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Who Watches the Watchmen? The 411 on Neighborhood Watches

Back in the 1980s, McGruff the Crime Dog taught children and parents alike to “Take a bite out of crime.” The tough but affable, anthropomorphic bloodhound was created by the Ad Council  for the National Crime Prevention Council and used by police officers to build crime awareness programs among American families. McGruff’s mission is essentially the same as countless proactive homeowner associations nationwide—sniffing out criminals.  

Value in Security

The severity of crime statistics varies by region but crime will occur regardless of location which is why a homeowner association watch group is  critical. “Criminals know now that citizens have organized and are watching, that really is a great deterrent to stopping crimes. People watching out for other people is a  great deterrent. Having a community watch group is really effective,” says attorney James Marotta of Totowa, New Jersey. “Crime is not limited to the cities, it's everywhere, we have to develop  deterrence.”  

“Just because you're in a protected condo association, or not living in the city, is not a  reason to think you're safe,” says Joseph Hoban, a retired police captain from Paterson, New Jersey and now a security  consultant. “Neighbors should watch out for one another. That's the way it was when I grew  up, and people should still do that. To beat a dead horse, 'If you see something, say something.' Neighbors have to watch out and should call 911 if  they see something. More often than not they are right in their suspicions.”  

For many homeowners associations, there is a false sense of security resulting  from otherwise proactive, visible security measures such as expensive cameras  and other technologies. And whereas one might think that more crime happens at  night, in certain communities, watch groups patrol in larger numbers during the  day.  

“Most of the crime was taking place while people were at work.” says Al Pagano, president of the Nutley Grove Neighborhood Watch in Nutley, New Jersey. “To combat this we enlisted neighbors that are home during the day, like retired  people and homemakers. Having them watch out really helped.” Pagano noted that the daytime watch shifts were scheduled for no more than a  couple of hours and the volunteers used their cell phones for communication.  Additionally he says that some of the volunteers would drive around the  neighborhood to keep an eye on things. “They know that if they see something they call the police, never under any  circumstances are they to take matters into their own hands.”  

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