San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Neighborhood Watch Feels Good but Does Little

According to a recent study, neighborhood watch committees make members feel more secure, and improve neighborhood cooperation and relationships.

But they don’t actually reduce crime. The growth of these committees, which now number roughly 5,000, has been rapid over the last several years, as communities have grappled with a crime wave.

But the study, commissioned by Vice President Laura Chinchilla to evaluate the 10-year-old program, which requires watch groups to be registered with the Public Security Ministry, is skeptical of the program’s impact.

“If we abide by the statistical trends regarding criminal behavior in Costa Rica and especially those that use violence against people or property, the inevitable conclusion is that the neighborhood watch program has had little importance,” states part of the 213-page final report.

“But in general terms, even though the program doesn’t demonstrate a positive impact in decreasing crime, in specific terms, it reduces the feeling of insecurity in neighborhoods.”

National Police Captain Swamy Flores, second in command of the program, disagreed somewhat with the study’s findings.

“There is a decrease in crime in the areas where the committees operate, but what happens is they push the crime to other areas,” he said.


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