Form a Neighborhood Watch Group on your Sunnyside block
By James McCormick, Brian Marabello, and Tracey McCormick
What is a Neighborhood Watch Group? Why does my block need one? How can I set one up and use it to help my neighbors?
A Neighborhood Watch Group (NWG) is a a group of residents who have formally organized to work on making their block not only safer and better prepared for emergencies, but also more connected and sociable, too. NWGs may include a single block or a larger area, such as side streets and adjoining blocks. NWGs are a part of the Neighborhood Watch Program managed by SF SAFE — a non-profit that’s been focused on crime prevention and public safety for San Francisco neighborhoods since 1976. Currently, SF SAFE supports over 1,800 active NWGs.
Some of the benefits that an NWG offers to your block, beyond crime deterrence and emergency preparedness, include opportunities to meet and get to know your neighbors, or to forge stronger connections with those you already do know. A NWG is also an opportunity to welcome new neighbors and to introduce them to other neighbors on your block. Additionally, information voluntarily provided to a NWG will allow you and your neighbors to communicate more effectively about issues and news that affects everyone on your block, such as reporting a car burglary, damage to property, or to inquire about a neighbor’s well-being. Recently, having a Sunnyside NWG enabled a neighbor to report to another neighbor that their light well drain was clogged and flooding. In another instance, a neighbor alerted their neighbor that their car had a flat tire.
NWGs also provide a mechanism for block problem-solving, such as sharing concerns or requests for improvements on your block, which serves to coordinate your ideas and work more effectively with city departments to address issues and find solutions, e.g. adding a stop sign or speed humps, improving lighting, coordinating storm drain patrols, or making requests for restricted parking. Moreover, you and your neighbors will be more prepared — and able to help each other — in the event of emergencies, such as long power outages or something more serious like an earthquake. A NWG will help you communicate in such situations, and check in on each other to offer or ask for help.
And, of course, neighbors value and appreciate most the fact that NWG signs alert potential wrongdoers that the neighbors are connected and watching out for each other and their property.
It’s easy to form or reinvigorate an existing NWG. First, it’s best to enlist a few likeminded neighbors to help, so you don’t have to do the planning and organizing all by yourself. Next, you’ll want to communicate with SF SAFE about your intention to form or revive an inactive NWG. SF SAFE will provide all kinds of information and assistance. In order to become an official NWG, 50% of your block will need to join your group. With that in mind, a good place to start is to decide on a first meeting date and location, and then to start recruiting. SF SAFE has templates for flyers you may want to use in going door-to-door that will help you tell your neighbors about the group and to invite them to the first meeting. Most neighbors will be receptive to the idea and the benefits a NWG provides. Some neighbors won’t be interested, and that’s OK. Along the way, you might find out your block had a group once upon a time, which is a bonus — some will have already heard the message and joined in the past, making it easy to convince them to join and become active again.
While you are canvassing, you will need to gather contact information so you can create a block map and communication tree. A communication tree is essential to staying in touch and is required by SF SAFE to form an NWG. You’ll need one name, and either a phone number or email address at the minimum for each participating residence. SF SAFE will provide you with a contact information questionnaire and block map templates, or you can create your own. Once you’ve successfully recruited a neighbor, don’t forget to ask them to help spread the word and to encourage others to participate. After you hit the 50% participation threshold, you can hold your first meeting. SF SAFE can help with the planning and will send a representative to facilitate your first gathering.
Congratulations — your group is now official and your NWG signs are installed! Your first priority will be to create a Google or other email group to keep neighbors connected and informed of block-related matters, block news and alerts. Then, having obtained permission as part of each neighbor’s willingness to participate in the NWG, you will want to circulate your block map so everyone knows each other’s names, phone numbers, and other critical information for emergency purposes. From there, your NWG is what you and your neighbors make of it. Most groups stay well-connected, some are relatively quiet. Some new groups have calendared block parties, garage sales, and other events.
NWGs not only offer crime deterrence, emergency connectedness, and a formal communication mechanism, but are also a great way to create and foster community on your block.
Form your NWG today!
Learn more about the Neighborhood Watch Program and download a brochure on starting your own group at: https://sfsafe.org/projects/neighborhood-watch/