Neighborhood watch gains popularityBy Kristina Peterson
Claudia Albano, neighborhood services manager for the Oakland Police Department thinks the recent surge in local Neighborhood Watch groups has ties to the alley - the bowling alley.
"Fifty years ago, more people bowled in bowling leagues than alone," she said. "Today more people bowl alone."
But Albano said that is changing in Oakland neighborhoods, where people are banding together to keep a sharp eye out on local crime.
She credits Harvard University professor Robert Putnam's 2001 book "Bowling Alone" and its principle of "social capital" with her explanation.
"That glue that happens when you know someone, that's social capital. When people know each other ... information flows and you can mobilize resources faster," Albano said.
In the past year and a half, cities across the Bay Area have seen an explosion in the number of Neighborhood Watch groups forming. The new neighborhood associations are smaller, tighter and focused not just on crime, but also on preparing themselves for disasters.
The city of Oakland counted only 50 neighborhood groups 18 months ago. After an energetic promotion, the groups numbered nearly 500, said Albano, adding that between 20 and 25 new groups are formed each month.
Many other cities say disaster preparedness has spurred the formation of the groups.
"In any major disaster, we're on our own. The city and major agencies will be occupied elsewhere," said Sheri Furman, chairwoman of Palo Alto's Midtown Residents Association, which is in the process of developing watch groups.
Doug Moran, president of the Barron Park Association in Palo Alto, said crime alerts are already distributed via e-mail. His association is creating watch groups that combine crime prevention and emergency preparation so that residents have extra incentive to get involved.
"We want to make sure their investment in time getting started pays off," Moran said.
On the Peninsula, Palo Alto residents are finding it worth the effort in record-breaking numbers, according to the Palo Alto Police Department.
Community Service Officer Susie Jones said she now speaks at Neighborhood Watch meetings about once a week. In previous years, she did roughly five annually.
"The number of meetings has tripled or quadrupled in the past six months," Jones said. The groups she talks to now are smaller and more organized than the old, sprawling associations.
"Their primary concern is their immediate neighborhood," Jones said.
In San Mateo County, Millbrae has similar close-knit groups, Community Service Officer Chris Co said.
"They meet more often than larger groups and are easier to coordinate," she said.
Some residents remain skeptical of groups made up of citizens already busy with their everyday lives.
"I don't think they have any sustainability. They react to particular events, especially if it's in their neighborhood, but then they get tired," Palo Alto resident Bob Moss said. More formally organized groups allied with specific police officers helped bring down the number of car burglaries in the Barron Park neighborhood in the 1990s, he said.
Residents in cities without formal watch groups like Burlingame and Monte Sereno have expressed some desire to see them created. One Monte Sereno resident whose house was the site of a recent attempted robbery said he would eagerly join a watch group.
Ultimately, said Albano, people join groups because it is in their self-interest.
"People organize because they want to keep their kids safe, because they want a good quality of life," she said.
Copyright ©2007 Daily News. Published 01/10/2007.