From LAPD Senior Lead Officer Maria Gray: Modern Day Neighborhood Watch

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A note from…
OFFICER Maria Gray
Senior Lead Officer for Basic Car 8A13, Brentwood Area
Los Angeles Police Department
West Los Angeles Division
(310) 444-0744
September 27, 2018
Modern Day Neighborhood Watch

What’s your version of ‘watching’ your neighborhood? People sometimes ask me what does Neighborhood Watch really mean? What does the program involve?

When I first achieved the rank of Senior Lead Officer 16 years ago, Neighborhood Watch involved a core group of neighbors, meeting regularly (typically once a month) in someone’s living room and we would discuss what’s been happening in their immediate community at virtually every level, not just about crime. There were positions of ‘Block Captain’ and ‘Secretary,’ etc. People freely exchanged home phone numbers and watched out for their neighbors when they went on vacation by collecting their mail and newspapers. They met face to face and talked and shared and pointed out suspicious things happening in their neighborhood. It was sometimes described as a sanctioned way of being… nosy.

Now, Neighborhood Watch has evolved into what can be described as mostly a dialogue on various social medias and ‘apps’ like ‘Nextdoor’ and ‘WhatsApp’ –all of which has pros and cons. Part of what is discussed is accurate. Part, is not. There is bravado occurring in the anonymity of hiding behind a keyboard. There is ‘testimony’ and stories and experiences that are shared as gospel but you don’t have the credibility benefit of looking the person in the eye, or even knowing who they are or what kind of person they are. We are now talking, reading, and responding, without… knowing.

But more importantly, I ask you, are we still “watching”. And if so, how? Being nosy is not such a terrible thing, if it’s reasonable and warranted. We need to take our Neighborhood Watch principles back to the street level, rather than the cyber level. Here are a few tips to consider when ‘watching’ your neighborhood. Especially, when the factors don’t yet rise to the level of calling the police.

If you leave your house and see a person sitting suspiciously in a vehicle nearby, call back to your home and yell something back at the house about your dogs (even if no one is home, even if you don’t have dogs). An example could be, “Honey, please let the dogs back in the house. I don’t want the landscaper bitten.” This not only brings unwanted attention by the yelling, but also lets that person know that your home is occupied, and that there are dogs. It’s ok to fib. I give you permission.
If you see something not right, feel free to go out and water your lawn. And then… watch. Make eye contact. Let them know you’re watching. Good guys will just think you’re nosy. Bad guys will leave.
You can step out and make a call. Talk on the phone while staring at the suspicious person. They don’t know who you’re talking to and they may suspect that you’re calling the police. Again, the point is to make them know they’re being watched, make them uncomfortable, make them leave.
Depending on what you’re comfortable with, you can ask if they need help, if they’re lost, introduce yourself as the neighborhood block captain (even if you’re not, it’s ok).
Take note of the plate, or take a pic, contact neighbors to see if they are home and/or aware of what you see, and if need be, call the police.
Go and door knock your neighbor for a chat out front. Or if you see something outside, call your neighbor and have them meet you out front for a chat. And then… watch.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning to keep in mind that many of the people that we see taking pictures in the neighborhood are actual realtors, or hired by realtors, looking to prepare ‘comps’ in a neighborhood affecting the purchase or sale of the house. But regardless, anyone who comes into YOUR neighborhood should feel like they’re in a neighborhood that is cohesive and cared for and most importantly, being watched.

Best to you all,


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