Expert Insights on Community Safety

There are many ways you can be a vigilant citizen and keep your family, your neighbors, and yourself safe. We have compiled different pieces of insight from experts in the field to shed light on the subject:

Crime & Neighborhood Safety

The truth is, crime can make way to any neighborhood, no matter how “safe” it is. In times of economic distress, people are even more concerned about rising crime in their communities. On the bright side, there are plenty of preventative measures one can take to protect his/her home, as well as the neighborhood. The steps could be as simple as keeping the doors locked, or be more complex like starting a neighborhood watch program with your community. Even though no place is immune to crime, team work with neighbors and family members can really make a difference to minimize it. This guide will define burglary, explain in detail the importance of neighborhood safety, provide tips on how you can keep your kids safe, and how you can be a proactive member in your community to promote safety.

What is Burglary?

Property crime can take many different forms, but one of the most common ones is burglary. By definition, burglary is the “unlawful entry to a structure and it does not always involve theft but may sometimes.” Break-ins are never fun, and may make your family and neighbors feel uneasy should one ever take place in your neighborhood. With that said, homeowners must take proper measures to reduce the likelihood of their homes being burglarized.

Tips for Keeping your Home & Surroundings Safe

Keep in mind that neighborhood safety requires team effort. The following tips are great for keeping your own home and family safe, but also for fostering a safe community. If everyone in your neighborhood practices these simple tips and works together to be vigilant by looking out for each other, it can really help to ward off thieves and criminals -- making it a more enjoyable place to live.

Know the people within your neighborhood.

Being able to recognize who lives in your neighborhood goes a long way in recognizing when there is a suspicious person in the area. Be aware of your neighbor's habits, such as when they are generally at work, if they have small children or teenagers, if they are elderly and may need extra assistance from time to time. This awareness will make the neighborhood a much tighter community, and everyone will be able to better prevent crime.

Keep your vacation dates off of social media.

With social media being such a large part of our lives today, it's only natural to want to share the excitement of an upcoming vacation. However, by doing so, you are essentially setting yourself up as a target for burglars. Criminals in the past have relied on public social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram to stalk and intrude homes while residents are away.

Make use of timers.

Timers are great especially on nights you won't be home. Just because you aren't home doesn't mean that you should keep all the lights off at all times. Set a timer and have the lights go on and off at specific times so that it looks like your home is being occupied. Many burglars study when people exit and enter their homes to plot their next move. By setting up these timers and lights to go on and off, it'll throw them off.

Lock all doors and windows.

As simple as this sounds, it's important to make note of. Many homes have multiple doors and windows and it can be easy to overlook one or more of them. For optimal safety, make sure to lock all doors when you are not home or home alone. Make sure that windows are securely fastened so that burglars can't enter the home through any of them. If you have any sliding doors, place a rod in the track to prevent thieves from forcing the door open and entering.

Utilize blinds and curtains.

These guys are especially handy at night because people can easily see the inside of your home and track activity, where you're putting your valuables, which room you're in and which ones are vacant. By keeping the blinds closed and curtains drawn, you prevent any creepy stalkers from targeting your home.

Install motion-sensored lights outside of your home.

Burglars are usually discouraged by these lights. When the lights go off, it gives them a chance to run away from the bright lights before you catch them trying to enter your house. This is also a great way for you to know when someone is approaching your home.

Keep your neighbors informed.

It's always smart to get to know your neighbors and get to a level where you can at least trust one of them. This is a good idea especially if you plan on being away for a few days or more. By giving a copy of your keys to a trusted neighbor, you can have them make sure everything is okay at home.

  • Inform a trusted neighbor that you will be away for a few days if there's a vacation coming up.
  • Give them a copy of your keys. This way, they can make sure that everything is okay at home.
  • Having mail accumulate can be a red flag and invite intruders. Ideally, you don't want your mail, packages, and newspapers stacking up in front of your door or in your mailbox. With that said, kindly request that your neighbor collect mail and hold it somewhere safe for you until you get back.
  • If you have a car, you may also want to ask your neighbor to move your car around to make it appear as if you are home.
  • Are you a pet owner? Your neighbors can make sure that your pets are safe and sound, and well-fed!
  • Of course, it goes the other way around too. If a neighbor needs help, you can be there for them and report any suspicious behavior around their home if you see it.
  • Create a neighborhood calling tree with a few trusted neighbors and place it somewhere readily accessible so that in case of an emergency, you can easily contact them.

Be conservative with your pricey possessions.

Flaunting your luxuries may result in unwanted chaos and break-ins when you least expect it. Try to keep these things on the down-low. If you've just purchased a brand-new iMac computer, for example, take the time to carefully deconstruct the box before throwing it away. When throwing it away, make sure that it can't be easily found or seen by passerby-ers.

Get a guard dog.

Not only do dogs make great pets, they can also be great members of the community. Thieves tend to stay away from homes with loud barking dogs. If you don't have a dog, it couldn't hurt to place a “beware of dog” sign somewhere visible on the outside of your home anyway. Don't let a dog replace your home security system, but a good guard dog can intimidate intruders and make them think twice before committing any crime. Thinking about getting a guard dog but not sure which one? Check out the top ten best guard dogs here!

Start a Neighborhood Watch.

A neighborhood watch program can go a long way in keeping your home and family safe. It does not take a large time investment, and does not require any personal risks as the local police will be fully responsible for arresting criminals and questioning suspicious activity. A neighborhood watch will just increase awareness within your neighborhood of any suspicious activity, so that the police can be notified much quicker, which great increases the chance of preventing crime. Here are a few steps to starting a Neighborhood Watch.

  1. Briefly go door to door explaining how the neighborhood watch works, and to see if there is enough interest in the program. Recruit those who are interested. Take note of any neighbors who show interest in the program and are eager to help out. You'll want to assign them to key roles of the neighborhood watch so that all the efforts do not fall on your shoulders. It also helps with teamwork and cooperation throughout the neighborhood. If you live in a large neighborhood, then you can assign geographical locations for certain individuals to be the main point of contact for that specific area. You'll also want to find a designated coordinator who will be the go-to person for representing the neighborhood to the local police.
  2. Get your local police department involved. Once you've established a neighborhood watch, you'll want to then proceed to really working with the local police. Work on getting a meeting between the police and your neighborhood watch. This is a great way to get to know your local officers, and learn of crime trends in the areas and the legal requirements for creating a neighborhood watch. You'll want to schedule the meeting two weeks in advance so that there is time for others in the neighborhood to hear about the meeting and to get involved with it.
  3. Have an action plan in place. After you've established a neighborhood watch, you'll want to then schedule meetings on a regular basis to go over goals, progress, and go over any concerns or questions about the neighborhood watch. You should also reach out to nearby civic groups to expand your network, and further be involved in the area.

Keep your yard well maintained.

A yard that is kept up goes a long way in deterring criminals, especially when the whole neighborhood is well maintained. This lets would-be criminals know that people are active in your neighborhood, and also reduces hiding spots for them. Try to keep clear line of sights to your entryways, so that if a criminal is trying to break in, then they'll be easily visible from across the street or by a neighbor driving by. Large bushes and trees that block the view of your house, makes it a more likely target for thieves as they can remain hidden while breaking in.

If there is an abandoned house, or a house up for sale in your neighborhood, then see if anyone else in the neighborhood is interested in helping to keep its yard maintained. Empty houses offer an easy escape path for criminals. Abandoned houses also make it easy for someone to hide out and study the habits of the people in your neighborhood, so they can figure out when is the best time to break in when you're repeatedly away at certain times. If you keep the yard of the abandoned house maintained, then criminals will feel not as safe to commit crime in your neighborhood, as there are no easy ways to watch the habits of your neighbors and will feel there are eyes at every house in the neighborhood.

Never leave anything out in plain sight inside your car.

Yes, even if the doors are locked! Thieves can break through the windows to take your belongings if they feel motivated enough. So, don't give anyone any reason for them to target your car. Even if it's something as simple as a blanket - by leaving this out in the open, thieves may think that the blanket exists in there to hide something valuable beneath it. By keeping your car completely clear of your possessions, it will not only save you the trouble of recovering your valuables and the inconvenience of having to fix broken car windows. To be extra safe, lock up your car's compartment and trunk from the inside as well. This way, if someone is able to somehow get in the car, they aren't able to go through these parts of the vehicle.

Do not keep garage door openers in a car parked outside.

If you have a garage, but park your car outside with a garage opener in the car, then you might want to consider placing your garage door opener inside. A thief can break into your car, and then use the garage door opener within your car, to easily gain access to your garage and possibly your house as well. If you need to park outside but want to use the garage opener as a way to enter the house when you get home, then develop a habit of bringing the garage door opener inside with you. Over time, it'll become as habitual as always grabbing your keys and your purse/wallet, and this will go a long way in preventing serious break-ins.

Keep personal information hidden by using a paper shredder.

In addition to possession theft, identity theft is a real thing! With that said, conceal your personal information by shredding papers before throwing them away to be safe. Having paperwork with your address, credit card information, bank numbers, passwords, phone number, and the like lying around not only makes you look irresponsible and careless, it also can make you a new target to burglars who are always looking to gain the most without putting too much effort.

Get a reliable security system installed.

When used properly, a home security system can really help to improve neighborhood safety. In fact, a Rutgers study in 2009 found that the more homes that had a security system installed in an area, the less robberies took place in that given area.

Find out where your local police department is.

You never know when you'll need to go, and it's a good idea to also express to them your goal to keep the neighborhood safe. If there are potential dangers or risks, don't hesitate to inform the police so that they can do their job and improve the conditions. For example, if there are people frequently speeding in your neighborhood in high-traffic areas with children, it is to everyone's benefit that the cops are aware of the issue and are given the chance to address it. Keep in mind that police have so many neighborhoods and issues to take care of, so it is up to residents to be vigilant citizens and speak up when help is needed.

Guarding the Children

In addition to protecting your home, it's also important to be vigilant about your children and their whereabouts. Below are some tips to encourage your and your neighbors' kids safety!

Be aware of your children's location.

You'll want to have your children ask permission or at least tell you where they are going before they leave the house. Establish a time they need to be home by each time they go out. Have them leave a phone number of where they will be, or be sure they have a cell phone with them if there is one available.

Get your kids well-acquainted with the neighborhood.

Take walks with your kids frequently and show them around the neighborhood during the day or on the weekends. This way, if they are ever lost or stumble across a neighbor's kid who may be lost, they can easily find their way home safely. Also, inform them of potential unsafe areas so that they know to avoid getting close to them. Encourage your children to frequent public areas (avoid alleyways or areas that they can easily be kidnapped, attacked, or cornered) and to be home before dark.

Know your children's friends

Get to know your children's friends and their parents. Try to meet them beforehand and get all their contact information saved to your phone. Ask what the children will be doing at their house and if they'll be supervised. If you're unable to meet the parents first, then try to at least talk to them over the phone.

Teach problem solving skills to your children.

It's nearly inevitable that your children will come across bullies or have confrontations with their friends. Role-play different scenarios that could occur between your children and their friends or other kids their age - teaching them to use words and work through any issues - rather than resorting to violence. Instill in them that teasing and making fun of others can be hurtful and does not lead to good friendships.

Give your child a mode of communication.

If your child is old enough to wander off on his or her own, it may be a good idea to provide them with a cell phone and let them know who they can reach in case of an emergency. This way, they can keep you in the loop while they're out, and you can easily communicate with them when needed.

Set boundaries for where your children can go.

If you live in the city, then you'll want to identify how far away your children can go without you. Just around the block or two? Is it okay for them to cross busy intersections? Is there a dangerous area nearby to avoid? If you live in the country then it'd be good to let them know if there is a dangerous river nearby to not play by, or farms with large livestock to stay away from incase the animal decides to charge after them. Also, make sure they are wary of any questionable houses to stay away from, especially abandoned ones.

Neighborhood Safety: A Team Effort

While it's impossible to ward off crime 100%, it takes one to set a good example for the rest. By educating yourself on the measures you can take to encourage safety in your neighborhood, your neighbors will follow suit and work with you to make the community an enjoyable place to live. Many of these measures are simple, but may just require reminder of every now and then.

Additional Resources

National Neighborhood Watch

The National Neighborhood Watch was created by the National Sheriffs' Association to encourage local communities to initiate their own neighborhood watches, which is one of the best crime prevention methods in history. Here you'll find help on creating an action plan for your neighborhood watch, how to best implement it, and how to best get in contact with local law enforcement agencies.

Polly Klaas Foundation

This is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to teaching children and their parents how to best stay safe. They also focus on missing children, and shaping public policies that keep children safe. You'll find safety kits and several articles on how to best stay out of trouble and to avoid kidnappers.

Life Hacker Guide to Increasing Your Home's Security

Here you'll find some great tips to improving the security of your home, based on the most common habits of burglars. There are how-to guides on how to make modifications to your webcam to become a security cam that alerts you of movement, along with several other ‘hacks' to common devices in most households.

Focus: HOPE

Focus Hope has some great community and safety initiatives. You can go here to find help on starting a block club, neighborhood clean-ups, book clubs, and other activities that strengthen a local community. They also provide a community safety coordination strategy, where you can anonymously report crimes and circulate information effectively on crime trends in your area. On top of all this, they also have a youth safety focus, developing a ‘safety station' in schools to bring students together around their safety issues.

Safety1st

Safety1st is another great resource for learning how to build a healthy community through public safety, community engagement and outreach, and restoring community confidence. This is a great way to expand the network of your neighborhood watch into wider reaching initiatives in your town or city, to really create a safe and watchful community that stretches for miles.