What is a Town Watch?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A town watch is a community organization of volunteers who patrol a town to increase public safety. Volunteers may wear uniforms or badges to make them easy to identify when members of the public need assistance, and they use radios or cell phones to communicate with police in the event of an emergency situation. This volunteer model is similar to that seen with a neighborhood watch, except that instead of passively remaining indoors and keeping an eye on the community, people actively walk the streets to identify safety situations and criminal activity.

Town watches actively patrol streets to ensure residents' safety.
Town watches actively patrol streets to ensure residents' safety.

Members of a town watch can include adults and youths. They typically attend an orientation to get information about how to operate safely and efficiently and take turns on official watches, where they are on duty and must patrol the town. People may have a specific beat they walk in or could travel throughout the town, depending on its size and how the town watch organizes its members. If people cannot fulfill their duties, they need to find a replacement to handle their assigned times.

Town watches may keep an eye on public parking lots.
Town watches may keep an eye on public parking lots.

In addition to offering general patrols, a town watch may coordinate a safety corridor. Members of the organization can station themselves near schools to make sure children make their way home safely, and can be available at parties and other events to look after the safety of attendees. This can relieve police from these duties, allowing them to focus on other tasks and respond if the town watch identifies a need for them. Colleges and universities may have their own volunteer watch groups who coordinate with members to keep college students safe.

Town watch programs may keep an eye out for criminal activity.
Town watch programs may keep an eye out for criminal activity.

Members of the town watch can patrol at night or during the day, and usually vary their routes to make sure their patrols remain random. This makes it harder to commit crime, as criminals will be aware that members of the watch could encounter them at any time. People can increase patrols by special request or in response to a scheduled event if there are concerns about the possibility for an uptick in criminal activity.

Town watch organizations may work with local police to add extra patrol to certain neighborhoods.
Town watch organizations may work with local police to add extra patrol to certain neighborhoods.

People who want to form an organization in their community should start by meeting with the local police force. Police can help people coordinate meetings and orientations and may also be able to point civilians in the direction of grants and other assistance. It may also be possible to join a national organization of town watches to access their signage and educational materials.

Town watch programs might help people in the community who feel marginalized.
Town watch programs might help people in the community who feel marginalized.
Town watch programs may work on minimizing traffic accidents in the community.
Town watch programs may work on minimizing traffic accidents in the community.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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