Little supervision on rapidly increasing neighborhood watches: report

Neighborhood watch sign
Neighborhood watch signPhoto: gabriel11/DepositPhotos

A rapidly increasing number of Dutch neighborhoods have neighborhood watch groups or apps, partly because municipalities encourage this. The problem is that the same municipalities that encourage preventative measures in neighborhoods, hardly keep an eye on what the neighborhood watch groups are doing. This regularly cause problems, researcher Vasco Lub said to NOS after reports in NRC.

Around 700 neighborhood watch patrol teams and 3,500 neighborhood apps are currently active in the Netherlands. The vast majority of these were established in the past five years. Lub investigated the neighborhood watch teams in over 200 municipalities, on behalf of the Center for Crime Prevention and Safety. 

Lub's research showed that two out of three municipalities encourage neighborhood prevention. Police and administrators think it is good that citizens are actively involved in preventing and detecting crimes in their neighborhoods. The only thing missing is prevention policy, Lub said. "Municipalities often can not explain the citizens' purpose  and that leads to the citizens themselves formulating goals", Lub said to the broadcaster.

This entails risk. Civilian guards are even being created, comparable to fighting groups, the researcher said. "In those teams or apps it is no longer about preventing burglary, but citizens want to tackle nuisance-causing youngsters. Or they want to make it impossible for collectors to enter the neighborhood." Lub mentioned examples of civilians who had tied up a suspicious person with cable ties. And citizens who had blocked a roundabout after reports of a burglar.

Because there are little to no rules, it is also not formulated within which moral frameworks neighborhood watches can operate. And this leads to risks of ethnic profiling. "There are several known cases of people who find it suspicious if someone of Turkish origin walks down the street. Or of residents who went to write down Romanian and  Polish license plates", Lub said. And if training is given, it is often only about the practical side of neighborhood watches and apps. "Such as how the reporting system works or how you deal with someone aggressive. But it is not about the question when is something or someone suspicious?"

Lub therefore recommends training in which these issues are addressed. Municipalities must also get a better overview of the groups in order to prevent the creation of civilian militias. "It's already going very far. Sometimes citizens are already deployed to do a neighborhood investigation after a burglary. There is a reason the police normally do this. A random neighbor is not always unbiased in his investigation", Lub said.

The researcher also calls for a national debate on neighborhood watches. "As a society, I think we should talk more about whether we consider the growth and development of neighborhood watches so desirable."