Committee Reports::Report No. 01 - Neighbourhood Watch as a Scheme for Community Involvement in Policing::27 March, 1984::Report

The crime problem and the Committee’s approach

1The extent of the increase in crime in recent years has become a major source of concern for all members of our community. The scope of the problem is evidenced by the number of individual crimes reported to the Gardai. These numbers have increased from just under 40,000 in 1973 to approximately 97,000 in 1982 (the last year for which figures are available). In the same period the detection rate fell from 49% to 34%.

1.2While there has been an unquestionable increase in crime in rural areas, the problem is of particular concern in urban areas and especially in the Dublin Metropolitan Area because of the concentration of population. For example, the D.M.A. accounts for about two-thirds of recorded crime even though it has only one-third of the total population; only one-third of the establishment of the Garda Síochána are stationed in this Area.

1.3According to the annual reports of the Garda Commissioner, which he presents to the Minister for Justice, a large proportion of crime is committed by persons under 21 years of age. The number of persons convicted in 1982, who were under 21 years of age, represented almost 50% of the total; the number under 17 years of age accounted for about 17% of the total number convicted - this shows a decrease in comparison with previous years where the proportion varied between 22% and 25%.

1.4At its meeting on 6th October 1983, the Committee reviewed the serious and ever continuing increase in crime and decided to invite the Garda Commissioner to brief its members on this situation. The Committee had decided that particular attention should be paid to those aspects where the community could assist the Gardai in a joint effort to combat the ever increasing crime figures.

1.5Following discussions with the Commissioner at a meeting on 27th October, the Committee decided to concentrate immediately and initially on the subject of Community Policing because of its implications for all members of our community, both young and old and to prepare an urgent report on this topic. Subsequently the Assistant Commissioner and Chief Superintendent responsible for community relations were then invited to discuss systems of community policing, with particular regard to the Neighbourhood Watch scheme, at a meeting on 6th December, 1983. Because of its importance, the Committee had to consider this topic further at a number of subsequent meetings.

1.6The Committee informed the Garda Authorities of their interest in the Neighbourhood Watch scheme and of their intention to report to the Dáil on this matter. On 28th November 1983, officers from the Community Relations Section of the Garda Síochána addressed a meeting of representatives of residents associations in Finglas, Dublin. The response of the representatives was favourable and they agreed to canvass the area to ascertain the views of the community. The level of interest in the scheme was considered satisfactory and the Garda authorities and the residents associations decided, at a further meeting on 8th January 1984, to proceed with the introduction of a pilot scheme of Neighbourhood Watch in the Finglas area. This will be the first official trial of the system in Ireland. Further schemes are planned for Cork and Limerick.

Neighbourhood Watch explained

1Neighbourhood Watch is a scheme which enlists the active support and assistance of the public in preventing crime. It increases the public’s awareness of crime and of the potential for criminal activity in neighbourhoods. The system is designed to provide an organised and structured approach for community involvement in crime prevention.

2.2There are six aspects to membership of a scheme and the role of its members namely,

(i)to observe and report to the Gardai any suspicious activity in a specific area,

(ii)to be a good citizen by assisting others to create a situation where potential criminals are unlikely to have an opportunity to commit crime in the immediate community of one’s neighbour,

(iii)to take basic security precautions to make it difficult for potential criminals to realise their intentions,

(iv)to mark all moveable property and possessions as part of the Property Identification Scheme,

(v)to inform the Gardai of any information on actual or suspected criminal activity, and

(vi)to ensure that no ready market exists for stolen goods.

2.3While it is fundamental to this Scheme that its members do not take any physical action or become actively involved in any incident, it remains permissible, for example, for all citizens to act in self-defence.

4The scheme is specifically aimed at dealing with petty or opportunist crime and vandalism. This includes a considerable proportion of specific crimes i.e. burglary, larceny, unauthorised taking of motor vehicles, larceny from unattended vehicles, and receiving stolen goods which account for a substantial proportion of the total number of reported crimes. For instance, in 1982 the number of indictable crimes was approximately 97,000 of which burglary accounted for 32,000, larceny from unattended vehicles 20,000 and other larcenies, including handbag snatching, about 30,000. In addition, almost 22,000 cases of unauthorised taking of motor vehicles were reported to the Gardai. Of the total value of goods stolen in 1982, which was estimated at about £29 million, only about £2 million was recovered. Even allowing for probable over-estimation in the value of stolen goods the proportion (7%) recovered is very small.

Experience elsewhere

The scheme of Neighbourhood Watch has now operated in the United States of America for some years and it has proved to be an extremely useful and effective means of preventing crime. Its success appears to have varied from area to area with quite substantial reductions in crime, in some areas up to as high as 60% while other areas have had a much smaller reduction in the number of reported offences. It is to be noted that, after a few years of maintaining a successful scheme, a tendency may develop on the part of members to reduce their commitment resulting in an again increasing crime level.

3.2This Scheme was introduced very recently in England and initial reports indicate that it appears to be working satisfactorily. In the London Metropolitan Police District about seventy schemes have been in operation over the last 6 months and a further two hundred are at the planning stage.

3.3The Committee consider that this type of scheme could yield significant results in terms of combatting the rising crime level experienced here in recent years. In order to succeed, it will be essential that the public, whom the scheme is designed to serve and protect, give the scheme their full support and that there be a very real commitment on their part to assist the Gardai who have the primary responsibility for dealing with criminal activity.

Role of Members

Members of a Neighbourhood Watch scheme will:

(a)maintain a day-to-day interest and awareness of developments and activity within the neighbourhood,

(b)get to know the neighbours so as to be in a position to recognise unusual or suspicious activity,

(c)report any unusual or suspicious activity to the Gardai,

(d)keep the key for their neighbour’s house while it is unoccupied,

(e)take precautions when their house is unoccupied,

(f)make arrangements to keep a close eye on a neighbour’s house which may be unoccupied for a short period,

(g)take precautions to improve the physical security of their property,

(h)keep a record of the serial numbers of their property (where appropriate),

(i)mark property as part of the Property Identification Scheme.

These matters are dealt with in greater detail in paragraph 5 of this report.

Practical examples of role of members

The Committee has considered the many practical ways in which members of the scheme can play an effective role, for example, by:

.2Maintaining a day-to-day interest and awareness of developments and activity within the neighbourhoods:

members should report any instances of public lighting being out of order. Darkness creates the perfect cover for criminal activity.

5.3Getting to know the neighbours so as to be in a position to recognise unusual or suspicious activity:

if a neighbour’s house is unoccupied during the day, for example when the occupants are at work, members should be in a position to contact one of the occupants in the event of an emergency;

members should become aware if a neighbour is planning to move to another area; many crimes have been committed during the day by a removals van calling to a house, removing the entire contents and driving away without any neighbour being aware of what actually was taking place.

5.4 Reporting any unusual or suspicious activity:

members should be alert to the fact that casual callers to a house may not be genuine;

persons acting suspiciously near houses and motor cars, should be watched.

Keeping the key of a neighbour’s house while it is unoccupied particularly during holiday periods:

generally ensure as often as possible in respect of unoccupied houses that:-

-no newspapers or other evidence that the house is unoccupied is evident.

-all doors and windows to the house and to sheds, garages and outhouses are secure.

-you are inquisitive when anyone calls telling them that you are in charge and establishing their credentials.

if you are suspicious of any incident or of any caller, report it to the Gardai.

5.6Taking precautions when one’s own house is unoccupied:

notify local Garda Station at least 24 hours before departure.

supply Gardai with address of destination and telephone number as well as the names and addresses of persons likely to call during one’s absence.

arrange with trusted neighbour to keep an eye on the house and to report anything unusual or suspicious to the Gardai as quickly as possible.

cancel deliveries of, for example, bread, milk and newspapers. Postal Authorities will withhold mail deliveries on question though some citizens may rather have their mail delivered in the normal way and have a neighbour take it from the hallway.

make provision for any house pets.

ensure that all ladders, garden implements and tools are securely under lock.

secure all outhouses, including garage.

do not draw curtains, place sheets over furniture or do anything to suggest that the house is unoccupied.

owners of firearms and ammunition should take special precautions to ensure the security of these articles.

lodge valuables in your Bank or in a secure floor safe.

do not leave notes for tradesmen, or any other such indication that the house is temporarily unoccupied.

secure all outer doors, windows, skylights, fanlights and cellar openings, and take keys away. Do not lock furniture or it may be damaged on criminal entry. Locking of interior doors will depend on such factors as the type and location of the dwelling, as well as the degree of criminal activity in the area - be guided here by local Gardai; and finally

notify the Garda Station when occupation is resumed.

.7Keeping a close eye on any house unoccupied for a short period:

Be aware of any instances where a neighbour’s house may be unoccupied for a short period and where it is, or may be, known that the house will be unoccupied. This could happen during weddings or funerals and arrangements should be made for special attention to be directed to that property during the period when it is unoccupied e.g. a neighbour may stay in the house during a funeral or wedding.

8Taking precautions to improve the physical security of property:

The House

In relation to houses, steps should be taken to make it extremely difficult for a thief to gain access. This would involve, for example, consideration of the need to fit window locks, mortice-type locks on external doors, safety chains to external doors and door view-finders. In addition, it may be desirable to fit an outside light at the front and rear of the house.

The car

The other major property item in many households is the motor car. The nature of the locks on most motor vehicles is such that they do not deter the potential thief. Members should take steps to improve the security of their vehicles. While the precise steps will be a matter for each individual, the necessity to take such action, however simple or crude it may appear, cannot be over-emphasised. Any obstacle placed in the way of the thief will be a deterrent. Members may consider the installation of an alarm system, a fuel cut-off mechanism, or simply a chain tied around the brake and clutch pedals and the steering wheel; other preventative steps could include the removal of some vital piece of the starting mechanism as, for example, the rotar-arm in the distributor cap.

5.9Keeping a record of the serial number of all property:

Where appropriate the serial numbers of all property should be recorded and kept separately, perhaps with an insurance company or bank.

5.10Marking property as part of the Property Identification Scheme:

All moveable property could be marked with an individual code. This is done by using a pen with invisible ink which can only be read under an ultra-violet lamp.

Each member could use their date of birth followed by their initials as the code number. [This code will have to be given to the Gardai who will keep a master record. For persons who may be reluctant to supply such information it is not essential that the correct date of birth be given but persons must keep a note of the number supplied].

The marking of such property can be done using material supplied by the Garda Síochána.

While the marking of property is no guarantee against theft, it is a method of assisting the Gardai in tracing the owners of recovered property. However, if a burglar is aware that items are so marked, he is less likely to attempt to burgle as it is then too easy to trace the goods to their rightful owner. Handlers and receivers of stolen goods, often referred to as “fences”, will also be more reluctant to deal in marked goods.

In the case of property which cannot be adequately marked, a photograph should be taken. In any event a photograph of property will be very helpful in its subsequent description and identification on recovery.

It is advisable to etch the registration number of a motor vehicle on its windows.

How to commence and operate a scheme

1The initiative for the introduction of a scheme must come from residents of an area. If any individual resident or residents association considers that they would be interested in operating a scheme in their neighbourhood, they should discuss it initially with others in the area to establish if there is a general interest in the matter.

.2If any group are interested in such a scheme they should approach their local residents association who should contact the community relations officer attached to the local Garda Station. This officer will address a meeting of representatives of all local interested groups or organisations on the purpose and operation of the scheme. If interest is then expressed in proceeding further with a scheme, arrangements will be made by the officer to provide an explanatory leaflet and questionnaire for distribution to all residents. These should be distributed through the local residents association or, in the absence of such, by any other established and reputable organisation operating there.

6.3The purpose in distributing the leaflet and questionnaire is to explain the Scheme and its operation and to ascertain and quantify the extent of interest amongst residents. Completed questionnaires should be collected and the replies analysed to establish the interest level. If a scheme is to have any real prospect of success there would need to be a favourable response from at least 50% of residents. This response will be considered by the group representatives in liaison with the Gardai and, if they are satisfied that the response is satisfactory, a decision in principle can be made to proceed with the scheme.

A public meeting should be organised by the group representatives. The Garda Officer would address this meeting, explain what is involved in Neighbourhood Watch and answer any questions that may be raised.

6.5This public meeting should then proceed to agree to establish a Local Crime Prevention Committee which would be responsible for the introduction and operation of the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme and for other local crime prevention initiatives.

6.6Once it is decided to introduce a Scheme, all residents in the area should be so advised. This task falls to “Street Co-ordinators” (see paragraph 7.4) who will distribute a notice together with Neighbourhood Watch stickers for each householder to place on his windows. Stickers should state simply that the house is in a Neighbourhood Watch area and that neighbours are alert to the likelihood of possible criminal activity.

6.7The Street Co-ordinators will assist with the Property Identification Scheme. The equipment for this may be made available by the Gardai to the Committee who will transmit it to the Street Co-ordinators who will be required to advise the members in their area how to operate the scheme (Paragraph 5.9 of this Report refers) and to ensure that the equipment is passed from household to household as quickly as possible and returned to the Area Co-ordinator or passed to another Street Co-ordinator as agreed.

Local Crime Prevention Committees

.1It is considered essential that Local Crime Prevention Committees be established in areas where the community are to have a formalised role in the prevention of crime. The first such initiative is likely to be in the form of a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme.

.2The Local Crime Prevention Committee would be responsible for

(i)the introduction of a Scheme of Neighbourhood Watch,

(ii)ensuring continued interest and commitment to the on-going operation of such a Scheme,

(iii)providing a formalised means of communication between the Gardai and the community,

(iv)ensuring co-operation between various agencies operating within their area,

(v)taking the initiative in the field of local crime prevention by encouraging co-operation in dealing with localised problems and ideas,

(vi)considering the type and cause of crime in individual areas.

7.3The members of the Committee should be drawn from such various groups as exist in the locality and should include representatives from, for example,

(i)Residents Associations,

(ii)elected representatives either from central and/or local Government,

(iii)official social organisations operating in the area, for example, Social Workers, Health Board Community Care Officers and Local Authority Officers involved in community activities,

(iv)voluntary groups including those catering specifically for the young and the elderly,

(v)Chamber of Commerce,

(vi)Trade Unions,


(viii)Local Gardai especially Community relations staff and Juvenile Liaison Officer.

.4While these representatives would participate in the Committee, it would be necessary for them to have the assistance of Street Co-ordinators with responsibility for a specific number of houses, flats, or property. The area to be covered should be such that the person so appointed can liaise closely with the residents of that area. These persons would be responsible for:

(i)overall organising of the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme in their immediate area,

(ii)maintaining an active interest of members in the scheme,

(iii)organising and arranging meetings for members,

(iv)acting as a means of communication between the residents and the Committee and vice versa.

These street co-ordinators could be appointed either by the residents at the public meeting or could be persons called upon by the Committee to assist it in its activities. These persons would work under the general supervision of the Crime Prevention Committee, the Chairman of which would act as Area Co-ordinator.

7.5These Committees should control and co-ordinate the setting-up of any Civilian Observations Patrols (Paragraph 10 of this Report refers)

7.6It is essential for the success of any scheme of community involvement in policing that citizens be able to communicate quickly with the Gardai. There may be a difficulty in this respect in certain areas where there is a lack of public and private telephones. The Crime Prevention Committees should consider this problem and discuss it with the relevent authorities.

In the context of local crime prevention initiatives, the Committee consider that the Crime Prevention Committees should give special consideration to the needs of the elderly. They could, for example, look at the question of having special alarm facilities which elderly persons could use and which would result in a quick response to their calls for assistance.

Membership of these Committees, in particular, the position as Chairman, should rotate from time to time.

Such Committees should produce a short report, on an annual basis, of their activities. Copies of these reports should be made available to the Community Relations Section, Garda Headquarters which would have overall responsibility for the development of community involvement activities.

Role of Garda Síochána under Scheme

While initially the Garda Authorities should create an awareness of the concept and potential of community involvement in policing, the Committee consider that the Gardai should act mainly as a support to any local community considering the introduction of a scheme of Neighbourhood Watch rather than be the prime motivators. However, once an initial approach has been made the Gardai should provide full support and make available the necessary resources to ensure that any proposed Scheme is implemented as quickly and effectively as possible.

The Gardai must ensure that they can meet any increased demands made on them once a scheme is introduced, as any evidence of inability by the Gardai to provide the required back-up service will cause the scheme to fail in its objective; people will be less likely to make the effort to assist the Gardai if they cannot see a quick response to their calls.

Within the Garda Siochana there must be a full commitment on the part of members of the Force, to the development of community-based social crime prevention methods such as the Neighbourhood Watch scheme.

In order to enable the Gardai to meet the extra demands on their services, there must be a specific commitment to provide them with the necessary resources. The Committee are very concerned that there may not be sufficient manpower on the beat, enough telephone lines into Garda Stations in Dublin City or adequate transport to respond to calls for assistance. It may be advisable to have a separate line or lines for calls from members of Neighbourhood Watch Schemes. In order to ensure the success of community policing schemes, the Government should consider the allocation of a specific sum of money for the immediate development of such schemes. Such resources should be provided in a Community Policing Budgetary allocation.

As the public are being asked to become more active in assisting the Gardai to combat crime there must be a clear commitment on the part of the Oireachtas to make the resources available so as to secure the support of citizens and the success of community policing schemes.

The function of training members of the Scheme as to its requirements will fall to the Gardai. This may be handled on different levels, namely,

(i)the initial meetings with representatives of organisations in an area will provide a platform for a clear statement of the concept of Neighbourhood Watch and of the respective roles of the members operating the scheme and of the Gardai,

(ii)the public meeting for members will provide a second opportunity for detailing the operation of the scheme,

(iii)the street co-ordinators should organise local meetings of members in their area at which a Garda Officer can discuss in detail how the scheme operates. These meetings would constitute the basic training for participation in the Neighbourhood Watch scheme and it is at this stage that members would discuss and learn in detail what to report and how to report it to the Gardai.

6The Committee consider it essential that both the public and the members of the Force be fully familiar with the concept and potential of Neighbourhood Watch and of their respective roles. In this connection the Gardai may require basic and in-service training in community relations.

7The Gardai should also consider visiting schools to explain to young people the concept of community involvement in policing.

Disposal of stolen property

It is an astonishing fact that the total value of goods stolen in 1982 amounted to about £29 million in value and yet only £2 million of goods was recovered. Even when an allowance is made for the probability that the total amount reported as stolen may have been overstated and that a proportion of the total figure comprises actual cash, it is obvious that there is a ready and structured organisation or method for disposing of valuables.

.2The public must realise that, where some individuals provide an outlet for the disposal of stolen goods, they are actively contributing to the increasing crime levels. As citizens we have a duty to report any instances where goods are proferred for sale at ridiculously low prices, frequently, on the basis of some pretext. This is also pertinent in the case of owners of businesses, who sell such goods over the counter and thereby make substantial profits. If this market for stolen goods could only be denied to the criminals there would be a substantial reduction in the level of crime in this area.

. Civilian Observation Patrols

.1The recent trend of residents, in particular areas, patrolling the streets and taking an active part in efforts to combat crime was also considered and discussed in depth by the Committee. The Committee is adamant that there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between groups of concerned citizens and vigilantes. The former take upon themselves, what might be termed a Civilian Observation Patrol, where they walk around the streets or community property and report any suspicious activity to the Gardai. Vigilantes on the other hand take the law into their own hands. This latter type of activity cannot be tolerated and the Gardai must get on top of such situations as quickly as possible. Failure to do so will most likely lead to an increase in vigilante numbers and their activities.

10.2In relation to the Civilian Observation Patrols, the Committee holds the view that, while caution must be exercised in giving official approval to any such group, the goodwill and energy of the persons involved should be harnessed by the Garda authorities. Such groups already operate and the Committee considers that the Gardai should become actively involved in their activities and should ensure that they are directed towards assisting the Gardai in the maintenance of law and order. The Gardai should ensure that they are not manipulated by unscrupulous persons or give way to organised protection rackets.

10.3In so far as vigilantes are concerned the Committee is opposed to any activities which have the effect of any section of the public taking upon itself the role of surrogate law-enforcers. Any such likely group should be closely monitored by the Gardai and action taken to ensure that they do not operate outside the law. Where possible, every effort should be made to change their character and purpose from those of vigilante to Civilian Observation Patrol. The Gardai must be encouraged to become more active in giving a lead to our citizens in the continuing fight against crime.

.4It is essential that citizens take no action other than to observe and to report any suspicious or criminal activity to the Gardai. Indeed, if citizens wish to participate in Civilian Observation Patrols and are to observe and report any criminal activity, then it is obviously apparent and advisable, not only in their own interests but in those of the community at large, that they should be required by the Gardai to work under approved rules and regulations. Such a proposed set of rules is suggested in Appendix A.

.5Any operation of Civilian Observation Patrol should be co-ordinated not only by the Gardai but also by the local Crime Prevention Committee. This emphasises the urgency for the establishment of Crime Prevention Committees to cover areas where special problems exist so that all local activities can be centrally co-ordinated and controlled and fitted into a structured approach to the overall concept of community policing.

Recommendations of the Committee

The Committee wishes to emphasise that the Oireachtas and the central and local authorities must fully commit themselves to the concept of community involvement in policing by ensuring that the required resources are made available. Adequate finance must be provided to ensure that

(i)the Gardai have the manpower, communication facilities and transport to enable them to respond to the extra demands which will be made on their services,

(ii)local authorities are in a position to react quickly and positively to any proposals which will make it more difficult for criminals to pursue their activities.

2The Committee recommends that:-

(i)The Government should consider the allocation of a specific estimated amount of money for the immediate development of Community Policing Programmes. The problem of crime, lawlessness and vandalism is now so great in some of our communities that the necessary resources must be provided through a Community Policing Budgetary allocation for use by the Gardai and local authorities.

(ii)the introduction of a nationwide scheme of Neighbourhood Watch should be a fundamental objective of the community working with the active encouragement and support of the Garda Authorities and the members of the Force.

(iii)no scheme should be introduced unless the Gardai are satisfied that it is likely to prove to be successful.

(iv)the Garda Commissioner should take the initiative in ensuring that the public are made aware of the Neighbourhood Watch Scheme and of what it is designed to achieve.

(v)the training of members of a scheme is essential to its success and the Gardai should take the initiative in ensuring that they are fully trained in their role as members. There is also a need for adequate basic and in-service training of Gardai in community relations.

(vi)the Garda Authorities should take the initiative to introduce Civilian Observation Patrol Programmes so that groups of concerned citizens would operate with full Garda supervision and support within a framework of rules and regulations. The Garda Authorities should control the tenendy in certain areas towards vigilante activity. Such a move should be twofold, namely,

(a)try to redirect such activities towards a Civilian Observation Patrol Programme, and,

(b)use Garda resources to prevent vigilante activity from taking place. Citizens should bring to the attention of the Gardai any vigilante groups or activity.

(vii)Crime Prevention Committees should be established in any area where Neighbourhood Watch is introduced. Such a Committee would be representative of all local interests and would be responsible for other local crime prevention initiatives. These Committees would also co-ordinate the Civilian Observation Patrols.

11.3The Committee wishes to stress that citizens can assist the Gardai more fully by becoming members of community policing schemes and that the public must play its part in observing and reporting criminal activity to the Gardai. There will have to be a new realisation that the Gardai themselves cannot be expected to deal with the present crime levels and the only way that this problem can be tackled is by a structured involvement of the whole community.

11.4Even with suitable backing and resources, the Neighbourhood Watch system may only be appropriate and succeed in certain communities and areas. The Committee will consider and report in due course on other forms of Community policing. It will be particularly concerned to study the wide application of the concept of community policing to modern day Garda operations and will include, for example, the possibility of having the same Garda on the one beat so as to be readily identified with the community, the effectiveness of deployment policies and the training needs of the Force.


.1The Committee would wish to see an early introduction of Neighbourhood Watch on a nationwide basis. They feel that this type of scheme represents a real opportunity to improve community relations and that it would be a significant step forward in combatting crime.

2.2This report is the Committee’s first under its orders of reference and it is intended to help to prevent crime, lawlessness and vandalism. The Committee will now proceed to consider other areas, but will in the meantime, keep watch on developments in the area of community policing and may report further to the Dail as soon as adequate experience has been gained of the operation of the scheme.


.1The Committee wishes to acknowledge the assistance given by Mr F. J. Brady the Clerk to the Committee and by the Oireachtas Staff; by Commissioner L. Wren, Assistant Commissioner D. Leahy, Chief Superintendents J. Mitchell and O. Giblin and Superintendent T. O’Reilly; by the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, the members of the media for coverage of its activities and by the representatives of residents’ associations in Finglas who briefed the Committee on their experience in relation to Neighbourhood Watch.

Michael Woods


27 March, 1984.