Ward 2 uses Neighborhood Watch to strengthen community policing

Friday, November 18, 2016

A neighborhood watch sign in Ward 2 in Hyattsville. Photo courtesy of Jamal Francis

BY HELEN LYONS — In the living room of Bernadette McAuliffe, two police officers in full body armor with guns on their hips sat in antique rocking chairs, nibbling on mini grocery-store cupcakes and laughing at their hostess’s jokes.

It was the third Thursday of the month, which meant that it was time for Ward 2 neighbors to get together with local police for their Neighborhood Watch meeting.

“It’s people watching out for each other and each other’s homes,” explained city councilmember and Ward 2 resident, Robert Croslin. “The most important thing is that neighbors look out for neighbors.”

But this Neighborhood Watch group is about more than just crime prevention.

As a bowl of popcorn and a plate of cookies was passed around, the latest community news was discussed, and plans for a block party began to take shape.

“It’s always a potluck,” said Emily Strab, who heads Ward 2’s Watch. “It’s just very social. The Hyattsville Police Department has been partnering with us, and we all just get to know each other. If we see something suspicious, we feel like we can call them because we know who they are.”

There are 27,174 registered Neighborhood Watch groups nationwide, according to a spokesperson from the National Sheriffs Association (NSA), with three registered groups in the Hyattsville area.

John Thompson, deputy executive director and COO of the NSA, called Neighborhood Watch groups the “eyes and ears of the law.”

“They’re more in tune to their community,” said Thompson. “They’re more alert, they report crimes. If you’re a burglar and you want to commit a crime, and one neighborhood has a Neighborhood Watch and one doesn’t, which one are you going to go for?”

In an effort to modernize and enhance this form of community policing, which began in the United States in the 1960s, the National Neighborhood Watch Program recently released a mobile app allowing users to submit anonymous reports about “drugs, marijuana, and other crime concerns, suspicious activities and community disorder.”

The app also provides educational training videos for Neighborhood Watch volunteers and assistance with assembling and maintaining an active Watch group, which many believe can lower crime in an area.

“[Neighborhood Watch] definitely works,” Thompson said. “We know that.”

Residents of other Hyattsville wards are considering starting their own Neighborhood Watch groups, using Ward 2’s as a model.

“It’s the oldest and most prestigious watch in Hyattsville,” said Councilmember Joseph Solomon (Ward 5).

Yet in the McAuliffe’s tranquil, charming home on a quiet, tree-lined street, there was no air of pretension — just good food and good company.

Chief of Police Douglas Holland handed out fliers for an upcoming police fundraiser, and neighbors munched on snacks while listening to the latest crime report for their block and proposing solutions for dealing with vacant homes.

The relationship between residents and law enforcement was informal, relaxed, friendly — exactly what Neighborhood Watch is designed to achieve.

“Whatever we can do as a city to make things easier for them,” said Strab, “that’s what our job is.”

If you’re a Hyattsville resident, you can contact your city councilmember to determine if a Neighborhood Watch exists in your ward, or visit www.nnw.org for assistance in starting one.