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The Neighbourhood Watch UK

The Neighbourhood Watch UK

Since its inception in 1964, the Neighbourhood Watch has brought communities together to fight crime and protect the people of the United Kingdom. The community-led initiative is the largest voluntary crime prevention group in the country. It's interesting that – despite its wholly altruistic motive – the Neighbourhood Watch has garnered much criticism over the years. So, does the Neighbourhood Watch unite or divide communities? Does the organisation favour the privileged? Does the initiative actually make areas safer? Let's find out!

Historical Context of the Neighbourhood Watch

Police-community relations reached an all-time low in the early 1980s. The increased use of 'stop and search', prejudicial treatment of the black community, and the economic crisis disproportionately affecting inner-city areas saw tensions reach boiling point. Such antagonism erupted in April 1981 when riots broke out across Brixton between black youths and London's Metropolitan Police.

Throughout the course of the riots, 150 buildings were damaged, 82 arrests were made, and some 279 police officers and 45 members of the public were injured. The most shocking aspect of the Brixton riot was that it was not a one-off. In 1981 alone, there were major riots in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, and London.

New Cross House Fire

In January 1981, a fire broke out during a house party in New Cross, London. The fire claimed the lives of 13 young black people. Despite allegations that the fire was a racial attack, there was widespread ambivalence from the white community, and the police made no arrests.

With crime on the rise and police-community relations in decline, Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government sponsored the Neighbourhood Watch initiative. Declaring that a 'general can’t fight a battle without troops’, Margaret Thatcher encouraged everyday citizens to assist their local police force in a voluntary capacity.1 Thatcher's plan worked; by the end of the 1980s, there were over 100,000 Neighbourhood Watch groups throughout the United Kingdom.

Thatcher's economic and social policies are defined by the responsibility of the individual and decreased role of the state; her support of the Neighbourhood Watch initiative reiterates her beliefs.

Neighbourhood Watch and the Police

Before examining the role, successes, and criticisms of the Neighbourhood Watch, it's important to understand how the movement was founded and the relationship between the organisation and the police.

The Founding of the Neighbourhood Watch

On 13 March 1964, a 28-year-old bartender named Kitty Genovese was raped and stabbed outside her New York apartment. Two weeks after the murder occurred, it transpired that 38 people had witnessed the attack; not one of the 38 people came to her aid nor rung the police.

The Neighbourhood Watch Kitty Genovese StudySmarterFig. 1 - Kitty Genovese

The murder of Kitty Genovese stimulated a response from the local community, resulting in the very first Neighbourhood Watch, established in 1972.

In 1982, the first UK Neighbourhood Watch was set up in Mollington, Cheshire. The scheme, known as Homewatch, was set up by Local Crime Prevention Officer Sergeant Grahame John Andrews.

The Relationship between the Neighbourhood Watch and the Police

Tthe relationship between Neighbourhood Watch organisations and the police was strained from its inception. At the first Neighbourhood Watch Conference in 1986, there were complaints from both sides. The police complained that Neighbourhood Watch groups demanded consistent resources and dialogue, and Neighbourhood Watch groups complained that the police were utterly disinterested in the initiative.

The Neighbourhood Watch demanded extra beat officers, funding for newsletters and increased communication with the force as well as use of the police station club for social functions.2

Tensions continued throughout the 1990s when efforts were made to establish Neighbourhood Watch schemes in high-crime areas. Residents complained about police interference, were reluctant to be seen as associates of the police, and favoured sorting out crimes themselves rather than through official channels. Police relations with already-established Neighbourhood Watch groups were similarly strained during this period. Neighbourhood Watch members complained about police apathy, and the police complained that they had to waste valuable time on non-issues such as parking.

In 2007, the broader Neighbourhood Watch Network was established in partnership with the police and the Home Office to improve police-Neighbourhood Watch cohesion. Despite this partnership, the Neighbourhood Watch and police relations remained equally strained. Neighbourhood Watch secretary Eileen Ward-Birch of Wolverhampton declared:

[The police] promise you this and that, but they are all pie-crust promises as my mother used to say—easily broken.3

Home Office

A branch of the government of the United Kingdom. The department is responsible for security, immigration, and law and order.

Policing in the 21st Century

In 2010, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition proposed a series of policing reforms to move power from the state to the people. This policy proposal– named Policing in the 21st Century – sought to encourage how citizens could get involved with preventing crime in their community.

The Aims of the Neighbourhood Watch

The Neighbourhood Watch has several organisational aims:

  • To improve the general safety of the local community.
  • To reduce local crime rates by increasing vigilance, security, and awareness.
  • To reduce unwarranted fear of crime by accurately informing the local community.
  • To promote community spirit, especially among the most vulnerable in the community.
  • To help the police detect crime by reporting suspicious activity.

The Neighbourhood Watch Neighbourhood Watch Sign StudySmarterFig. 2 - Neighbourhood Watch sign in Mississippi

Neighbourhood Watch Schemes

Neighbourhood Watch Schemes allow residents to make their communities safer. These schemes can vary in size and are run by Neighbourhood Watch members. In many cases, they are supported by the police and the local Neighbourhood Watch Association.

Neighbourhood Watch Scheme

When a group of volunteers gets together to help prevent crime and make their community safer.

Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator

A Neighbourhood Watch coordinator sets up and maintains their local Neighbourhood Watch scheme; this scheme may encompass a local area, vicinity, or street. The duties of the Neighbourhood Watch coordinator include:

  • Inspire their neighbours to join the Neighbourhood Watch.
  • Keep members updated regarding local and national campaigns.
  • Distribute crime information to local residents and Neighbourhood Watch members.
  • Distribute Neighbourhood Watch newsletters to members of the community.
  • Keep a particular eye on vulnerable members of the community.
  • Supply members with Neighbourhood Watch items such as window stickers.

Neighbourhood Watch Area Coordinators

In bigger communities, an Area Coordinator may be appointed to sit above local coordinators. The role of a Neighbourhood Watch Area Coordinator is as follows:

  • Provide a link between Neighbourhood Watch groups and the police.
  • Assist Neighbourhood Watch coordinators in their area.
  • Provide organisational and cohesive duties.
  • Organise resident and Neighbourhood Watch meetings.

Facts and Figures about the Neighbourhood Watch

Here are some valuable facts and figures about the Neighbourhood Watch:

  • Based on 18 studies, there was evidence to suggest that for every 100 crimes in the UK, 26 crimes were prevented by the presence of the Neighbourhood Watch.
  • Throughout Thatcher's premiership, some 2.5 million households were involved in the Neighbourhood Watch.
  • There are approximately 170,00 Neighbourhood Watch schemes set up in England and Wales.
  • There are some 173,000 Neighbourhood Watch Coordinators across England and Wales.
  • According to a 2009/2010 survey, 76% of those surveyed who did not have a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme in their area said they would like one.4
  • Despite not funding Neighbourhood Watch Schemes, the UK government provides Public Liability Insurance.
  • In the USA and Canada, local Neighborhood Watch groups prevented approximately 47 out of every 100 potential crimes.
  • The National Crime Prevention Survey declared that 41% of all Americans live in an area covered by the Neighbourhood Watch.5

In 2004, the Home Office announced that public liability insurance would be free for Neighbourhood Watch groups. Such insurance covered accidental injury to any third-party member or property. What does this tell us about the power that Neighbourhood Watch members have?

Positives of the Neighbourhood Watch

There are many benefits of having a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme:

  • A study found that UK areas with a Neighbourhood Watch scheme experienced 10% less crime than similar areas without schemes.6
  • Neighbourhood Watch schemes can address the specific needs of the community.
  • Studies show that formal Neighbourhood Watch meetings illicit community cohesion and neighbourly bonds.
  • The organisation can provide community support to those who have been a victim of crime.
  • Victims of low-level crime may choose to speak to their Neighbourhood Watch organisation rather than the police. The Neighbourhood Watch's 'Covid-19 and crime' survey declared that 20% of victims decided not to contact the police after having their homes broken into.7

Negatives of the Neighbourhood Watch

There are several criticisms of the Neighbourhood Watch movement:

  • Neighbourhood Watch schemes are only successful if members are engaged and understand their role.
  • Members may inhibit police investigations.
  • Research shows that citizens living in an area with a Neighbourhood Watch are more worried about crime.8
  • Satyanshu Mukherjee and Paul Wilson speculate that rather than reducing crime, the Neighbourhood Watch simply displaces crime to an area without a Neighbourhood Watch organisation.9
  • Research shows that people living in areas with high crime rates are less likely to get involved with their Neighbourhood Watch organisation.
  • Neighbourhood Watch groups are most prevalent in middle-class areas where crime is already historically low.
  • Members may be a danger to themselves or others if involved in an active crime.

The Shooting of Trayvon Martin

In February 2012, the Neighbourhood Watch prompted increased scrutiny after the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. Unarmed, Martin – who was visiting his family – was killed by Neighbourhood Watch coordinator George Zimmerman. Claiming self-defence, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges by the FBI.

The Neighbourhood Watch Trayvon Martin StudySmarterFig. 3 - Rally in honour of Trayvon Martin.

The Neighbourhood Watch – Key Takeaways

  • The Neighbourhood Watch was first introduced in the United States after the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. The UK branch was set up in 1982 by Local Crime Prevention Officer Sergeant Grahame John Andrews.
  • The Neighbourhood Watch initiative was championed by Margaret Thatcher who sought to increase individual responsibility and decrease state intervention.
  • Throughout its existence, the relationship between the police and the Neighbourhood Watch has remained strained.
  • Whilst there is evidence to suggest that the Neighbourhood Watch prevents crime, some commentators argue that the organisation can jeopardise police investigations and increase anxiety about crime.

References

  1. Margaret Thatcher, 'Remarks visiting Finchley', (March 3, 1989)
  2. George Paddock to Superintendent J. Carter, 'Chairman’s notes for preparation before steering committee' (April 1989)
  3. Interview with Eileen Ward-Birch (September 2015).
  4. House of Commons Library: Briefing Paper No. 04161, 'Neighbourhood Watch' (13 July 2018).
  5. US National Crime Prevention Council (2001)
  6. Andromachi Tseloni, 'Multilevel modelling of the number of property crimes: Household and area effects', Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A-Statistics in Society 169/2 (2006) p. 205-233..
  7. Covid-19 and crime survey Conducted by the Dawes Centre for Future Crime at UCL and Neighbourhood Watch (2020)
  8. Wesley Skogan, 'Disorder and Decline' (1990).
  9. Satyanshu Mukherjee and Paul Wilson, Neighbourhood watch: issues and policy implications (1987)
  10. Fig 3. Trayvon Martin shooting protest by David Shankbone licensed by CA BY 3.0 commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trayvon_Martin_shooting_protest_2012_Shankbone_25.JPG

Frequently Asked Questions about The Neighbourhood Watch UK

The first UK Neighbourhood Watch was set up in Mollington, Cheshire, in 1982.

Neighbourhood Watch groups are voluntary community initiatives supported by the police.

Neighbourhood Watch groups in the UK have no more power than a citizen / citizens group.

Based on 18 studies, there was evidence to suggest that for every 100 crimes, 26 crimes were prevented by the presence of the Neighbourhood Watch.

The Neighbourhood Watch aims to prevent crime, improve general safety, and reduce fear of crimes.

Final The Neighbourhood Watch UK Quiz

Question

What date was Kitty Genovese attacked?

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Answer

13 March 1964

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Question

When was the first Neighbourhood Watch created in America?

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Answer

1972

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Question

When was the first Neighbourhood Watch created in Great Britain?

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Answer

1982

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Question

What was the first British Neighbourhood Watch known as?

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Answer

Homewatch

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Question

Who set up the UK's first Neighbourhood watch scheme?

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Answer

Sergeant Grahame John Andrews.

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Question

What is the Home Office?

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Answer

The Home Office is a branch of the government of the United Kingdom. The department is responsible for security, immigration, and law and order.

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Question

Name one organisational aim of the Neighbourhood Watch

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Answer

Any of the following: 


  • To improve the general safety of the local community.


  • To reduce local crime rates by increasing vigilance, security, and awareness.


  • To reduce unwarranted fear of crime by accurately informing the local community.


  • To promote community spirit, especially among the most vulnerable in the community.


  • To help the police detect crime by reporting suspicious activity.


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Question

What is a Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator?

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Answer

A Neighbourhood Watch coordinator sets up and maintains their local Neighbourhood Watch scheme; this scheme may encompass a local area, vicinity, or street. 

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Question

What year was the Brixton Riot?

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Answer

1981

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Question

What 2012 event prompted intense criticism of the Neighbourhood Watch?

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Answer

The Shooting of Trayvon Martin

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