Community Watch


Community Watch Program

The Community Watch Program is comprised of a number of programs that are community run and police supported.  These programs are implemented where citizens are concerned about crime and where they want to take an active role in crime prevention and community safety.

Community needs determine which programs are implemented and community engagement will help sustain programs once implemented.

The Community Watch Programs can be implemented where there is a need to reduce crime and the opportunity for crime and where there are an adequate number of community volunteers that agree to form a Community Watch Committee.

Assistance in establishing a local program can be obtained from CPAC (Community Policing Advisory Council of Ontario).  CPAC will require you to obtain support from your local police partner.

This resource was developed to provide a framework for implementation information on most aspects of the various Community Run Watch programs. Included are general concepts and practices which underpin the formation, management, coordination and preservation of each program.  These general concepts are meant to be applicable to all Watches, large or small; urban, suburban or rural; whether composed of single dwellings, high-rise apartments or seasonal properties.

The core and essential component of all programs is “community commitment.”  Community volunteers run and implement these initiatives with the support of the local police service.

Typically a single incident or series of incidents trigger interest in the formation of one of these programs.   Sometime police initiate, however it is more likely that the police will be approached by a community leader for assistance.

The first steps to getting started are to identify and define needs and to identify “community leaders who will form the core implementation team.   Once the issues have been identified and decisions made on which program will be implemented you and your team are ready to get started.

The team is ready to recruit members this can be accomplished by conducting an information and awareness session, by canvassing residents or through the media or posting flyers and posters.

While each of the programs has a slightly different focus they all generally focus on

•    Reducing preventable crime and reducing residents perceptions about crime
•    Enhancing a sense of cooperation and responsibility between neighbours,
•    Encourage the reporting of crime or suspicious activity
•    Strengthen police community relationships
•    Improve the level of security in the community

The following section provides a brief overview of each component.

Business Watch
Members of the Retail Business Community focus on the reduction of shoplifting, the implementation of a Robbery Prevention Program and retail businesses conduct Security Reviews (target Hardening).  Police services may have developed Robbery Prevention Kits and Resources.

Cottage Watch
Community members and cottagers focus on the reduction of break and enter by conducting property checks.  Property is engraved “Operation Identification” and decals placed on cottages. Suspicious activity is reported to police. The Federation of Cottagers Associations forms a partnership with the local Cottage Association and police. Signs are posted.

Neighbourhood Watch
Citizens focus on community safety and reporting suspicious activity.  Decals are placed on property
Street signs are posted.

Road Watch
The focus is on traffic and personal safety. Residents and motorists report dangerous driving to police

Rural Watch
The Rural Watch program encourages people in the farming and rural communities to report anything suspicious to the police.  Unlike in urban areas where now more than ever before, neighbours don’t really know each other rural neighbours are more likely than not to know their neighbours and what vehicles they drive etc.

Acting as extra eyes and ears for the police by reporting accurate descriptions of people and vehicles acting suspiciously is the basis for the police and community working together. Every small piece of information contributes towards the whole picture. In areas where residents are keen observers, police have a better chance of making arrests and solving crimes.  Rural Watch aims to:

The Community Watch initiative is comprised of a number of individual programs under the umbrella of “Community Watch.”  Each individual program may be implemented in isolation or be combined to work with any of the other Crime Prevention programs identified here.

Community Watch involves:

•    A commitment to improve safety and security
•    A commitment to be concerned about your neighbour’s property as well as your own.  After all, a watchful neighbour is the best burglar alarm!
•    A commitment to report any crime that is occurring and any suspicious activity to the police and then to your neighbours.
•    Talking to your neighbours and keeping them abreast of current crime trends and crime prevention techniques.

Crime is of concern to citizens in cities, suburbs, towns, and rural areas.  Increasingly, citizens and police services realize that neither one can eradicate crime working separately.   Watch programs address community concerns of community safety.

The fact is that the impact on crime prevention by police services alone is minimal when compared with the power of private citizens working with police services and with each other.  When citizens take positive steps to secure their own property and neighbours learn how to report suspicious activity around their homes, break and enters and related offences decrease dramatically.

Relationships in many of today’s communities have become less personal than they were years ago.  Families are more transient, children have more activities that take them and their parents away from home, and there are more families with both parents working.

The once-familiar sight of families visiting with each other on front porches while keeping a watchful eye on children and activities in the neighbourhood is a rarity in most communities today.  This trend away from personal contact in the neighbourhood and the decrease in time families spend at home are two of the essential ingredients that make communities ripe for crimes of opportunity, such as break and enters.

Break and Enter, the unlawful entry of a structure to commit a theft, is the crime that is targeted particularly by the Neighbourhood Watch Program.  While it is one of the most prevalent and difficult crimes facing police services today, it is at the same time, the one major crime that can be effectively resisted by each citizen taking positive action at home.

Contrary to popular opinion, break and enters are not a crime restricted to urban areas.  They also occur in suburban and rural areas at an alarming rate. There are exceptions to the rising tide of crime.  Studies reveal that these exceptions are often in Watch communities, where dedicated, enthusiastic residents have been trained to notice suspicious activities and report them, not only to police, but also to each other. Statistics prove that Neighbourhood Watch works.  The success of Neighbourhood Watch stems from the ability to take away the opportunity for crime to occur.

Watch Programs are after all, hardly a new idea. In fact, they are based on one of the oldest and simplest concepts – neighbours helping neighbours and when neighbours get together and cooperate with Police Services, crime can be reduced.  Criminals have admitted that they are simply not prepared to take the added risk of working in Neighbourhood Watch protected communities.

Watch programs provides a means of reducing the opportunity for crime to occur, through the active participation of citizens in crime prevention. The programs teach citizens how they can:

•    Make their properties less inviting as a target for thieves;
•    Participate in Operation Identification;
•    Make personal property less desirable to burglars; and
•    Identify suspicious activity in the neighbourhood.

Gain a sense of security

Very few people are in a position to protect their residential and/seasonal property all the time. The Community Watch program provides a sense of security for individuals or families who leave their property for any length of time. The program will also help to co-ordinate the efforts of the police and the community in tracking down criminals. Strong community involvement is encouraged because neighbourhood unity can deter crime that threatens residents’ peace and safety.

Taking Positive Steps

Victim responses to a break and enter generally follow a similar pattern: Initial fear and anger give way to seeing the intruder caught and making sure the property is never targeted by criminals again. In the past, many victims sat back and simply hoped their homes would be spared a repeat performance. They, as well as their neighbours, worried and wondered about what they could do to protect their property.

Since the establishment of Watch Programs however, thousands of property owners who want to take intelligently planned action to decrease crime statistics in their areas have discovered that they have a ready, willing and highly qualified partner in their local police services. These homeowners now know that their police services would rather work with citizens to prevent crime than spend time investigating it after it occurs.

Watch Programs are an extension of what many are probably already doing on an informal basis. We tend to know and watch out for our closest neighbours.

Unfortunately, a group at one end of the street may not know another family who resides at the opposite end of the street. Organizing a Watch makes this attitude of watchfulness more systematic in nature.

It is not necessary for community members to perform any special tasks, go to a
Lot of meetings or take on extra responsibilities.  Community Watches just involves being alert as part of everyday duties.

Being a part of Community Watch does not require you to know your neighbour’s business.  You only need be familiar enough with your neighbours to be aware of who belongs and who doesn’t.

Community Watch isn’t just for home owners. The program can be effective in city and country settings, town homes, condominiums, mobile homes and apartment buildings as well as on streets of single family homes or in cottage country and other rural areas

In a Neighbourhood Watch Community, when citizens go to the window to open or close the drapes, instead of just opening or closing them and turning away, they are told to stop for a second and take a quick glance around their neighbourhood to ensure that everything is as it should be.

Participants in Road Watch keep their community roads safe by reporting unsafe, aggressive and dangerous driving on their streets.  In a Rural Watch Community, residents report suspicious activity whether on the road or in the community, they watch for vehicles that don’t belong or for animals being transported when it looks suspicious.

Unlike the other Watch Programs, members in a Cottage Watch actually conduct property checks and in Citizens on Patrol, participants patrol the area and report suspicious activities to police.

No matter what program is being implemented there are many common elements and considerations for implementation.

The primary objective of the Community Watch programs is to build communities of neighbours willing to protect each others’ interests.  It is a community-based crime prevention program that is organized and operated by concerned citizens. Citizens are encouraged to:

•    Become more aware of criminal activities which have or might occur in the area
•    Be alert to suspicious persons or vehicles
•    To be assertive of their right to enjoy a safe and secure neighbourhood free from crime

While Community Watch can enhance safety, it does not advocate citizen vigilantism or citizen pursuits.  Police officers are still responsible for confronting suspicious individuals and making any necessary arrests.

The result of a well-run Watch program is an atmosphere of united purpose, improved community spirit and a reduction in crime.  The success of the program relies on the involvement of the community to be aware of, and follow the program and the support of police.

The programs may be recommended by community members or a police detachment.  The local police service should not attempt to force NW programs upon a community, rather, with the help of civic, professional, social, and senior citizens’ groups, we should identify and motivate residents who can serve as organizers and coordinators in each area.

Without local police participation and support, needed programs are not likely to get off the ground and interest will wane.  Because CW programs operate with volunteers and shoestring budgets or no budgets at all, they can benefit greatly from our help.  Everyone benefits when police maintain a high level of interest in Community Watch.

Most successful CW groups engage in a wide range of activities beyond passive surveillance.  By working with them, the local police detachment and the community will share in the rewards.  Detachment personnel will be truly impressed with the initiative and responsibility that citizens demonstrate in their commitment if we encourage them and work with them.

Communities reporting decreasing crime after starting the watch program and typically praise their leaders with comments like, “Our Police Chief got our program going and has stuck with it since. It’s the best thing we’ve had happen here in a long, long time!”

It is important for the police service to set realistic and achievable goals for programs in your jurisdiction.  Identify ways to build and strengthen a strong base of community support for various Watch groups such as Neighbourhood Watch, Rural Watch and Cottage Watch.  Specifically, the police service should make every possible use of organizations existing in the community to incorporate their efforts toward the common goals.

These community groups can serve as a source of funds, human resources, and most importantly, a platform to spread the word.  The local police commander should extend a written invitation to the groups’ leaders to meet to discuss the crime prevention program, its objectives, and manner of implementation.

Remember, getting CW underway leads to other positive crime prevention activities and the enthusiasm for crime prevention is contagious.  The detachment Community Watch Coordinator should be prepared to market the program.  That is to say describe the crime problem in depth and explain why the assistance of these particular leaders is essential to an effective, responsive program the responsibility for stimulating citizens to action should rest jointly with the Community Watch Area Coordinator and the officer assigned.

Communication with Watch members is crucial to the success of the program. More than half of the Watch groups surveyed distribute newsletters for members. You can help with an ongoing system of getting the word to members on crime alerts, crime trends and patterns, or other information on criminal activity or safety that affects those in your jurisdiction.

It is also a great way for Watch Members to say in touch with their community.  They gain a sense of belonging and empowerment with their community and Watch.  In the end, Watch members feel like they are really doing something worthwhile for their neighbours, community and City as a whole.


The local police service should not attempt to force Watch programs however should be prepared to provide human resources and logistical support to support the implementation.  In most cases, large rural areas can be adequately covered with relatively few WATCH members.

It is important to set realistic and achievable goals for local programs and to identify ways to build and strengthen a strong base of community support for the NW program.  You should make every possible use of existing community resources when implementing CW as this is not a police run program.  These community groups can serve as a source of funds, resources and most importantly, a platform to spread the word.

STEP ONE – Understanding

To set up and work with the Watch program in your area, all participants must become familiar with the program itself.  They must understand the “who, what, where, when, why and how’s” of the program.

What is Community Watch?

Community crime prevention programs that can include:
•    property identification or “target hardening”
•    community patrols and involvement
•    police support
•    promotes property safety and security
•    a partnership between the local police, local residents, corporate sponsors, local governments  and support groups such as CPAC (Community Policing Advisory Council of Ontario)

Who Is Involved In Community Watch?
•    citizens
•    support groups or associations
•    police

Why Does Community Watch Work
•    reduces incidents of theft, damage, break-ins aggressive and dangerous driving
•    creates a team environment – a key to any successful program
•    increases ownership of the problem by stakeholders
•    assists the police service in crime detection and prevention
•    identifies property for easy recognition and recovery
•    creates a safe living environment and reduces fear of victimization
STEP TWO – Analysis – Obtaining Information within your community
To effectively implement a Community Watch program, you must know where to obtain the required information on your community, your area, full time and seasonal residents and available resources, statistical information on crime and road safety. Obtaining demographic and geographical information will assist in providing a clearer picture of the “who, what, when, where, why & how’s” to assist in developing your program.

Identifying the sources of support and assistance for establishing and working with the program is critical. Locating partnerships within the existing community will support the ongoing requirements and assist in sustaining the program.

•    your own knowledge of the area, neighbours, resources, problems
•    your local Municipal Office
•    your local police service
•    existing police-community partnerships
•    citizens, neighbours and visitors
•    obtain information on the programs, resource material etc. from local associations and support groups such as FOCA, Road Watch Canada, CPAC

You should identify community characteristics including:
•    demographics and geographical information
•    statistical data, victimization rates
•    occurrence rates, types
•    population – full time, seasonal residents

To be effective in the implementation of a Watch program, the need to involve other organizations, groups or businesses is critical. Many organizations are very willing to participate and are, by the nature of their work, in an excellent position to act as the eyes and ears of the police and community patrollers. Examples of such organizations are:

•    Ontario Hydro, Bell Canada, Utility Companies
•    Municipal Roads Department Workers
•    Local Real Estate Boards
•    Local Contractors, Builders Associations,
•    Landscaping Companies
•    Student and Seniors’ Organizations

What do they offer?
•      eyes and ears, community patrols
•      knowledge of available resources,
•      the area and who should be there, or shouldn’t
•      off-season support and contact for local police
•      continuity from year to year within the program

STEP THREE – Developing Infrastructure

Form a Committee, identify who is interested in participating in the program, recruit volunteers, identify a chairperson or contact person and establish a committee structure.

At this point, you will have a good idea of which groups and individuals are available or interested in participating and/or further examining the benefits of setting up a Watch program. This information will be derived from the first step (Understanding). Items for consideration at this point include:

•    establishing an organizing committee
•    identifying a chairperson or contact person
•    establishing boundaries
•    commitment for attendance at the first meeting
•    record individual and group participants
•    targeted activities with designated persons
•    responsible and completion dates
•    record agreed upon items and tasks,
•    identify next steps
•    appointing a watch steward
•    detailing proper procedures for property identification
•    procedures on community patrols
•    actions to take if you see a crime etc….

STEP FOUR- Training (Promoting Awareness)

Effective communication is an extremely vital step. In this step, you make your first and most important announcement of the Community Watch program. As in every situation, you only have one chance to make a first impression. The effective use of available media or communications venues is very important as is the message you deliver.

A number of sources can be utilized to raise awareness and promote the first meeting.  Some of these are shown below:

By the Community
•    local radio, newspapers, cable channels
•    community meetings, in newsletters
•    posters or flyers in prominent areas
•    utilities billings

By the Local Police Service
•    through community presentations
•    delivering pamphlets during investigations
•    by marine or snow vehicle patrols
•    general patrols

The Presentation

The presentation should be conducted in partnership with the local police partner and the participating organizations (e.g. CPAC, FOCA, Road Watch Canada).

Once you have arranged the meeting and have representation from many of the areas or organizations that may assist with your Watch program, it is important to inform everyone on the benefits and value of establishing such a program.

Community members should clearly understand why should they commit their time to this program.
The presentation should cover the important facts about the program. Remember to highlight the benefits to participants and the community.
Hand outs are extremely important. They allow the attendees to walk away with, not only the verbal information provided, but literature to read at a later date.

The last step prior to implementation is the training session.  Training should include information on the structure, support people, (i.e. police, volunteers, local partners), how to problem solve, running meetings, planning etc.
After the session, you are ready to commence the actual implementation of the Cottage Watch program.  All the information that you need is now available – knowledge of the program, the resources, volunteers, police support, statistics, committee structure and copies of the presentation.

Key Roles and Responsibilities

Police Service

Police Community Watch Coordinator
•    Liaison with Area Coordinator
•    Support CW implementation and maintenance
•    Share information as appropriate

Community Group

Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator
•    Overall coordination of Watch Program
•    Liaison with Police CW Coordinator
•    Receive and log information from Area Coordinators
•    Coordinating Fund Raising

Area Coordinator
•    Receive and log information from Zone Coordinators/Co-Coordinators. Communicate relevant information received to other Zone Coordinators and Co-Coordinators.
•    Circulate newsletters each year to maintain interest.
•    Keep Zone Coordinators and Co-Coordinators lists up to date by recruiting as a vacancy occur.
•    Communicate with Watch Coordinator

Zone Coordinator
The Coordinators job is to act as a liaison between the residents within their area and the Area Coordinator.  It is not a huge time commitment or a lot of work. If break and enters, acts of vandalism or other situations occur; the Zone Coordinator reports the incident to the CW Coordinator who then alerts the Police and other Zone Coordinators if required

•    Communicate with neighbours in the zone to become familiar with usual house patterns
•    Report information received from homeowners to Area Coordinator
•    Communicate relevant information to occupants in the zone
•    Encourage new neighbours to become involved in the Watch.
•    Distribute stickers

Zone Co-Coordinator
•    Back up for the Zone Coordinator.
•    A second phone contact in case of emergency.

Watch Member
•    Know general house patterns of neighbours, particularly in the immediate zone.
•    Report suspicious events as they are happening first to police. Dial 911 and then the Zone Coordinator.
•    Be a good neighbour by getting involved and by being aware. Report unusual or suspicious events to the police immediately and then to your Area Leader of your Watch.

Implementation Support

The Community Policing Advisory Council of Ontario (CPAC) is here to help you get started.

Mission Statement:

“CPAC will act as a catalyst for the development and delivery of community policing in Ontario through linkages and partnerships with policing, community groups and agencies throughout the Province of Ontario.”

CPAC can assist by pointing you in the right direction, linking you to other organizations such as FOCAA and Road Watch Canada.  Implementation manuals and additional resources are available to CPAC members.

Register with Community Policing Advisory Council of Ontario (CPAC)