As one drives around Harker Heights these days, the blue and white Neighborhood Watch signs are no longer as prevalent as they once were. In fact, there are precious few, if any, left.

Perhaps the absence of credible and organized neighborhood watch programs is one of the reasons property crimes continue to occur as they do. I for one certainly believe so.

Neighborhood watch is undoubtedly the most well known, most effective and oldest crime prevention program in our history.

For neighborhood watch programs to be effective, both the residents and city administration must be involved as a team. Without the sponsorship of the city, the effectiveness of citizen involvement is considerably reduced.

Recent National Night Out assemblies and block parties throughout Central Texas called attention to the need for citizen involvement in combating local crime. Such involvement is essential to community policing, as the police cannot be everywhere at once.

Residents become the eyes and ears of the law enforcement community and willing participants in the fight against crime.

Folks know or should know their neighborhoods. We know who lives on our street and what vehicles our neighbors own. Without prying into anyone’s business, we also have a general knowledge of the routine of our neighbors to the extent that we know when something appears odd or out of place.

It is at those times we should pay particular attention to what is going on. Perhaps our neighbor needs help for a medical emergency or condition, or police assistance is required.

As pertains to the former, there are documented instances where a resident has experienced a medical emergency and was incapacitated to the extent that he or she was unable to call for help.

Sometimes, these emergencies result in tragic loss of life. In some, however, alert and concerned neighbors noticing something amiss have saved the day by checking on the neighbor or alerting police to make a welfare check.

Neighbors watching out for neighbors is a very effective tool for preventing burglaries and thefts, criminal mischief and crimes against persons. This was clearly demonstrated last year in Harker Heights when a neighbor reported the in-progress burglary of a residence to police. The suspects were apprehended with the stolen items. I love it when a plan comes together.

Persons interested in initiating a neighborhood watch program should contact the City of Harker Heights administration for a contact person or number for assistance.

If that fails, national agencies are available and willing to step into the void. Residents need not depend on city officials for assistance in initiating neighborhood watch programs. A few neighborhood residents can organize a watch program by contacting state and national organizations specializing in such programs.

One such agency is the National Neighborhood Watch of the National Sheriff’s Association. This organization has resources available to provide program materials and startup assistance for anyone interested in starting a program in their neighborhood. Contact them at www.http//sheriffs.org.

The Neighborhood Watch program was initiated in 1972 by the National Crime Prevention Council NCPC) and is sponsored by the National Sheriff’s Association. Kudos to them. This program counts on citizens to organize themselves and work with law enforcement to keep an eye and ear in the community while being a presence both day and night.

According to the NCPC, Neighborhood Watch programs work because they reduce opportunities for crime to occur. They do not rely on altering or changing the criminal’s motivation or behavior. There will always be those for whom stealing is preferred over gainful employment.

Keep in mind that for the program to be effective, a block or multi-block captain must be named to coordinate activities and all residence within that sector must be involved.

Yes, an effective neighborhood watch program requires a little time and some effort on the part of all involved. Perhaps these requirements are the cause of the demise of watch programs.

Weigh the pros and cons. A few minutes of your time against you or your neighbors being victimized by thieves and burglars. To me, the choice is clear.

Let’s see some blue and white signs go up. In addition to reducing crime in a participating neighborhood, thereby relieving some pressure on an already stretch police department, they also provide a little peace of mind.

John Vander WERFF is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.

John Vander Werff is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and a Copperas Cove resident.​

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