The Risks of Having a Neighborhood Watch in Your Community

When George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, it brought discussion of neighborhood watch programs to the forefront. Most people believe that this incident was just one bad, rare example of community patrolling gone wrong, and that neighborhood watches are not to blame. However, even if neighborhood watches are beneficial to the community, there are a lot of risks associated with them.

Citizens Can Interfere with the Work of the Real Professionals

When a neighborhood watch member gets too involved in any potential crime or suspicious activity, they can inadvertently get in the way of the police and other professionals. A member who takes their job too seriously may try to go beyond just reporting suspicious activity or crimes. Their attempts to further assist law enforcement officials, such as by pursuing a suspect or collecting evidence, may actually hinder the police investigation.
Citizens Can Find Themselves in Dangerous Situations or Get Hurt

When citizens do try to help the police with a criminal situation, they can easily find themselves in a very dangerous situation, and they could get hurt. Neighborhood watch members will not be properly equipped or trained to confront or detain criminals. If they take it upon themselves to pursue a suspect or try to stop a crime that’s in progress, they can quickly find themselves the new target of the potential criminals. There is a real risk of bodily harm and even death for overzealous watch members.
Even with Training, Citizens May Not Properly Handle Crime

Neighborhood watch members are not officially a part of a law enforcement organization. They may receive training on how to handle the things they see in their neighborhood, but they lack the thorough education and experience that real officers have. No matter what they’re taught, a neighborhood watch member may get caught up in the moment and improperly handle crime. They do not have the same level of accountability or preparation as police officers, and this can lead to more mistakes.
Some Citizens May Take Advantage of Their “Power”

There is a definitive feeling of power and authority that comes with being a part of the neighborhood watch, and some people may feel it much more strongly than others. If a neighborhood watch member somehow lets their position go to their head or takes it too seriously, it could lead to them abusing their power in their community. Someone with personality issues or mental illness, for example, could end up harassing innocent people and causing discord in the neighborhood.
A Citizen’s Good Intentions Could Land Them a Lawsuit

The vast majority of people who join the neighborhood watch have nothing but good intentions for taking active roles in the policing and protection of their communities. If a citizen takes things too far and mishandles a situation, perhaps by using physical force, they could find themselves with a lawsuit from other parties involved. Average citizens are much less equipped to handle a lawsuit versus a police officer who would have the help of the police agency.

Robert Grant is a criminal justice professor and avid writer who often gives advice to people in need. He also loves to cover interesting legal situations that may arise around the globe.

Photo Credit: Darkmoon Photography


  1. Rhia Cabildo Tobias says:

    Scary. You cant trust anyone these days. You will never know if the person is being true to himself or just giving you a bait then when you already trust him he will stab your back. I hope that there is zero crime rate in our world wherein you can sleep at night with no worries at all.

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