So how DO you start a Neighborhood Watch?
There's red tape to everything these days, but that's no stumbling block here really. I'll walk you through the process.
1. Discuss it with your neighbors or friends in the area so that you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and why. Common reasons for starting a NHW are rising crime levels, specific problems in the area (drugs etc). You need to consider what TYPE of NHW you want to have as well. Will your NHW just be an informed eyes-and-ears approach where things are observed and reported to SAPS or will you actually patrol the area for visibility as well?
2. If the interest is there, then the next step is to call a public meeting. Find a central spot that can handle the size turnout you expect (school or church halls seem to be the norm for these meetings) and set a date.
3. Circulate a flyer in the area directly to people advising them of the need for a NHW and the initial meeting date and time. Circulation in local school newsletters, churches etc. is also helpful in getting the message out. At the same time, consider walking door to door in the area and personally inviting people. Try to get "influencers" in your area involved and supportive and encourage them to attend the meeting and bring friends with them. Do notify your local SAPS and invite them as well so that they are also in the loop on what's happening and can provide input.
4. Initial meetings are generally about 60 minutes. Someone will need to keep notes of what's discussed (start your record keeping as early in the life of a NHW as possible), keep an attendance register with the contact details of people that are attending. You'll also need someone to stand up and explain the need for a NHW in the area and how you think it will improve safety and security which obviously has a positive effect on property prices and quality of life. Stress to people that a NHW is about participation and that without sufficient community buy-in it's just not possible. Right from the start, I would ask people to volunteer to stand for positions in the NHW. The starting posts you'll need are:
- Chairman: Someone to keep meetings focused and on track and to chair meetings
- Secretary: An individual with good admin skills to keep minutes and records
- Membership: This is a key position and they will head the drive for members
- Patrollers: These are the people that will actually patrol the area when they have available time
- Street Reps: These are important. You're aiming for one representative per street in your area, so that you can spread information to the community quickly and effectively. They act as the representative of the NHW to the people living in their area.
- Treasurer: There's always bits and pieces of basic bookwork to be done - buying sign boards etc.
- Public Relations: An often dedicated but very essential function indeed. A good PR person will help you get coverage of your activities in local newspapers as well as on social media. It's their role to build the image of your project and this in turn will attract new members.
It's always difficult getting people to volunteer for positions, however you'll find that people will step up when the need arises. Don't be disheartened if you can't fill every post at a first meeting.
The objective of your first meeting is to put the basics togather of a committee and to get the nod from the community to start the project.
Your next objective after the meeting will be to hold a meeting with your new committee. At this meeting you need to create a constitution (there are samples available online) which will outline the area you will work in and how your project will work. Next step, is to pop into your local police station and inform them that you've formed a NHW for your area. They'll give you a quick form to complete that will register your project with the SAPS and Department of Community Safety.
Now the work begins. In our next article, we'll tackle the action steps to follow to get signboards sorted out including best practices for the costs, positioning and administration of this key step. We'll also look at fundraising and how to get to your first milestone of 50 members as quickly as possible.