Knowing neighbors important for safety

Published 8:24 am Thursday, August 6, 2015

The first Tuesday in August is set aside for National Night Out, a neighborhood watch event that has been very active for many years. The purpose of the event is to make suspicious people know that neighborhoods are taking responsibility for their areas and keeping their neighbors and themselves safe.

Most neighbors meet within their own streets and/or neighborhoods and establish or strengthen neighbor bonds. Knowing your neighbors is the key to a watch organization. A symbol of neighborhood watch is something as simple as turning on an outer porch light. Light up the neighborhood.

The key aspect to a neighborhood watch is to establish the foundation. Neighbors get to know their neighbors to their immediate right, left, front and back, if applicable. No one would expect you to know a neighbor a mile or so down the road. When we train neighbors in the watch program, we are not training a person to be the nosy neighbor, just to know the neighbor.

Allow me to use myself as an example to explain this. I used to have neighbors who were teachers. By knowing them, I knew they weren’t home between 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. So, when I saw a blue van back up to their garage one day while I was checking my mail, and saw the driver of the van walk around the house looking for a way in, I knew this wasn’t normal. I was able to make immediate contact with one of the teachers and discovered it was a friend picking up a couch.

If I didn’t know my neighbors, that van would not have been suspicious. I wasn’t being “snoopy,” just checking my mail when I saw it pull in. Being aware was the key.

Other aspects to knowing your neighbor include knowing what vehicles should be in the driveway, possible work schedules and even vacation schedules. Have they asked you to pick up mail or newspapers? Do they have someone watching the house, such as a family member, on extended absences? Do you know their vehicles?

Tips for you to help keep yourself safe for your neighborhood include stopping mail or newspapers if you are gone for an extended period of time. Inform neighbors if you need them to do some minor maintenance to make your home look lived in, such as mow the yard or shovel the drive.

Do you have someone assigned for that detail? Inform your neighbors. Your local police departments can also do irregular property inspections, checking property at different days and times.

Lastly, establish a phone or internet tree. By doing this, you can contact a person in a situation, such as a strange vehicle or person driving or walking through the neighborhood, and they can contact the next one on the list, or send out a group email. This informs all neighbors of the situation. Of course, if needed, you may call the local police for a suspicious vehicle or person.

The neighborhood watch program does not require or encourage armed patrols with radios. Never put yourself in danger. Be the best witness you can be.

If you and your neighborhood are interested in starting a neighborhood watch, please contact me at (269) 683-4411 or at


Trooper Rob Herbstreith is a community service trooper with the Michigan State Police Niles post.