Neighbourhood Watch Makes Sense

When the Police service was formed in 1829, Sir Robert Peel proclaimed, "The Police are the Public and the Public are the Police." Life then, as today, was clearly not perfect and since that day, the prime function of a Police officer has been the protection of life and property, the maintenance of order, the prevention and detection of crime and the prosecution of offenders.

Surely, Sir Robert could not have foreseen such drastic increases in crime as are currently endured countrywide. Equally, he could not have envisaged a period in future history when, to the encouragement of the offender and the chagrin of both investigating officer and public alike, punishment appears rarely to fit the crime.

Occasionally, human nature prevails but it becomes difficult, in an age when crime figures seem only to rise, for a Police officer to remember and to accept, that his job ends when the offender is put before the Bench - regardless of the eventual outcome!

In recent years, financial restraints placed upon Chief Constables countrywide, have seen the need for new initiatives to combat crime. One such scheme, with Home Office approval and partial funding since 2007, saw the introduction in 1984, of the Kent Neighbourhood Watch Scheme. (The first such scheme within the United Kingdom, commenced two years earlier, in Mollington, Cheshire, following the success of similar schemes in Chicago.)

In the early days, Watch Co-ordinators were much maligned and treated with suspicion. Thankfully, they are now more readily accepted and acknowledged as valued members of the community served - far removed from the early concept of a 'nosey neighbour prying from behind fading net curtains'.

It is a proven fact that properties and vehicles within a Neighbourhood Watch area, are 10% less prone to 'attack' than those that are not. Criminals are clearly swayed against operating within an area defined by Neighbourhood Watch signs and surprisingly perhaps, the dishonest appear not to discriminate; the less wealthy are as much at risk as seemingly more affluent members of one's community.

Countrywide, many more schemes - and co-ordinators to run them, are needed but financial shortfalls in some Police budgets have necessitated the 'mothballing' of some new schemes.

What Is A Neighbourhood Watch Scheme? Nothing more than a group of like minded residents within an easily defined and manageable area, wishing to be the 'eyes and ears' of their community; caring for the property of others whilst temporarily absent and for the more vulnerable among them - the elderly and infirm, supported by the Police.

Like a chain however, a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme is only as strong as its weakest link. For that reason, a Co-ordinator is appointed, to whom one notifies their suspicions as to incidents or strangers in their locality. In order that their duties do not become too onerous, each Co-ordinator will have one or more 'Link person' to assist and cover during periods of absence. The Co-ordinator will decide whether the Police should be informed of any incident reported to them and in many cases, they will be able to resolve a perceived problem themselves, without always passing on information with regarding nearby incidents and descriptions of persons seen in 'suspicious circumstances'.

What Is Special About A Co-Ordinator? Nothing! The Co-ordinator will invariably be a person who, for whatever reason is at home more than they are out. They will be reasonably active and possess a degree of common sense in order that reports might be efficiently compiled and acted upon suitably.

The Aims Of Neighbourhood Watch Schemes are, primarily, to reduce, through greater awareness, the opportunities for crime within it's area, thereby deterring potential thieves and vandals. Additionally, an increased peace of mind engenders greater community spirit through the contribution of all, towards the protection of their properties, mutual co-operation and communication.

The Advantages Of Neighbourhood Watch

Members are not vigilantes and do not patrol the streets though their role may induce them to take more exercise than hitherto and to be more observant while doing so!

The advantages to the community are fourfold and fairly obvious. Results of Neighbourhood Watch Schemes already in existence clearly show that they help reduce the incidence of crimes such as burglary, vandalism and thefts of or from vehicles. A better community spirit develops and through this, any suspicious acts or persons loitering outside homes, schools or within parks and playground areas where young children meet, are more readily noticed and suspicions reported to the Police in sufficient time for effective action to be taken. Additionally, crime prevention advice is more efficiently circulated throughout the community, enabling a better understanding of practical steps required to tackle local problems in their infancy.

The Police Service clearly does a great deal within it's limited resources, to combat crime. It cannot do it alone and prevention - far better than detection, is a two way exercise. Residents of a community will always possess a very special knowledge of their neighbourhood; greater even than a Resident Beat Officer - where such exists, will ever acquire over many years. It is his/her 'awareness' coupled with a willingness by the majority to safeguard each other, that forms the basis of Neighbourhood Watch.

Crime figures continually fluctuate and Kent witnessed a fall, year on year, between 2006 and 2011. Nationally, last year witnessed a fall of 9%; the lowest figure for England and Wales, since 1981 but one must not become complacent. Within Kent, the past twelve months, sadly, witnessed an increase in 'Burglary dwelling' offences of 22.1% - or 1,137. Crime overall, fell by 3.2%, with vehicle thefts down 9.2% but thefts from vehicles, county-wide, rose 15.5%. Many of today's criminals are highly mobile. Fast cars and easy motorway access enable your valuables, if targeted, to be disposed of within the hour - in adjacent counties. From burglaries in east Kent, property can be offered for sale in Calais in little more than an hour - with little chance of recovery.

However impressive they may be, today's crime figures can be bettered, simply by remembering that three out of ten burglaries did not require a forced entry - doors or windows were left open. Burglars do not like secure properties; somebody may hear the sound of breaking glass. Equally, they dislike roads where Neighbourhood Watch signs - which vary around the country, are prominently displayed.

Of some 173,000 NHW schemes within England and Wales, barely 5,000; embracing about 350,000 homes, operate within Kent. Is your home within one of them? If it isn't, consider starting your own scheme? It is not time consuming and all the help necessary, will be freely given. Better still, many insurance companies offer reduced premiums for household insurance as an incentive to belong.

Sadly, vast areas of Kent are not involved and Neighbourhood Watch is more than just about streets. It also embraces rural areas through additional schemes such as Farm Watch, Horse Watch, School Watch and Country Eye. More importantly, it should and could include you - wherever you are. It makes sense and for any help needed, the Volunteer Watch Liaison Officer can be contacted on 01622-654143.

David Line 2013

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