Vertical Neighbourhood Watch

Vertical Neighbourhood Watch
Dr Janette Corcoran

Neighbourhood Watch is about neighbours looking out for neighbours, but can this work in our vertical villages?

There’s long been debate over what to call our inner-city locales of the CBD, Docklands and Southbank. Are we districts, precincts or can we claim the title of “neighbourhoods”?

Of late, there has been a definite trend towards the “neighbourhood” label, as evidenced by City of Melbourne, which recently launched a new place-based program called “the neighbourhood model”. This aims to help the council connect with the municipality’s various communities and one of the first to come on board was the “CBD Neighbourhood Portal”. The Docklands and Southbank neighbourhood portals are promised to be close behind.

Also bestowing the “neighbourhood” title upon us is Victoria Police. Under their Neighbourhood Policing program, they too are seeking to focus on grassroots engagement, with all inner-city locales having scored their own friendly neighbourhood officer!

But perhaps most tellingly is the current focus upon our vertical villages by Neighbourhood Watch.  Those of us living in Australia in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s may well remember the Neighbourhood Watch signposts which displayed a four-heads in silhouette logo, with the tag line “working together to prevent crime”. These signposts were a physical notification to people that they were in a Neighbourhood Watch Zone.

Originally launching in 1983 in Frankston, Neighbourhood Watch became a significant program with approximately 36 full-time staff and 30,000 volunteers. But in 2009, Victoria Police closed the program.

In the intervening years, Neighbourhood Watch has re-established itself as an incorporated association. Now led by Bambi Gordon and supported by a team of five employees and more than 4000 volunteers, Neighbourhood Watch has again become a community-based crime prevention program. It has the primary aim of improving the quality of life within a neighbourhood by minimising preventable crime and promoting closer community ties. At its heart, the program relies on working partnerships between the community and the police.

Bambi was drawn to reinvigorating Neighbourhood Watch because she recognised the potential of the Neighbourhood Watch brand, most especially its strength as a trusted voice, with a still relevant message – “it just needed to be made more suited to current times,” she said.

And move with the times they did, with their first pilot program trialling the use of synthetic liquid DNA for property marking – a method that is used in around 40 countries.

Their second pilot is similarly ground-breaking as it focuses upon a demographic which was not part of the original Neighbourhood Watch, namely those dwelling in high-rise apartments. This high-rise pilot is called “Connect Up” and is being undertaken with Safety Alliance Victoria (which comprises Victoria Police, RACV, Federation University and Crime Stoppers).

Connect Up tests different approaches to engaging residents of high-rise apartments and has the aim of removing barriers between residents and police, improving residents’ sense of safety and decreasing crime.

“We want to educate residents as to the simple things they can do to prevent crime – in particular to know their neighbours – and encourage planners, councils, developers, to ‘build’ community engagement into future high rises,” Bambi said.

While still in its early stages, Bambi reports that the themes of mail theft, cage security and ID theft are critical issues for our vertical villages. However, and perhaps more insightfully, there have been learnings about how to engage our vertical communities, including one important lesson about translating messages. Initial findings suggest that simply transforming the same text into different languages is often not sufficient to convey messages. Additional support is required, which could take the form of video or even augmented reality.

As to the future of Vertical Neighbourhood Watch, already many discussions are underway as to how the original suburban model of Neighbourhood Watch (which placed great weight upon lines-of-sight) could manifest in vertical villages where our neighbours’ sight-lines are often cropped to shared areas of common property. •

If you are interested in the work of Neighbourhood Watch Victoria, please visit

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