Fight Crime

A police officer patrols a neighborhood on a bicycle in Phoenix, Ariz.Here are 10 tips to help reduce crime in your neighborhood:

  1. Work with your neighbors to create a sense of community
  2. Influence city or town officials
  3. Develop prevention and treatment programs
  4. Deny criminals access to public spaces
  5. Record information about criminal or suspicious activities in your neighborhood and contact police as soon as you see or hear of a crime
  6. Take legal action
  7. Address loitering and panhandling issues
  8. Report or clean up vandalism as soon as you see it
  9. Help Establish or report violations of leash laws and report stray or roaming dogs
  10. Neighborhood lighting

1. Work with your neighbors to create a sense of community

Get to know your neighbors and ask for their help in making your neighborhood a safer place to live and walk.

With your neighbors, join or create a neighborhood advocacy group. Neighborhood organizations, through their activities, can help neighborhoods rebuild social control and increase citizen accountability for the actions of residents and their children. Take advantage of "safety in numbers" to hold rallies, marches, and other group activities to show you are determined to drive out crime and drugs. Start, join, or reactivate a Neighborhood Watch or Citizen Patrol group. Groups often get started through neighborhood meetings, rallies, and school or community events. For more information, visit the National Crime Prevention Council's website on Neighborhood Watch programs.

Work with public agencies and other organizations on solving common problems in a constructive manner.

You need to determine the most important issues facing your neighborhood. And be sure to include all members of your neighborhood, or representatives of these members, to make progress.

2. Influence city or town officials

Residents speak with a police officer in St. Helena, Calif.Neighborhood organizations can request meetings with mayors, police commissioners, city or town managers, or city or town council members to support effective community policing practices and to get criminals out of their building or neighborhood by enforcing anti-noise laws, housing codes, health and fire codes, anti-nuisance laws, and drug-free clauses in rental leases. A group representing the entire neighborhood will have the stability, credibility, and political clout necessary to be an effective force in improving their neighborhood. Many city or town officials would welcome this form of neighborhood support and neighborhood involvement if done in a constructive manner.

3. Develop prevention and treatment programs

Community groups can draw on private and public resources as well as their own "people power" to establish youth centers; mentoring, tutoring, or parenting projects; and Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other substance abuse prevention or treatment programs for neighborhood residents. Develop and share a phone list of local organizations that can provide counseling, job training, guidance, and other services that neighbors might need.

4. Deny criminals access to public spaces

No matter how dedicated community policing officers are, they cannot be everywhere all the time. Work with other residents to establish safe conditions in your neighborhood—a physical environment that doesn't invite crime or offer opportunities for violence to brew. Work with a group of neighbors to form a block watch to scan streets, yards, alleys, playgrounds, ball fields, parks, and other areas. Conduct anti-drug patrols and get-togethers in your neighborhood, in apartment buildings, and along school routes.

5. Record information about criminal or suspicious activities in your neighborhood and contact police as soon as you see or hear of a crime

Two girls speak with two police officers on bicycles.Citizens often help by gathering information or becoming the eyes and ears of the police. Community organizations can organize community meetings on how to safely provide police with useful information (license plate numbers, detailed descriptions, addresses where suspicious activities occur, brand names of street drugs, and code signals used to alert drug dealers of police presence). Standard forms for recording information can also be distributed.

Thefts, assaults, or drug-deals that are not reported to the police allow criminals to go free to commit their crimes again. Be sure you know where and how to report dangerous or violent situations in your neighborhood, or conditions that could lead to violence. Ask your police department or your community policing officer for help in identifying what to report, when, to whom, and how.

More aggressive or targeted police tactics can have a sizable effect on suppressing some crimes. More alert citizens and calls to the police when crimes occur will increase police presence in any given area. Make it possible for neighbors to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear of retaliation by using a system of anonymous tips to the police and by making sure the criminals are fairly punished.

6. Take legal action

Neighborhood groups or residents in conjunction with local elected officials can pressure landlords to evict drug dealers and maintain and improve building security by improving lighting, door locks, intercoms, and roof doors. Legal action can be taken to close bars, liquor stores, or other establishments that tolerate illegal activities. It is best for communities to force landlords or property owners to renovate or demolish unoccupied buildings that are being used by criminals. For instance, Phoenix's Neighborhood Preservation Division has the authority, through a number of city or town ordinances, to prosecute delinquent property owners who do not maintain their properties and fence off and demolish vacant and deteriorated properties. Civil actions can be used in lieu of, or along with, criminal proceedings.

7. Address loitering and panhandling issues

Ask city or town officials to draw panhandlers away from areas where a lot of pedestrians are present or areas where children walk to school by providing services to the homeless. Anti-loitering ordinances exist in many cities and towns throughout the nation. When you see a group of people loitering or aggressively panhandling, contact the police to have them dispersed or arrested in compliance with local ordinances. Property owners can give police permission to enter private property, such as parking lots or external stairs, to investigate and possibly arrest loiterers.

8. Report and clean up vandalism as soon as you see it

Clean up vandalism as soon as it happens—replace signs, repair playground equipment, and paint over graffiti. If you see anyone committing vandalism or graffiti, treat it as a 911 call situation and report it to the police. Make your local police aware of patterns of graffiti or vandalism in your neighborhood, especially the spots where the vandalism is the worst, to help them apprehend vandals.

If you notice graffiti on traffic signs or traffic signal control boxes, report it to your traffic or public works department. Traffic signs that are made of a reflective material may be destroyed by some graffiti removal products and paint will block the reflective quality of the sign. Painting over graffiti on traffic signal controller boxes may cause the locks to be clogged with paint.

Before you remove graffiti, notify the police department so they can document it with photographs. This helps build cases against these vandals. Clean-up often has to be done again and again, but patience and persistence pay off. If an area you have cleaned up becomes covered in graffiti again, remove it as quickly as possible. The goal is to deny the vandal the chance to display their "work". When painting over graffiti, consider new graffiti-resistant products on the market that have a chemical makeup that makes it difficult for paint and ink to adhere to them. Also, consider the use of paint containing polyurethane. This paint is more expensive, but it makes removal of any new graffiti relatively easy. In areas where graffiti or other forms of vandalism continually occur, use landscape designs (such as prickly shrubs or closely planted hedges), building materials (such as hard-to-mark surfaces), lighting, artwork, or fences to discourage vandalism. A good way to prevent future vandalism is to adopt a street or park, perhaps in cooperation with a church or business to instill pride in the area and discourage future vandalism from happening.

Educate the public, especially young people, about the costs of vandalism. Have a neighborhood meeting on vandalism to discuss its victims, costs, and solutions. Vandalism is an expensive crime. Schools pay out millions of dollars each year to clean up graffiti, repair buildings, or replace vandalized equipment. That means less money for new books, computers, sports equipment, and student activities. Local governments (and their taxpayers) pay the bills for broken street lights, stolen signs, and vandalized parks. Businesses pass the costs of vandalism on to customers through higher prices. Vandalism is also hurtful. People feel angry, sad, and frightened when something of theirs—a mailbox, a garden, a car antenna—is destroyed for no reason. Vandalism indirectly claims other victims: a child is injured because a stop sign was stolen or a person can't call 911 because the public phone is broken.

9. Help establish or report violations of leash laws and report stray or roaming dogs

Many communities have leash laws that require that dogs be on a leash except when on the owner's or caretaker's property. Other cities also require that dogs on the owner's property be restrained by a fence or leashing. Some cities further state that dogs must not be able to reach the public sidewalk if tied out in their yard. However, experts have found that tethering or chaining a dog in their yard may not be healthy for the dog and may cause the dog to become anxious and aggressive. Accordingly, a fenced yard or dog run may be the best solution.

If a leash law already exists, you should call the local police or animal control agency to report the problem. If your community does not have an adequate leash law, or no leash law at all, and unleashed dogs are a problem in your neighborhood, work with community officials in crafting a more effective leash law or a dangerous dog law.

If you see stray or roaming dogs in your neighborhood, you should call the local police or animal control agency. Try to get an estimate of how long it may take someone to respond and if possible, stay on the scene to keep an eye on the dog until help arrives to be sure the dog doesn't leave the area, cross traffic, or bother people passing by.

10. Neighborhood Lighting

People may be afraid to walk in your neighborhood at night due to a variety of reasons. Perhaps your neighborhood is poorly lit. A properly well-lit neighborhood for pedestrians means that sidewalks along both sides of a street are lit so that people can see where they are walking at night and no dark areas exist where criminals may lurk. In combination with good lighting, working towards a more crime-free neighborhood and redesigning your neighborhood to prevent crime may be necessary to make your neighborhood a safer place to walk at night.

Vandals, burglars, and thieves like it dark and dark spots may exist along the sidewalk in front of your house. A light on your front porch, back yard, or in an alley behind your home will discourage them and will provide a continuously lit sidewalk on which people can safely walk at night. Use lights that project downwards instead of upwards or sideways. The light on the top in the diagram to the right wastes approximately 45 percent more light than the light on the bottom. A 75-watt light bulb will light your yard for less than $29 a year. The cost of a 20-watt florescent bulb for a year is approximately $8. You can also invest in a photo cell socket control for about $7 that will automatically turn your light on at dusk and turn it off at dawn. Local agencies and power companies can provide dawn to dusk lighting on private property for a reasonable monthly cost. Such lighting is often subsidized by the community for the elderly in high-crime neighborhoods.

Streetlights that are out or flicker (a sign that they will soon go out) should be reported immediately. Lights that cycle on and off throughout the night should also be reported to your local agency or power company. When reporting streetlight problems, provide detailed information about the streetlight location, such as the property address where the light exists or the pole number (if one is present). Your local government website may have a place to report streetlights that are out, or direct you to the right department.