How many of you know what a neighborhood watch is? It’s an old school idea – neighbors keep an eye out in the neighborhood for suspicious activity and report it to the police. It’s especially effective when neighbors know each other and are happy to look out for each others’ interests.

How many people know their physical neighbors well?

You should.

If you don’t, make friends, and soon. Why? Simple.

The economy is spawning more crime. The numbers estimated by the University of Arizona suggest that a 1% increase in unemployment correlates to a 1% increase in crime rates. Crimes begin casually, with opportunity crimes, and worsen from there if unchecked.

Kicking it up a notch

NewBCamp 09A basic neighborhood watch is effective, but now add in the capabilities of social media, of new media to the mix. If you have several social media aware folks in your neighborhood (or you can train them easily), when you meet with your police department’s crime prevention officer (CPO, the officer assigned to instruct Neighborhood Watch programs), introduce him or her to Twitter. Get your neighbors who are Twitter-savvy to create a hashtag for your neighborhood like #54&Pine or #7Gables and have members report mildly suspicious activity there (“scruffy kid, about 5’6″ with black backpack walking around block 5th time this hour”). Show your CPO how to use Twitter Search so that real-time updates can be casually viewed at the station.

Got a camera on your data-enabled mobile phone? You have an awesome crime deterrence tool. Use services like TwitPic to take instant shots of suspicious activity and upload them immediately to your neighborhood watch Twitterstream.

Own a digital camera with a decent lens and low light ability? Take photos and load them up to sites like Flickr so that your neighbors and CPO can inspect in detail things that you find suspicious.

Know someone talented at using Google Docs and Google Maps? Help your local police department geographically map crimes in your area and look for trends using freely available Google tools.

What other new media/social media tools can you think of to empower ordinary citizens to help local law enforcement prevent crime?

Note: in no way do I advocate unnecessarily putting yourself in harm’s way or taking the law into your own hands. As with all community-based initiatives, the idea is to work WITH your local police, not compete with them.

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