Chapter 3
Organizing a Neighborhood Watch

Neighborhood Watch groups are organized in a variety of ways. No matter how your Watch is set up, the organizational structure must take into account the needs of the community and law enforcement. A traditional Watch group will include a law enforcement officer or liaison to the group, an area coordinator who lives in the community, block captains spread

throughout the community, and watch members. One of the final steps in forming and organizing a Neighborhood Watch is the designation of leadership. These people plan and coordinate activities. It doesn’t matter how your Watch group is set up, as long as your community members are excited and good at addressing problems.

The Law Enforcement Liaison

At the top of the chain sits the Law Enforcement Liaison. These Neighborhood Watch members are selected because of their previous crime prevention experience or training. A law enforcement or public safety officer working with the Watch should:

  • Learn about the history of the Neighborhood Watch.
  • Collect general information on the community or communities.
  • Examine the geography and boundaries of the area.
  • Examine the demographics and trends of the population.
  • Know the community culture.
  • Collect data on community crime, disorder and quality-of-life issues.

The neighborhood watch coordinator

The Coordinator’s job is crucial to your program’s success. This may be just the right job for a retiree or other individual who has extra time at home. This person’s responsibilities may include:

  • Expanding the program and maintaining a current list of participants and residents.
  • Acting as liaison between Watch members, officers, civic groups, and block captains.
  • Arranging neighborhood crime prevention training programs.
  • Obtaining and distributing crime prevention materials, such as stickers and signs.
  • Involving others to develop specific crime prevention projects.
  • Encouraging participation in “Operation Identification,” a nationwide program in which personal property is marked legibly with a unique identifying number.

Citizens' advisory board

Some law enforcement agencies and cities running large Neighborhood Watch groups have arranged for a group of citizens to oversee the groups in a certain area. The Board’s responsibilities are:

  • Neighborhood Watch group start-up assistance in other areas.
  • Information, processing, training, and recruiting of groups in non-represented areas.
  • Maintain communications between the Neighborhood Watch groups and the Board.
  • Organize advisory committees as needed.
  • Support and organize fundraising efforts in the community.
  • Maintain a relationship with law enforcement.
  • Bring emerging community issues to the attention of officials.

The block captain

Block captains are recommended for every 10-15 houses, and they’re involved with their immediate neighbors. Responsibilities may include:

  • Acting as liaison between block residents and the coordinator.
  • Establishing a “telephone chain.”
  • Inviting new residents to join; notifying them of meetings and trainings.
  • Establishing an “Operation Identification” program.
  • Contacting each neighbor to discuss crime, assistance, and program improvement.

Neighborhood watch members

In some neighborhoods, incidents or offenses may not be well known and awareness needs to be built up. The law enforcement liaison and area coordinator can work on this, while Block Captains or Area Coordinators do the recruiting.


Phones, email and maps are essential communication tools for Neighborhood Watch groups. Here’s how they can be handy:

  • Phone tress

    Phone trees are like a family tree network of Neighborhood Watch member contact details. Phone trees can expedite emergency information. Neighborhoods can be divided into small, workable areas using streets or natural boundaries. Each group prepares and updates a chart that includes the names and phone numbers of all members. Each individual listed on the tree knows whom he or she is to contact in an emergency.

  • Social media and email

    The tech age of social media and email have made Neighborhood Watch organization much easier. The internet is one of the best ways to get in touch with your neighbors. Your group can organize an email list much like that of a phone tree. When an issue in the neighborhood comes up you can contact residents in a fast and efficient way.

    An electronic newsletter will save copying and mailing costs, can provide essential information, and often may be linked to your local law enforcement agency’s homepage.

  • Neighborhood map

    A neighborhood map is a powerful tool on a simple sheet of paper. Along with a phone tree, a map can give residents information on where everyone in the neighborhood lives and also put landmarks and distance from house to house into perspective. A map familiarizes Neighborhood Watch members with local families, and addresses any potential dangers during an emergency.

How phone
tree works

  • Someone has urgent information to share about a prowler in the area, so they activate the telephone tree by calling the name at the top – the group representative.

  • The representative receives the call and calls the person listed under their name.

  • The last neighbor to receive a call calls the representative to send “message received” confirmation.