (Whittemore, 1989, p. 493). Portland, for example, assumes that if the citizens are informed and they work cooperatively with local police officers to reduce crimes and it is better than responding to crime incidents and victims (Lynn, 2002). Neighborhood Watch is aimed at reducing burglary, robbery, arson, auto theft, and fear of crime.

It also serves as the foundation for strengthening neighborhoods in transition and in improving the relationship between the community and the law enforcers. Neighborhood Watch includes crime prevention activities such as community-oriented policing, block watches, target hardening, victim assistance, security inspections, mediation, community services, Operation Identification, educational programs for children and teens, and community improvement (Whittemore, 1989). Neighborhood Watch in the U. S. , which was launched in 1972, is sponsored by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA).

It is one of the oldest and most effective means of involving the citizens in law crime reduction, enforcement, peace-keeping and safety-building in all communities. Neighborhood Watch was originally meant to provide night watchmen to patrol the streets but it has been developed and adopted in other countries. In it modern version, the Neighborhood Watch program was developed to involve citizens to help solve the increasing number of burglaries in collaboration with the sheriffs and police chiefs who were in charged of the crime prevention program.

The people in the community play significant role in the Neighborhood Watch program. They organized themselves, trained, and work with law enforcement to guard their area and the citizens at all times of day and night. The NSA data showed that, in ten years, has reached 12% of the population or an estimated nineteen million Americans (based on 1982 Gallup Poll) have been participating in the program (Neighborhood Watch, 2007). Literature Review Situational crime prevention focuses on regulating or controlling the behavior of criminals through Opportunity-Reduction model (Clarke, 1997).

The Opportunity-Reduction Model is the underpinning concept of Neighborhood Watch. This crime prevention approach assumes that the responsibility of taking the initiative in reducing the risk of attack by criminals lie on the potential crime victims or the citizens (Kilpatrick, 2004). Four categories of Opportunity-Reduction were proposed by Clarke and Homel (1997) in the latest version of the Opportunity-Reduction model such as (1) increasing perceived effort, (2) increasing perceived risks, (3) reducing anticipated rewards, and (4) inducing guilt or shame (or removing excuses in Clarke, 1997).

However, inducing guilt or shame was eventually omitted by Wortley (2002) because the strategies for this category do not actually involve Opportunity-Reduction but it is more likely, at psychological processes, that the potential offender will have the chance in doing illegal acts (Wortley, 1997, 1998). A more logical concept is that replaced inducing guilt or shame is precipitation-control, which was more effective in reducing permissibility of doing a crime.

Another change done by Wortley (2002) is the inclusion of increasing anticipated punishments category for a reason that this new category is based on learning theory and it complements the category of reducing anticipated rewards. Wortley's pragmatic approach is not only effective in situational crime prevention but also in real prison management (Severson, 2004). Neighborhood watch programs and crime prevention and self-defense training courses are examples of effective strategies in Opportunity-Reduction approach (Kilpatrick, 2004).

Whittemore (1989) found that crime prevention programs work and success stories of Neighborhood Watch abound. She suggests that in order to reduce crimes the success of community crime prevention must continuously be demonstrated, explore and identify better means of citizen involvement in response to communities needs, encourage every individual to focus on quality of life, and create wider partnerships diverse audiences. She also suggests that people should support, instead of doubt, community crime prevention programs.

Baker, Wolfer, & Zezza (1999) affirm that the participation of citizens remains essential in reducing crimes or people’s fear of crime. Thus, citizens and law enforcers need effective communication and reliable information in performing their specific functions. Accordingly, intelligence or information is crucial for conducting assessment, planning citizen involvement, coordinating community programs, developing tactical strategies, and projecting future outcomes.

Police patrol and Neighborhood Watch programs can utilize crime prevention surveys for information regarding criminal behavior. Effective problem-solving strategies are also needed in Neighborhood Watch to eliminate hot spots and to increase territorial control. Successful Implementation Outcomes Citizen involvement in fighting crime has also shifted to dispatch 911 and other traditional solutions for the purpose increasing deterrence, enhancing problem-solving, eliminating hot spots, and reducing crime rates (Wilson, 1998).

If traditional policing methods are used to respond to the outcome of crime or violence, community-policing methods are used in an attempt to stop criminals from performing illegal acts or prevent crimes from happening by ensuring a more ordered community, increasing the number of police or volunteers wherever necessary, providing more patrol cars, encouraging neighborhood watch programs, and training community-policing officers for specific purposes (Lynn, 2002).

Lehrer (1999) found that crime rate is 40% lower in communities where residents have actively participated in neighborhood watch and other crime prevention programs as compared to other equivalent communities. People participating in the Neighborhood Watch believe that this program works and it has produced positive results. Many of them state that the program has made a difference and improvement in their community.

In a nationwide study, the Department of Justice reports that 72% of the Neighborhood Watch participants who were interviewed perceived a lower crime rate in the neighborhoods as compared to other communities with no or very little neighborhood watch programs (Whittemore, 1989). The successful implementation of Neighborhood Watch program continued to be evident. It made the citizens feel safer and more and more individuals are taking part in this crime prevention initiative to protect their communities.

While some police departments employ bicycle and foot patrols, others coordinate with parents and guardians for increased efficiency of participation. Others have also showed presence and high-profile tactics for the positive outcome of the program implementation (Baker, Wolfer, & Zezza, 1999). Limitations Although Opportunity-Reduction model is beneficial, Freedy & Hobfoll (1995) argue that it also has weaknesses.

The problems that were identified with the Opportunity-Reduction strategy includes problematic situations like (1) the possibility of substituting one victim for another or the criminal has still the chance to attack another target who is more attractive if a person tries to avoid an attack or become hard, unattractive target; (2) victim blame when a crime occurs because Opportunity-Reduction model places the responsibility of preventing crimes on the potential victims instead of placing the responsibility of controlling violent behavior on the potential perpetrators; and (3) this model often requires the citizens to restrict their lifestyles, reduce their freedom or always try to avoid attacks just to protect themselves. It does no means however that the citizens should no longer engage in crime prevention initiatives because it is important that people should learn how to become a harder target to reduce the risk of becoming crime victims (Kilpatrick, 2004). In addition Neighborhood watch also falls short in fighting against terrorism. It is impossible to fight terrorism if there is al limited number of participating individuals for anti-terrorism campaigns.

As a result, the FBI encouraged its field agents to be more aggressive in pursuing terrorist attacks, and although the neighborhood watch program is considered “ineffectual” (Platt & O'Leary, 2003, p. 5) the citizens should cooperate with the Justice Department in the fight against terrorism by improving and doubling the number of programs and participants (Daniels, 2002). Citizens can better contribute in fighting terrorism if the become more conscious with the people and events around them, report or cooperate with the law enforcers if they experience or witness threats, risks, potential terrorist or suspected violent attacks.

References

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  14. Wortley, R. (1998) A two-stage model of situational crime prevention. Studies on Crime and Crime Prevention 7, pp. 173–88.
  15. Wortley, R. (2002) Situational Prison Control: Crime Prevention in Correctional Institutions. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.