While the online tools are new, neighborhood crime watches aren't. Rising burglary rates in the 1960s led to formalized neighborhood crime prevention and eventually to the formation of the National Neighborhood Watch in 1972. You probably know the logo -- an ominous silhouette peering out between hat brim and upturned lapel. Since then, community crime prevention has grown alongside technology. Today, neighborhood safety resources leverage publicly available crime data and the power of crowdsourcing.
Whether you are looking to move, are in the process of moving, or are well-established in your cul-de-sac, tapping into neighborly resources can help you understand -- and actively improve -- local safety. The best online tools to monitor nearby crime combine civilian tips, news reports, and government data with up-to-date reports from local authorities.
The best neighborhood safety tools for when you are:
… exploring new neighborhoods
You know relocating is on the horizon, but none of the specifics is nailed down. At this point, you're probably curious about the crime statistics for the various neighborhoods you're looking at, as well as all the other elements that go into a positive community experience: schools, weather, the neighbors themselves. All of the above will affect your quality of life as well as your home's resale value.
Real estate websites like Trulia include some of these highlights, but the following resources provide a better drill-down:
- AreaVibes: The stated goal of AreaVibes is "to help you find the best places to live in America." AreaVibes grades cities and neighborhoods based on key metrics like amenities, cost of living, crime rates, education, employment, housing, and weather. Just search a state, city, neighborhood, or address to find how it scores on each metric (from A+ to F) which ladder up to a total Livability Score, from one to 100. With over 35000 cities and neighborhoods scored, AreaVibes allows you to compare the destinations on your list with nearby and national averages. The custom search function allows you to pinpoint the crimes that concern you most.
- NeighborhoodScout: This neighborhood search engine is used by homeowners and real estate professionals looking to spot opportunities and assess risk. NeighborhoodScout's patented algorithms produce sophisticated safety and lifestyle profiles for neighborhoods and cities, making it a particularly great resource for those in the early stages of house hunting. Adjust your search to match your lifestyle and safety priorities. And if you find a great neighborhood, but the location ultimately doesn't work? NeighborhoodScout can point you to similarly profiled neighborhoods. Note that while most of the site is free to use, some reports require payment.
- Reports: For a snapshot of any city, check out Moving.com's annually updated report, which combines crime statistics with demographics, school quality information, cost of living estimates, and climate data from all the top sources: the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor, the IRS, the FBI, the NOAA, and local police departments.
… moving to a new neighborhood
You have your new address memorized, and the closing date is circled three times on your calendar. Before getting to this point, you likely already did your due diligence to check on the safety of your new home. In fact, you probably had it professionally checked, twice -- first by the inspector, then by the appraiser.
If only your new neighborhood could be sent through the same process. Just like you should know if the roof leaks or the sewer line is clogged, you should know about the crime in your neighborhood.
Learning about your area's safety levels after you've already decided to move doesn't have to be a passive education. Safeguard your home in response to the particularly high risks of your neighborhood with security devices, then use those devices to document suspicious behavior and share footage with neighbors and authorities.
- SpotCrime: Monitor local crime with the SpotCrime map. Thanks to its anonymous reporting system, this service compiles reports from law enforcement agencies and news sources with helpful tips. All incidents are charted on the Crime Map with informative icons, giving you safety information at a glance. To stay in the know, sign up for SpotCrime alerts sent to you via your preferred platform: Facebook, Twitter, or email. If you don't find your city, check back soon -- new locations are still being added.
- CrimeMapping: If you are concerned that user-reported tips may skew crime data, check out CrimeMapping. While other sites aggregate crime reports from various sources (including "scraping" data from other residential crime sites), CrimeMapping relies exclusively on police-reported crimes from police department partners. While the CrimeMapping approach to data ensures greater accuracy, but it also restricts the availability of data. Only the reports of subscribed agencies make it onto the site. Still, if you are interested in an official look at local crime, CrimeMapping allows you to conduct searches by address, landmark, or ZIP code or by a police agency. You can also set custom crime alerts to keep you in the know about designated regions and types of crime.
… settled in your home
You may be well-established in your home, but no neighborhood is stagnant. As larger trends shift -- the economy, employment rates -- so too does your neighborhood's makeup. Perhaps the most powerful, proactive gesture you can make in your community is keeping up a good rapport with your neighbors. According to data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, individuals who report that people in their neighborhood help each other out are more likely to live in safe neighborhoods. It doesn't hurt that if your neighbors know you, your family, and your vehicles, they are more likely to notice if something out of the ordinary is happening on your property.
That community feeling is alive in online neighborhood groups, which help you both monitor and support local security. Like interactive maps and customized alerts, crime watch technology has advanced well beyond the "keep your eyes peeled" directive of the original Neighborhood Watch. Still, today's equivalents are direct inheritors of those early initiatives. In fact, Nextdoor, a popular social media platform for community information and security, is a Neighborhood Watch partner.
- Nextdoor: This private social network allows members to share reports of suspicious activity and safety concerns, alongside posts about block parties, garage sales, and that strange new weed that's taking over the sidewalk. Because members can only belong to one neighborhood at a time, you're assured that you're communicating only with those living nearby. Nextdoor is an invaluable resource for recent homebuyers, though its membership requirements make it impossible to use as a resource to field potential neighborhoods.
- The Neighbors App by Ring: This app-based neighborhood watch program comes from Ring, the home automation company snapped up by Amazon last year. Ring is synonymous with its video doorbell -- the top smart doorbell on the market. You don't have to own Ring products in order to use the app, which combines reports from neighbors and officials to alert you of suspicious activities and crime. Ring is partnering with a growing number of police agencies to improve communication between community members and authorities.
- National Sex Offender Registry: The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) allows you to perform a complete search of sex offenders from all state, territorial, and tribal registries. You can search this government site by offender's name or by location and radius, allowing you to check out the vicinity of not only your home but other places your family frequents, like schools, parks, and shopping centers. NSOPW provides safety tips in addition to information about predators, making it an excellent resource for parents. If you'd like to know when registered sex offenders move in or out of your neighborhood -- check out Family Watchdog, which sends alerts relevant to the locations you designate.
- CrimeReports: CrimeReports compiles the data of over 1,000 participating law enforcement agencies to create a detailed, searchable map. Search for recent criminal activity by area or law enforcement agency or by type of crime. Zoom the map to your area of concern, then set alerts from a comprehensive list of incidents, from the big (theft of vehicle) to the small (disorderly behavior). You can also register your security camera with CrimeReports to contribute to police efforts. If a crime occurs in your vicinity, police may contact you to check the footage.