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Citizen Surveillance

A central strategy of the Conservative government during the 1990s was the encouragement of Neighbourhood Watch. These schemes encourage local residents to become more active in the surveillance of their communities, looking for suspicious activities and persons and reporting incidents to the police when they occur. With local police officers assigned to different watches a further aim was to improve communications between local communities and the police. Despite their popularity and generally strong rhetorical support from the police, the research into their effectiveness is not positive.

Bennett (1990) assessed Neighbourhood Watch schemes in two different areas comparing them with two control areas without such schemes. He concluded that 'the NW programme had no measured impact (either favourable or unfavourable) on the crime rate in either of the two NW areas' (Bennett, 1990: 167), noting that in both watch areas the changes shown were 'less promising than might have been hoped' (Bennett, 1989: 8), with incidences of household and personal victimisation increasing after the implementation of the schemes. The results relating to public attitudes and behaviour were more encouraging. In one NW area there was significant improvement in fear of household crime, area satisfaction and sense of social cohesion, while in the other area improvements in area satisfaction and home-protection behaviour were reported.

Bennett adds that the effectiveness of public surveillance is limited because often most domestic properties are empty during the day, some have limited opportunities for surveillance and in some areas there is a high turnover of residents making the identification of strangers difficult. His research also cast doubt on offenders being deterred by such schemes, although on a positive note they may result in improved community and police relations.