This post was originally published on November 21, 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

According to the FBI, an estimated 1,230,149 burglaries occurred in the United States in 2018. Of these burglaries, 56.7 percent involved forcible entry, 36.7 percent unlawful entry and 6.6 percent were attempted forcible entry.

With burglaries occurring at an alarming rate, it’s essential you have a plan to keep your family, home and neighborhood out of harm’s way.

Organizing a neighborhood watch program is a simple and effective way to keep your community safe. Consider the following benefits:

1. Fight Crime for a Safer Community

The most obvious reason to organize a neighborhood watch program is to prevent crime. Groups that meet and communicate regularly are the most effective at reducing incidents. To get the most out of your group:

  • Gather interested neighbors and define a group objective.
  • Work with the local police department to better understand common crimes, warning signs and best practices for action. Your group should have a law enforcement liaison to ensure all parties are working toward a shared goal.
  • Hold regular meetings so residents can get to know one another and decide on upcoming program strategies.
  • Tailor action plans based on the unique needs of your neighborhood. Specific activities may include, but are not limited to, organizing citizen patrols to support law enforcement officers, hosting crime prevention training, implementing a phone or email tree in case of emergency, providing victim support services and/or assessing homes or businesses for vulnerabilities.
  • Establish a consistent communication channel to keep all parties informed. This could be an email listserv, newsletter, website or Facebook group.
  • Assign a block captain for every 10-15 houses to gather and disseminate information between neighbors in their assigned area.
  • Seek opportunities to educate residents on suspicious activity and how to alert the group or authorities appropriately.
  • Publicize your program and put up signs that warn criminals and encourage neighbors to join.

2. Create Awareness and Camaraderie

Another benefit of a neighborhood watch program and a direct result of crime prevention is a more connected community. Vigilant neighbors can stop crime and keep residents safe, while making the neighborhood a more welcoming environment.

Here’s how you can do your part:

  • Contact authorities if you see someone in trouble; or illegal, suspicious or unusual activity. Be specific in your observations.
  • Learn your neighbors’ schedules. Many have jobs that require them to be away from their homes during the day. Single-home dwellings are more likely to be targeted during the day between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If you notice something that seems off, discuss it with your neighbor or ask questions.
  • Share concerns openly with your neighbors. Work together to problem solve situations that arise.
  • Watch out for each other’s houses while away. If a neighbor will be out of town, offer to collect mail, mow a lawn or shovel the sidewalk while they are gone.

3. Bring Light to Other Important Issues

Neighborhood watch programs can also provide an opportunity to discuss other important topics, such as animal control issues or vehicle safety concerns. Use your group as an avenue to collect opinions and ideas related to community concerns at large, and work as a team to solve problems.

Whether it’s increasing safety, a neighborhood beautification project, or winter emergency planning, the possibilities for your neighborhood watch group to support one another are endless.