Everyone is right to be concerned with the safety of their communities, whether they live in an area highly susceptible to crime or in a sleepy retirement community. Condos, Co-ops, and HOAs are no exception; in fact, the communal nature of these environments may make it even more likely that resident would want to band together in an effort to advocate for their mutual well-being. Sometimes, this takes on the form of a neighborhood watch, with neighbors working together to establish a chain of command that will rapidly alert the authorities if something is amiss.
When considering establishing a neighborhood watch, it’s important for an association to acknowledge where its responsibilities lie and what its specific goals are and then develop a structure from there. The primary purpose of a neighborhood watch should be to observe and report, rather than intervene and escalate.
“[Neighborhood watch] is an area that needs to be handled delicately, and must be approached very cautiously,” warns David Muller, a community association attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Naples. “There’s a common misconception that community associations affirmatively ensure the safety of their residents and owners, but the reality is that associations are tasked with doing that which is required of them under the governing documents and the statutes.
According to Carmen Caldwell, executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami–Dade County and treasurer of the National Crime Prevention Association in Doral, neighborhood watches work best in communities where the owners live in their residences year-round. “The essence of neighborhood watch is establishing a phone chain,” she explains. “Everyone participating exchanges numbers – but if many people are leaving for the winter, that chain falls apart.”
“We’ll go into communities and give quarterly crime prevention presentations. We educate residents as to how they can be sage, what they can do, and how to establish relationships with law enforcement, which is very important. A lot of times in large complexes, people don’t want to call the police. They don’t want their neighbors to know that they were the ones who made the call. But you don’t have to give your phone number; you don’t even have to give your name. You just have to give a description of what’s going on.”
Chain of Command
It is imperative to establish a chain of command to implement a successful neighborhood watch. Communities vary in size, and there are some best practices when it comes to patrolling one’s own community.