Waning participation is threatening the College Park Neighborhood Watch program, and officials hope several changes, including an online component, will increase involvement.
“During the past year and a half, we found that the model of the Neighborhood Watch we were using just wasn’t responsive or drawing people out of their homes to meetings,” said Robert Boone, chairman of the program’s steering committee.
Neighborhood Watch is a national program implemented by communities to train and focus volunteers in identifying and reporting crime. College Park’s Neighborhood Watch program has been in existence since 1997.
In 2011, the council voted to switch from having one leader for the program to having a three-person steering committee, in hopes of increasing involvement. However, two years later, recruitment has not improved, Boone said.
Boone didn’t have exact numbers on membership, but said attendance at Neighborhood Watch meetings has declined in the past few years.
College Park has six neighborhood programs in Berwyn, Calvert Hills, Cherry Hill, College Park Woods, Lakeland and West Hollywood, according to the city’s website. Boone said participation varies by neighborhood.
One of the committee’s proposals involves the use of a free website, “Nation of Neighbors,” at http://www.nationofneighbors.com. The website, run by volunteers with a West Virginia Neighborhood Watch program, lets members anonymously file crime reports that are shared with other community members and law enforcement, according to the site.
Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) expressed concern that the online aspect would reduce face-to-face contact.
“I don’t want it to take the place of neighbor-to-neighbor contact and people talking to each other,” Wojahn said.
Boone stressed the website is intended as a “digital add-on to whatever is established in the community.” He said many people now interact primarily online.
Boone said block captains and patrols will continue, but for communities with less participation, the website could increase involvement.
Another recommendation is to increase the steering committee to five members, with one appointee from each of College Park’s four wards, appointed by the City Council, and one at-large member, appointed by the mayor.
Councilman Marcus Afzali (Dist. 4) questioned whether the council could find five people for the steering committee, given the difficulty of finding members in the past. All committee members are volunteers.
Robert Ryan, College Park’s public safety director, replied that the change would help spread the responsibility.
“Historically, we’ve had single people, volunteers, trying to lead Neighborhood Watch citywide, and the best people get burned out after a couple of years. We’re hoping to prevent burnout,” he said.
The council will consider a resolution to adopt the committee’s recommendations at a future meeting.