Chapter 5
Community Eyes and Ears

Neighborhood watch do's and don'ts

Of course, community members only serve as the extra “eyes and ears” of law enforcement. They should report their observations of suspicious activities to law enforcement, but never try to take action on those observations. Trained law enforcement should be the only ones ever to take action based on observations of suspicious activities.

Neighborhood watch skillset

Watch participants build the skills necessary for preventing crime as well as terrorist activity, and prepare for natural/man-made disasters. The National Sheriffs’ Association offers skill building training through the Neighborhood Watch Toolkit. Other skills you will learn include:

Observation Skills

Most people go through the day without even noticing everyday events. However beginning to recognize what is normal around you is the first step in recognizing what’s not normal. Police officers sometimes refer to their intuition as a “sixth sense” or “street smarts”. Community members should know they have the ability to recognize unusual events as well.

If you see something suspicious

  • Stay calm
  • Remain alert to your surroundings
  • Begin with the basics
  • Move to the specifics
  • Broaden your perspective
  • Add detail

In Neighborhood Watch, you’ll learn to pay attention to things like:

  • Physical setting
  • Specific location, time of day, day of week.
  • People – What do they look like? (height, weight, ethnicity, gender, etc.) How many are there?
  • Specific items – What is important?
  • Routines – Did you notice any recurring patterns or routines? How often did they occur? Who was involved?

One of the keys to a successful Neighborhood Watch program is using observation skills to keep your neighborhood safe.

Practice looking at pictures of people to know how to describe theme:

  • Clothing
  • Skin or eye color
  • Tattoos
  • Scars
  • Moles
  • Height and weight

When observing cars:

  • Type of vehicle
    (SUV/truck etc)
  • Make and model
  • License plate - write it on paper, your hand, or in the dirt!

What is suspicious activity?

In Neighborhood Watch, you’ll learn to pay attention to things like:

  • A stranger loitering in your neighborhood or a vehicle cruising the streets repeatedly.
  • Someone peering into cars or windows.
  • A high volume of traffic going to and coming from a home on a daily basis.
  • Someone loitering around schools, parks, or secluded areas.
  • Strange odors coming from a house, building, or vehicle.
  • Open or broken doors and windows at a closed business or unoccupied residence.
  • Someone tampering with electrical, gas, or sewer systems without an identifiable company vehicle or uniform.
  • People arriving or leaving from homes or businesses at unusual hours
  • Multiple people who appear to be working in unison and exhibiting suspicious behaviors.
  • Signs of forced entry or tampering with security or safety systems.

By calling to report suspicious persons or activity, you not only aid the police, you make your community a safer place to live.

Some people fail to call because they are not aware of activities that might be suspicious. Others may notice suspicious activity and hesitate to call for fear of being labeled a “nosy neighbor.” Still others take it for granted that someone else has already called. Always report suspicious activity and all crimes because police don’t know there’s a problem unless they are told.

Knowing What and How to Report
There are four general categories to consider when determining what to report:

  • Suspicious activities
  • People and vehicles
  • Illegal activities
  • Unusual events or incidents, dangerous situations.

By reporting these types of activities and situations, citizens can make their communities safer and more secure, reduce violence, minimize victimization, reduce crime, and improve the overall quality of life. Community members must also be instructed on how to report suspicious activity. To report suspicious activities, crimes in progress, or possible terrorist activities, simply:

When to call 911
Calling 911 is an important communications tool for emergencies. However, some citizens call 911 in non-emergency situations., which creates issues for emergency services. Here’s what Neighborhood Watch teaches us to do:

When to call

  • Medical emergency (chest pain, extreme shortness of breath, uncontrolled bleeding).
  • Motor vehicle accident.
  • Fire.
  • When a life is in danger.

When not to call

  • The power is off.
  • Asking for directions to the hospital.
  • Asking for telephone numbers of others.
  • Requesting to speak with a particular officer.
  • Inquiring as to the time and day.
  • Inquiring about community activities and locations.

For more information about when it is appropriate to call, please contact the non-emergency number of your local law enforcement and ask for an officer to discuss the topic with you.

Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security

Since September 11, 2001, the need to strengthen and safeguard communities has become more important than ever. For 35 years, Watch groups have addressed crime prevention issues restored pride to neighborhoods. These days there’s a new challenge: helping local residents become a critical element in the detection, prevention, and disruption of terrorism. Vigilance is everyone’s responsibility — not just government agencies’. Disaster can strike quickly. Whether a disaster is a natural event, a technological event, or an act of terrorism, the importance of preparedness is the same.

Most people will not run into terrorists or extremists in their daily routine but some have and will. Law enforcement needs the active involvement of citizens to report suspicious activity. Without leads, there are no investigations.

“Vigilance is everyone’s responsibility.”

Disasters: Are you Ready?
Check with your local fire department to find out about the classes and training they offer in first aid, CPR, fire suppression, and disaster preparedness. CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) includes extensive training for citizens on disaster preparedness for the neighborhood.

Neighborhood watch in the news

Neighborhood Watch successes often make the news. From profiling “porch pirates” to “grabbing a grinch”, here are some examples of Neighborhood Watch that highlight the relevance and importance of the longstanding, community-based program:

  • Homeowner's detective work helps police catch porch pirate
  • Local law enforcement helps fight off Grinch with house watch and increased patrol
  • Gala stresses importance of neighborhood watch
  • Sheriff Asks for Community to Join the Fight Against Crime
  • New crime watch program aims to bring neighbors together


  • Disaster first aid.

  • Setting up medical areas.

  • Fight fires and turn off gas lines.

  • Inspect buildings and mark them after inspecting.

Disaster preparedness kit

While it may not be fun to think about a local disaster, it’s sensible — possibly even fun — to be prepared. Your Watch group can make Disaster Preparedness fun by holding a meeting to educate on evacuation plans, then take the time to create Preparedness Kits together.

Be Prepared

  • Have each household buy items in bulk, then share them around to reduce costs.

  • See if local businesses or government agencies can donate supplies to you.