In September of this year, a housing report revealed that a record 73.9 million Americans were living in communities with an HOA or condominium board.  The numbers don’t lie, the people have spoken and they want to live within the confines of a covenant controlled community.  One of the biggest draws of  living in one of these planned communities is the sense of security and safety that it promises.  We are taken back to the dreamy idealism of the 1950s, and the dawn of the suburbs.  We are captivated by the promise of contentment and self-satisfaction that came with homeownership and realization of the American dream.  Whether it be nostalgia or simple practicality, we strive to propagate the idea of the safe, quiet neighborhood, where children can play outside into the evening and doors are left unlocked (this is not actually suggested, but a nice sentiment, nonetheless).  While this picture is easy to paint in our collective imagination, is there a way to make it a reality?  How can we create safe communities?

What can the Community do to Encourage Safety?

Neighborhood Watch?                                                                                             For some, the mention of  the “neighborhood watch” brings to mind a vision middle-aged men, patrolling neighborhood streets at dusk, inflated sense of self-importance in hand.  While this cartoonish depiction is not without some grain of truth, many adamantly contend that the implementation of a neighborhood watch can help to maintain security within a community.  And there is, in fact, some evidence to support this.  The National Neighborhood Watch is a nation-wide (as the name would suggest) organization, originally formed in 1972.  It is a division of the National Sheriffs’ Organization, in conjunction with the Department of Justice.  The program’s website states that its goal is to “...empower citizens to become active in community efforts through participation in Neighborhood Watch groups.”  It is important to know that the watch itself has no legal authority, but rather, works closely with local law enforcement with the goal of reducing crime.  That being said, the main focus of the watch is preventative, stopping crime BEFORE it occurs, and (secondly) having multiple sets of eyes  within the neighborhood that can alert officers, should they actually see a crime taking place.  

It is paramount to understand, however, that due to legal liability, the HOA, as an entity should not have an official relationship with the neighborhood watch, but rather, the two should be separate, yet work side by side for the greater good of the community.  

Always Watching                                                                                                     Many homeowners are installing home monitoring systems like Amazon’s Ring and Nest.  In addition to being able to catch a criminal, on video, in the act of committing their nefarious deeds, the companies that peddle these systems suggest that their existence alone drives down crime.  They tout that simply installing one of these devices serves to deter a delinquent, in that criminals are less likely to target homes that they can see have this equipment in place, thus thwarting their evil efforts before they can even begin.  These systems can provide peace of mind to the homeowner, but can serve the larger community as well.  Apps created to sync with these systems enable members to share alerts and video within their communities, allowing safety information to be quickly spread among individuals living close to one another.  More and more recently, law enforcement is calling on owners of these systems to submit footage if they suspect that these cameras may have captured evidence or other useful information in the solving of a crime.  

Won’t you be my Neighbor?                                                                         Arguably, the easiest, and most effective way to create a safe community is establishing connections and relationships between neighbors.  When the people living within a community take pride in it, they are far more likely to have a greater awareness of what takes place, and a greater propensity to take note of, and then report suspicious activity.  When neighbors take care of each other, by removing newspapers from front steps, or moving trash and recycling bins when someone is out of town, etc., they reduce perceived opportunity for crime (would-be burglars look for signs like these that signify a home may be empty), thereby keeping their neighborhood safe (and generally being good humans), without much effort at all.  
What Can The HOA Do?

Work with the Watch                                                                                                 As stated before, the association should not create or manage the neighborhood watch.  The watch is a volunteer organization that should be formed by the members of a community.  However, the two entities can work together in effective ways.  Members of the watch, because they are also members of the community,  can approach the board, at appropriate times during meetings, to report on any observed or potential security issues or suggestions that would increase the safety of residents.  This could include a review of landscaping, fencing or even the suggestion of security cameras.  

Information is Key                                                                                                   The HOA can create a community safety guide, that can be published online, on the association’s website and printed for new residents, that can include important safety information.  This should include phone numbers, emails and any additional contact and pertinent information for the closest emergency services, services such hospitals, emergency rooms, police and sheriff's departments, fire department, etc.  

Class is in Session                                                                                                   Host community meetings, or webinars (in the time of social distancing), and invite local law enforcement and/or community figures to educate the neighborhood about important and relevant safety measures.  Topics could include safe trick-or-treating protocols, summer safety tips, home security, etc.  These types of gatherings serve to educate members of the community, and provide important information, as well as creating a venue for homeowners to connect with each other and local law enforcement and first responders.

We all want to feel safe in our homes and in our neighborhoods.  With a little awareness and cooperation, we can all do our own little part to make our communities safer, and better places to live.  

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