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Neighborhood Watch programs can help reduce home insurance rates

If you participate in a Neighborhood Watch program or live someplace where one operates, you may be wondering whether that alone can lower your home insurance rates. Basic answer: No. However, a Neighborhood Watch can serve as a catalyst to getting your rates reduced in the future.

A Neighborhood Watch is a group of residents devoted to crime prevention within a certain area. Through a partnership with local law enforcement agencies, community members learn how to identify and report suspicious activity in their neighborhoods.

Although 50 percent to 70 percent of Neighborhood Watch programs initially start as a result of a crime, they can evolve into addressing other community needs, according to Robbie Woodson, project manager for

USAonWatch is part of the National Sheriffs’ Association, which created the National Neighborhood Watch Program in 1972 in an effort to reduce residential crime. According to the FBI, burglaries accounted for 24 percent of property crimes in 2009. Research has shown that Neighborhood Watch programs can be effective in reducing rates for burglaries and other crimes.

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Woodson says more than 22,000 local Neighborhood Watch programs are registered nationwide, and another 25,000 to 30,000 informal programs have been set up.

Having such an abundance of Neighborhood Watch programs is especially beneficial at a time when municipal budgets are being slashed, “and a lot of the officers that were designated for crime prevention or community policing are doing multiple roles and sometimes are assigned back-to-back patrols, so they really need help from the average citizen more than ever,” says Charles Desrosiers, director of constituency services for the National Crime Prevention Council.

Watching out for each other

Ultimately, Neighborhood Watch programs are credited with creating a sense of unity among neighbors who know and look out for each other. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to these programs; they're established according to the needs and goals of a neighborhood.

Neighborhood Watch members can participate in an array of crime prevention programs or civic events. For example, members can be trained in home security or crime reporting. Members also can organize citizen patrols, with residents walking or driving through their neighborhoods and reporting suspicious activity to police. Other activities can include teaching first aid and disaster preparedness skills, cleaning up graffiti or adopting a park.

Outside of crime prevention and safety training, watch programs can address other needs in the community, such as adopting a park or cleaning up graffiti.

Crime's role in your home insurance rates

The efforts of a Neighborhood Watch can play a role in reducing crime rates in your neighborhood, which your home insurer takes into consideration when setting your home insurance rates.

“A Neighborhood Watch is a great thing, but it will never come into play on its own in the underwriting of an insurance policy,” says Patti Clement, vice president and managing director of HUB International Northeast, an insurance brokerage in New York.

A number of elements are considered when an insurer determines the rate for your home insurance policy.

Loretta Worters, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute, explains that insurance rate reductions are a possibility if crime rates have gone down, but that has to be assessed over a period of time. Worters suggests that homeowners see whether there's been a downward trend in neighborhood crime after a five-year span. But, she cautions, “there’s not one clear-cut thing that says crime has gone down in this neighborhood because of Neighborhood Watches, so my rates are going to go down X percent.”

However, mentioning your participation in a Neighborhood Watch is one way you can demonstrate to your insurance company that you're decreasing risk, Worters says. A more immediate way of reducing crime risk -- and likely your home insurance premiums -- is by installing a burglar alarm system; many insurers offer discounts to homeowners who've got those systems in place.

Here are five tips to help you organize a Neighborhood Watch in your community:

1. Organize: Gather two or more people with the intent of discussing the needs and problems of your neighborhood. Decide on a date and place for an initial Neighborhood Watch meeting and recruit as many neighbors as possible.

2. Contact your police or sheriff's department: Ask for the community-policing officer, the public information officer or the crime prevention department. Request that an officer attend your Neighborhood Watch meeting. At the meeting, talk to the officer about your group’s needs and goals so the officer can provide help.

3. Choose leaders: At a neighborhood meeting, discuss community concerns, outline goals and write an action plan. In addition, appoint leaders of the Neighborhood Watch program, including a coordinator and at least one block captain.

4. Communicate: This can include keeping a list of neighbors' telephone numbers, creating a Yahoo group, setting up a neighborhood website or establishing a Facebook page.

5. Conduct regular meetings: The number of gatherings can vary from two times a year to every two weeks.

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