How Facebook is reinventing a neighborhood watch

In one of the nearby neighborhoods, there has been a string of home invasions that are apparently linked. The perpetrators all fit the same description and the M.O. is the same. These have been violent invasions, with victims pistol-whipped in their homes, and in some cases hog-tied (after being stripped naked). The police seem to concur that they are looking for the same set of criminals.

In response to this crime wave, that neighborhood has set up a Facebook page to serve as a crime watch service. They spread information about the crimes and they coordinate nightly social walks that are all about creating a neighborhood spirit and bringing a sense of ownership back to their streets. They divided their area into zones and use the Facebook interface to report in on suspicious activities, drug deals and even when the zone is all clear.

The group is going through its own growing pains. They have the vigilantes coming out of the woodwork who aspire to walk as gunslingers around their neighborhood, like some alternative wild west sheriff's deputy, but generally the effect is good. Law enforcement information is being dispersed; home security tips are being shared, and neighbors are meeting each other for the first time through this Facebook interface.

Many of those involved are young women, and while home invasions seem to have been the spark that created this fire, most persons in this neighborhood have experienced car break-ins or simple home robberies. While I've never lived in this neighborhood, I've visited friends there for a decade or more, and crime was always a fact of life. Now,  in this age of digital information sharing, it's powerful to see a social network try to change the crime dynamics of a neighborhood. I throw this Facebook crime-fighting model out here on this blog as a hope that others might be able to adopt or adapt it for their own needs.

I want to try to distill a few "tips" from this Facebook neighborhood watch effort for anyone interested:

1. Share crime incident descriptions and descriptions of perpetrators
2. Divide your area into zones to create an even stronger sense of ownership
3. Connect with law enforcement using your Facebook group
4. Announce zone walks and tell the good news when the zone is clear
5. Besides meeting digitally, set up a time to meet in person. Real face to face meetings (not just Facebook to Facebook meetings) are good for community spirit
6. Use the Facebook wall to point out public safety issues (burned-out streetlights, street signs hidden by vines, abandoned cars, broken windows, etc.), and then take those issues to the city to get them fixed!
7. Involve local businesses, especially the service industry workers who are often the last ones going home at night after they clean up their restaurants and cars. These people can be your best eyes and ears.

To close this blog entry, I wanted to share a somewhat humorous post from that group's Facebook wall. This guy's interest in security and video surveillance is something I thought would resonate well with our industry professional audience:

"However, a note to all - be mindful about posting information that feeds details on your short coming in personal security. This is the very thing predators use to help them identify weaknesses. Myself I'm not so worried. We have DVR cams all over the house and yard and 12 men in the home. Even better is, there is not much in the way of real property value in the home. And yes mister bad guy our DVR runs with an FTP upload to an off-site server backup and the cable service is backed up with a fixed cellular thats on a 36 hour independent power supply - all in a self contained locker in the attic. All of this is monitored on a live remote to a mid-level security company and I can see it all on my smart phone too. Come to think of it - the security system is the most expensive thing in the home - carp. I need some new toys!"