Neighbours looking out for each other

We all want to be safe in our homes. The best way to reduce this kind of crime is for communities and the Police to work together.

Community support groups were introduced to New Zealand in 1979. They were aimed at reducing crime by encouraging people to look out for each other in their neighbourhood.

The success of the original Neighbourhood Watch scheme led to Neighbourhood Support and later Rural Support, all of which have come under the general term of “community support”.

These schemes recognised that, with the Police, communities could reduce crime and foster a feeling of security and well-being. It also recognised that crime was not just the Police’s responsibility.

Fewer homes have been burgled in the last five years because of community support groups. It’s that simple.

Neighbourhood Support New Zealand Inc was set up to help in and promote the neighbourhood support concept throughout New Zealand. With the Police, they can tell you if there is someone in your area who can help you to start a neighbourhood support group. Or a rural support group if you live in the country.

You can contact them on 0800 4 NEIGHBOURS or visit their website at www.neighbourhoodsupport.co.nz to see if they have a representative in your area.

By forming a group, you and your neighbours can support each other and combine your local knowledge to protect people and property.

The Police, with other community safety organisations, can also give you new information and skills to help you in an emergency.

What are community support groups?

A support group helps to reduce local crime. It can respond quickly to emergencies and it can help to solve community problems. A support group is especially important for older people and those who live alone, they gain comfort from knowing that help is nearby. Older people can often contribute much knowledge and time as these groups don’t take a lot of time or entail a lot of work. That’s why they are so successful.

Commonsense-plus structure

A community support group can result in a better quality of life in your area. Everyone is encouraged to think ahead and to notice things.

Group members learn to:

  • Recognise the signs that a crime is being planned
  • Report any suspicious events immediately
  • Prevent burglaries
  • Protect their property
  • Keep people safe

Street signs and stickers

Signs advertising your community support group send a powerful message. Stick them on telephone poles, letterboxes and fences. When criminals see these signs they usually go away.

Know your neighbours

The most important step to a safer community is to know your neighbours. Know their routines, and know when your neighbours are going on holiday or business trips. Swap holiday addresses and phone numbers. Know when they expect visitors and tradespeople and if you think something is wrong, phone your local Police station at once. For anything urgent, dial 111.

How to be a good neighbour If your neighbours are away, you can help in many ways. Offer to make their house look lived in by:

  • turning on lights and television at night
  • drawing curtains at night and opening them in the day
  • mowing lawns
  • clearing their mail, especially junk mail and newspapers
  • using their clothesline or driveway sometimes

Be alert

Watch their home. Question strangers, but don’t say the neighbours are away. Notice any strangers around your neighbourhood, including children.

Write down their description, and note the time and date.

Write down the registration number of unfamiliar cars, vans, motorbikes or trucks. Report anything suspicious to your local Police station.

Starting a neighbourhood support group is easy. First, discuss the idea with a few neighbours and together, decide how big you want your network to be. The best size for effectiveness is six to twelve houses. Ask if there is a local Neighbourhood Support Officer in your area, the Police should be able to tell you who that is. Or you can contact Neighbourhood Support on 0800 463 444 or email: kelsey@neighbourhoodsupport.co.nz to get the information. You’ll learn lots of ways you might structure your group – every group is different because every neighbourhood is different.

Groups appoint a group contact person and sometimes a street and/or area contact person, but you can do things your own way, just make sure that the work is shared!

Should you invite everyone in your neighbourhood to join your group? You can just start with the people you know. If your neighbours include some people you don’t trust there’s no need to invite them to join your group. But you might also consider that good neighbours are often discovered through the process of meeting people you may have previously had little to do with and might have held misconceptions about.

Starting a rural support group

These are exactly like neighbourhood support groups, except that in the country your neighbourhood is larger and probably sparsely populated. Most country districts already have a strong community network, a rural support group makes that network more efficient. Discuss practical ways of calling for help, for example; sirens, car horns, fog horns, mobiles, or flashing car-lights.

Avoid going alone when you respond to a call for help. If you do, at least tell somebody first, or call your local Police and let them know what you are doing. Your safety is most important.

Keep learning

Invite key people to meetings to advise or train your neighbourhood support group. This helps to keep the group alive. Having the occasional public meeting can get more people joining in, too. For example, you could invite:

  • Your community constable or local Police to advise about safety matters.
  • A Civil Defence officer to tell you what to do in a disaster.
  • A qualified first aid trainer to teach you first aid including CPR.
  • A self-defence instructor.

Community Patrols of New Zealand

Community Patrols of New Zealand (CPNZ) Charitable Trust was set up in May 2001. Local Community Patrol members are drawn from the community and help their local Police to reduce crime. A total of 150 communities have formed such patrols. Volunteers go out in two-person teams for a few hours during the night. They probably do their stint once a month. They are not Police volunteers. Patrollers not only help themselves and their community, but the Police too, as eyes and ears.

Community Patrol groups are in all Police districts. Each patrol is organised and run by its members. Each has a Police liaison officer, generally the local community constable. The Police provide training, and CPNZ has training materials available.

A community without a patrol, and which wishes to form one, can contact either their local community constable or CPNZ, which will help to set up a group.