Taking Back the Community: Keeping neighborhood watches strong

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Technology has changed the way all of us live and work. Police departments are no different.

Authorities are using new online programs to help solve crimes, but one local department doesn't want to see the traditional neighborhood watch become a thing of the past.

"Technology has changed a lot of things we do," said Virginia Beach Police Sergeant Brian Walters.

Online programs like nextdoor.com have helped Virginia Beach Police get the word out to residents easily and quickly.

Walters heads up the department’s crime prevention unit. He says the city has 42,000 people on nextdoor.com, which is like Facebook for neighborhoods.

"I do know that the community tends to get more involved when they are a victim of a crime," Walters added.

There is some concern that people may just use technology and forget about the good, old-fashioned neighborhood watch.

"Yes, you should be on nextdoor.com where you will get that messaging, but knowing who your neighbors are is so important,” Walters said. “You need to get out on National Night Out and meeting neighbors first hand. Turn on your lights and it sends a message that we are a neighborhood and we are concerned about our neighborhood."

Walters and his unit are now looking at the city's 220 registered neighborhood watches to see what kind of involvement still exists. The hope is to draw more residents in.

"We want them to build their numbers,” Walters added. “I think at one time they were asking for 80 percent of the neighborhood and we are asking for 50 percent is what we would like to see."

Police say when neighbors know each other, they then know who belongs in a neighborhood and who doesn't. You don't get that from a computer screen.

"I think a lot of folks like that convenience,” Walters said. “They like that technology. They like being plugged in. But what I think is important is getting to know that person you are talking with."

Virginia Beach is holding open enrollment events to get people excited about neighborhood watch again. Combine that with the technology, and they say it will make everyone safer.

"It's about reducing crime and more importantly reducing the fear of crime in any community," Walters added.

Virginia Beach Crime Prevention has a list of programs out there they say residents should use.

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