With National Night out fast approaching on August 1, I’ve been thinking a lot about block clubs lately and the role they play in keeping our communities healthy. I often say that one of the best defenses against crime is a strong, healthy community in which neighbors know and look out for each other. Time and again, we find that neighborhoods that have strong interpersonal connections between residents are less vulnerable to crime and other social strife.
There are many reasons for this. First, the better you know your neighbors, the easier it is to tell if a particular activity or situation is suspicious. “Is that person looking in my neighbor’s window a relative or friend, or is it someone thinking about breaking in?” If you don’t know your neighbors you’re going to be less sure of the answer to that question, and less likely to call 911. Another example is when a burglary or other crime does occur. In neighborhoods where people are in touch with each other, word gets out that something has happened. Sharing the knowledge that a burglary has happened allows people to reflect on their own security habits, and often serves as a reminder to lock up their homes and garages, thereby reducing the opportunity for future crimes.
Healthy, strong communities also do better at supervising the kids in the neighborhood. For those of us who grew up in such communities, we knew that if we did something stupid, our parents would find out about it. The neighbor down the street would have no problem correcting us, or advising our parents if we were to do something foolish or harmful. This is much more difficult in neighborhoods without those bonds and connections between neighbors. How do you respectfully bring an errant child’s behavior to the attention of a parent if you don’t know that person? How do you even know who’s kids are whose? As a Crime Prevention Specialist I often field complaints about kids acting out in the community, but when I ask the caller if they know who the children’s parents are, or even where they live, all too often the answer is “no.”
Healthy communities also promote respect and trust between neighbors. Having respect for our neighbors and community has obvious implications for criminality in a neighborhood simply because crime is less likely to occur between individuals who respect each other. If a neighbor feels that they are a valued member of a community, they are less likely to transgress within that community. It’s also easier to victimize a stranger than someone you know. Anonymity is both a shield and a sword for the criminal. It not only protects his identity, but it makes it easier for him to dehumanize his target.
In today’s society the pressures for each of us to turn inward are enormous. It’s all too easy for us to go to work, come home, put the kids to bed, watch a little TV and turn in ourselves without giving much thought to our neighbors and our community. The (often self imposed) demands placed on families can leave little time or energy for pursuits outside the home. What passes for public discourse in the popular media doesn’t help either. Rather than a genuine exchange of ideas, we are presented with carefully crafted talking points by pundits and opinion makers who talk, or all too often shout, past each other. It may be great for ratings, but it does little to inform public opinion, or encourage us to constructively engage one another in the public square.
So what do block clubs have to do with all this? Simply put, they provide a structure for intentionally building community in neighborhoods where community is lacking. Through a block club, we can get to better know our neighbors, collectively address issues of mutual concern, and build those bridges of trust and respect that connect us to one another and the community at large. If you don’t know who your neighbors are, or if you don’t know the kids that play or congregate on your block, then you can benefit from a block club. If you feel isolated from your community, or overwhelmed by neighborhood issues, then you can benefit from a block club. If there are new residents on your block that you haven’t met yet, then you can benefit from a block club. And if you do know your neighbors, and are connected to one another as a community, a block club can help you too, by re-enforcing those bonds and facilitating community action.
If you want to start a block club, or want to know if there is one nearby, contact your neighborhood Crime Prevention Specialist. For Camden residents living north of Dowling call CPS Tim Hammett at 673-2886. Camden residents south of Dowling should call me, CPS Bill Magnuson, at 673-5778. Finally I just want to say have a safe and enjoyable National Night Out.