Neighborhood Watch and Civic Involvement – Good for Your HealthUnfortunately, crime is the best recruiter for neighborhood watch groups.  Mobilizing your neighborhood and knowing your neighbors is something that goes by the wayside until the community has been hit with a barrage of crime.  Why is this the case?

Have we all forgotten the empirical rule of life: people need each other?  Do you know all of your neighbors?  Can you depend on them for help? As a police officer who has worked in the community policing unit and has spoken to hundreds at community events, it seems that people only come together when there is something to complain or worry about.  It is time to engineer communities towards sustained positive action.

Law enforcement has progressed to a profession that goes beyond simple enforcement.  Our duty is to build better communities through education and engineering.  We form better communities by focusing on the good of such groups.  The best part of socializing with your neighbors is the improvement of your block and the extension of your life.

Dr  Stuart Wolf  performed a study in Roseto, Pennsylvania which will undoubtedly lead you to the understanding of the essential need for others.  This story went mainstream in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (2008).  The fascinating allure to this town for Dr. Wolf was that heart disease in residents under the age of 65 was rare.  Mortality rates for heart disease was half that of the average American.

An extensive research was done to try to figure out what made this town so unique. Diets, exercise, location, and genes were all ruled out, which made the research team press harder for answers.  As they surveyed the town, they noticed how the town members interacted with one another.  They spent time together and the whole social structure of the community was connected.  In a town of approximately 2,000 people, there were over 20 different civic organizations.  The entire town took care of each other in an inviting social atmosphere.  To add icing on the cake, there were no reported suicides, alcoholism, nor drug addiction, while the crime rate was very low.

Another compelling reason to be involved in your neighborhood is for the sake of our personal duty.   I was once advised by a college professor about the 7 dimensions of life: family, work, spiritual activity, physical fitness, leisure activity, growth and development, and COMMUNITY.

We constantly struggle with balance in our lives.  We all write it off because we are “too busy.”  But if we truly want a better neighborhood, we need to be involved in many ways to enhance the vigor of these groups.  Therefore it is essential to reach out to your neighbors and get to know each other.  It does not mean to hand over your diary to the man next door, but we must respect each other enough to take the courageous act to connect.

Have you ever been the new kid at a school?  If you have, you know how stressful it is.  If you have not, those kids are entering an environment with nothing, which is a very stressful situation.  So equate being the new kid who knows no one to being a loner on your block.

Over time, the stress of social isolation will burden you, possibly without you even knowing it.  Why would we want to be empty in our own living area?  Outside of the health effects community involvement has on your life, think about the other positive benefits.

People feel more secure when they know that they have others around them who share their goals and care about their progress.  This can ignite others to be better leaders, parents, and citizens.  We also can play a part in the development of responsible adolescents who ultimately look to adults for guidance.  If everyone is turning their cheek, how do we expect juveniles in our neighborhoods to succeed?

While the biggest call goes to community members in engaging each other for better communities, law enforcement agencies are not without a part.  If your agency is not participating in community-oriented policing to some degree, the first question is why.

Law enforcement agencies that participate in community oriented policing have a higher satisfaction rating.  As leadership professional C.K. Prahalad once said, “All solutions that work must be locally responsive.  There is no universal silver bullet.”  In community oriented policing terms, law enforcement has to develop solutions that are tailor-made for the situation at hand.  If the police do not think of neighborhood issues with the three lenses in mind (enforcement, education, engineering), the problem repeatedly walks in and out of a saloon door.

In a world where businesses depend on collaboration and partnerships for success, our communities suffer if we are not deploying the same types of resources to their fundamental structure.  Crime shouldn’t dictate the terms of you knowing your neighbors.  Let the new relationships enhance your wellness while you check the “community” box to the dimensions of your life.

Sgt. Brian Ellis serves with the Sacramento Police Department. He is a 15-year veteran who has worked in a number of specialized assignments including with the Problem Oriented Policing Unit, Parole Intervention and Career Criminal Apprehension Teams, Narcotics and Robbery/Burglary divisions. He is currently a patrol supervisor. Brian earned his Criminal Justice undergraduate degree from Cal State, Sacramento and is working on a masters in Organizational Leadership. He is passionate about helping others reach their true potential. Follow him on Twitter at @BrianEllis10


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