Neighborhood Watch schemes encourage citizens to look for and report suspicious incidents to the police in an effort to deter potential offenders. They grew out of a movement in the US in the late 1960s that promoted greater involvement of citizens in crime prevention. Since then, Neighborhood Watch has become increasingly popular, with estimates suggesting that over a quarter of the UK population and over forty per cent of US residents live in areas covered by these schemes. Given their popularity, and the considerable investment of resources and community involvement they require, it is important to assess their effectiveness in reducing crime.
A comprehensive literature search identified 19 studies covering 43 evaluations of neighborhood watch. At a minimum, studies had to include before and after measures of crime, and both treatment and comparison areas, in order to be included in the review. Twelve of the included studies (covering 18 evaluations) contained sufficient information to conduct a statistical meta-analysis.
Neighborhood watch generally effective
Both the narrative review of all studies and the smaller meta-analysis indicated that neighborhood watch was generally effective in reducing crime and victimization. The meta-analysis showed that areas covered by neighborhood watch schemes experienced a reduction in crime of between 16 and 26 per cent compared with areas not covered by the schemes.
The authors urge caution in interpreting these results because in many of the studies the treatment and comparison areas were rarely wholly equivalent. Further, few studies provide information on how neighborhood watch might work to reduce crime. They call for future research in this area, with a focus on high-quality research methods and more information about the features of the programs and the subgroups for which they are most effective.
This article is based on the systematic review (link to full text review):
Bennett, T, Holloway, K, and Farrington, D: The Effectiveness of Neighborhood Watch