If you've ever lived within the bounds of a Neighborhood Watch footprint, you have no doubt been astonished by the amount of crime in your community. Neighborhood Watch newsletters in most locales carry lists of burglaries and worse and their locations, all of which are in your neighborhood. For centuries it seems, our lack of ability to coordinate and distribute that information has hampered the reduction of crime.
Neighborhood Watch was revolutionary and through its newsletters, brought a much higher awareness of crime in the community, even if people heard after the event, it was better than not hearing at all.
Real time communication, in the context of combating neighborhood crime, is a game changer and may yet turn out to be quite significant in societal terms. Man has gathered together in communities for protection for 10,000 years, yet despite the recent proliferation of neighborhood watch organizations, the protection afforded by a modern neighborhood is still modest.
Just as repressed communities around the globe are attempting to use social software to organize themselves, the implementation of social software to make communities safer seems like a significant leap forward in living standards.
Social software start-up Village Defense has created software that links neighbors to form a real-time communication system - one phone call notifies all neighbors (by text or phone) when a crime or suspicious activity is in progress. In the first pilot study of the new system, the increased awareness, greater availability of witnesses and shorter response times facilitated by Village Defense saw crime rates dropped 58% in the first year.
There are very few endeavors where improved communication does not improve the process. In this instance, the biggest benefit is the harnessing of community knowledge and as it relates to crime, instant networked communication means a lot more witnesses.
Village Defense was founded by Georgia Tech electrical engineering graduate Nathan Black straight out of school, where he had envisioned a real-time crime alert network, capable of notifying every resident instantly when there is a crime in progress. "Reinventing Neighborhood watch."
If you get an alert about a crime or suspicious activity in your community while it is happening, you can immediately look out your window. This means that eye-witness accounts are far more plentiful and able to determine an accurate vehicle or person description, a license plate, which direction the intruders are heading ... lots of useful information for the police upon which they can make an arrest.
Obviously, a well organized neighborhood using a communication system such as this can orchestrate more elaborate responses to threats - the arrival of assistance for a besieged or frightened home owner, or to fight a minor fire, rescue Mittens off the roof, or whatever community emergency will be much sooner and better resourced using a social media system too.
Long term, this has got to result in less crime, because criminals will shy away from neighborhoods where their chances of being seen and caught are extremely high?
A neighborhood-wide silent alarm system means that once one person sees you, everyone is going to potentially see you.
Not entirely unexpectedly, the system has also had benefits in bringing communities together and introducing new participants into the community willing to work for a greater good.
The system also sends out non-emergency alerts, and in the extensive trials and implementations it was found that the push electronic e-lerts resulted in much higher attendances at meetings, clean-ups, and other community events.
As Black says, "overall, there is more participation in neighborhood affairs. More people caring about each other and trying to work together to solve their common problems, but it all hinges on communication."
"Its pretty pathetic that while so many things in our life see plenty of improvement and iteration, neighborhood watch looks the exact same today as it did 30 years ago. Zero innovation.
"In most cases all neighborhood watch is is a faded sign anyway. It's well past time to bring neighborhoods into the 21st century.
The software works out at less than a dollar per person per month, which I think makes it worthy of consideration for any communities with crime problems.
If those communities have children, then this system makes the immediate environment significantly safer for them, which makes a dollar a month seem trivial.