• Alejandra Johnson

Block Watch and Technology

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

(Article as seen in CAPE - Canadian Association of Police Educators)

The mission of Block Watch is to be the “program for community engagement and crime prevention in Canada through innovation, accountable and effective program delivery, and the proactive pursuit of excellence”. Historically, Block Watch has been implemented and grown at the individual level, with people spreading the virtues of Block Watch face-to-face. Although technology has not been avoided, it has not been harnessed to its fullest extent.

The West Vancouver Police Department has been involved in Block Watch since the early 2000s. As with many communities, Block Watch in West Vancouver grew through community events, one-on-one conversations, and the dedication of a handful of people. Block Watch flourished, with the coordinator signing up hundreds of blocks manually. Recently, the program has stalled. It appears that the new generation of West Vancouver residents do not engage in the same way as past generations. Hoping to build on past success, the West Vancouver Block Watch program embarked on a technology-centered approach, looking to tap into the under-represented newer population.

Technology has never been a driving force in Block Watch. The Block Watch Society has mainly stuck to a traditional community engagement strategy. West Vancouver’s approach had not strayed from this norm thus, the Block Watch program grew due to traditional communication and engagement strategies. It was the hard work and dedication of the Block Watch Coordinators that increased Block Watch participation year after year. New participants were found during face-to-face community events. The sign up process involved printed forms, hand drawn maps, and the establishment of telephone trees. The block Captain was seen as the main point of contact for the police and the residents of their block. The Block Watch coordinator would telephone the Captain with crime alerts or crime prevention information and that would be decimated to the block through phone calls and face-to-face conversations. At the time, this was a very effective strategy

As technology started to creep into all aspects of our everyday life, changes within how neighbours and communities communicate and interact was evident. Within the West Vancouver Block Watch program, this change became increasingly apparent in particular because of the evolving dynamic within our community. Participants no longer saw their neighbors regularly, some blocks didn’t know everyone, and communication started to shift from face-to-face to online.

The West Vancouver Block Watch program saw this as an opportunity. An opportunity to reach more people, to streamline their work, and create better crime prevention strategies. The West Vancouver Block watch program incorporated key technologies in areas that they felt would have the greatest impact. The goal was not to replace the traditional face-to-face approach but incorporate better methods to meet the needs of some of the newer West Vancouver residents.

  • A. Communication

Making technology the foundation of the West Vancouver’s Block Watch Program was an important growth and engagement decision. The program started to incorporate various digital strategies to move communication to the online environment. This meant developing a website, a strong social media presence, a blog plus online resources. (Although many of these communication moves involve some pretty basic technology, it’s important to note that this is a huge shift from the traditional Block Watch approach).

  • B. Mapping

Incorporating mapping technology into the West Vancouver’s Block Watch program has permitted participants to easily recognize crime trends, incidents, and to readily identify other participants blocks. The mapping technology also allows participants to see what criminal activity is occurring in their neighborhood and take the appropriate crime prevention approach.

  • C. New Member Acquisition

Historically, paper and pencil have been the only way to sign up new Block Watch participants. While we will continue to do this when attending face-to-face events, we will also encourage those that may not be familiar with the Block Watch program to reference the Block Watch West Vancouver website. Once there, they have access to online resources, pdf’s describing what the BW program is in various languages and the ability to sign-in online or have direct contact with the BW Coordinators.

Integrating technology has been a long needed step, therefore moving forward, our intention is to evaluate the success or failure of having moved from a paper format into a digital format. If our efforts prove to be a success we intend on creating future opportunities in the form of online training, webinars, real-time crime updates, crime reporting tools via an App, and virtual meetings. The goal of any crime prevention program is to be relevant and impactful. By embracing technology, the West Vancouver Block Watch program hopes to continue their success and growth for years to come.

Sgt Nick Bell, Supervisor Community Service Team West Vancouver Police

Alejandra Johnson, Block Watch coordinator West Vancouver Police

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