Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crime Watch 2 - Community Organizer

One lesson I learned through the crime watch program is that it is not easy to be a community organizer, it takes a lot of time and energy, even though I did not need to mobilize the community. I also learned how to conduct limited background check, communicating to large number of people in email efficiently, and crowd control.

1. Initiation of community activities

Most of the time, it is hard to motivate a lot of people to get involved in community activities, as simple as attending HOA annual meetings. The most difficult part of organizing community activities is to motivate residents.

This time, the spate of break-ins motivated residents to get involved. I had nearly 50 residents attended the crime prevention seminar, about 100 residents attended the crime watch star-up, 40 of them volunteered to be block captains.

2. Checking volunteer background

I knew only a handful of persons among the 40+ volunteer block captains.

At the very beginning, I was determined to check every volunteer's residence within our community of ~ 1000 households. Most volunteers' address and/or email were verified via HOA address book.

A few volunteers' information is unlisted. Verification of their information needed some extra efforts: check their name/address against county property tax records. But one volunteer's information was not there either. I was alerted and excited at the same time - did I catch someone who tried to sneak into our crime watch program? - I walked to the street of the provided address, there was a house there at the address! I got the final verification by typing the address into county record.

3. Email communications

Email is the most efficient and effective communication method for the large crime watch program we have.

I collected about 100 emails at the meetings. On top of back ground check, typing email address into computer was a lot of work. It took me a total of 12 hours to compile the email list + background check - basically one and half days of the weekend after crime watch start up meeting.

Initially I used email list on my personal email account. Quickly I was identified as potential spamer after sending 4 emails to my list in a day! So I created a yahoo group email for the crime watch program - currently I only have block captains on the group email. I will need to take time to put the rest of the emails on my crime watch list to the group email.

4. Crowd control during community meeting

Despite a good pre-meeting preparation, the crime watch start up meeting was sort of out of control during general discussions. Speakers interrupted each other, loudest speakers got chance to speak and the discussion subject was out of the meeting's objectives. I was too nice to stop speakers.

The second meeting "meet the board " went much more smoothly since I set the ground rules first and stick to the agenda.

5. Crime watch sign placements

Initially many residents wanted the signs placed in their streets.

I surveyed the community again on bike and found that there were 5 signs at several major locations already. Many people did not realize their existence until I pointed out that they were there! To save money, and to prevent visual fatigue (or desensitizing by too many sign), I proposed to add 7 more signs at major entrances to the community.

It took me another week before I drew illustrations for police to show where and which direction we want the signs to be placed. The payment and application of sign placement were sent to crime prevention unit of city police at the end of the year.

I was really pleased to see that the signs were installed during the second week of January.

6. Keep the community involved

It is good to have a crime watch program, it might be helpful to have crime watch signs installed at major intersections, the real impact of the crime watch program, however, is from residents' involvement: know their neighbors, report suspicious activities to police.

For me, the organizer, the challenge ahead is to keep the community engaged and involved in crime watch and other community related activities when memory of crisis fades away.

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