Many of our communities have expressed an interest in forming a neighborhood watch in order to assist with preventing crime and building stronger relationships with law enforcement. Though forming a neighborhood can be a great way to achieve these goals, a neighborhood watch could result in liability to the community. To reduce liability to the community, we recommend the following safe guards:
- Coordinate the neighborhood watch with your local Sheriff's Office. Many Sheriff's Offices offer start-up open support, guidance, and training for neighborhood watch volunteers. All neighborhood watch volunteers should be required to be trained by the Sheriff's Office to ensure that the volunteers understand their responsibilities.
- Establish a process by which the community vets (perhaps background checks) the volunteers and confirms that each volunteer has been trained and is following the protocol established by the Sheriff.
- Create a rule that the volunteers not engage with any suspected criminals. Instead, the neighborhood watch should simply be a surveillance tool to report to police when they suspect illegal behavior. After creating these rules, the community should monitor that they are being followed and reinforce them continuously.
- In that vein, the community should create a rule that the volunteers not be armed. Again, after creating these rules, the community should monitor that they are being followed and reinforce them continuously.
- Contact your insurance carrier to confirm that your DNO/Master policy would cover actions taken by the neighborhood watch (and to find the exclusions, i.e. gross negligence on behalf of the volunteer). The neighborhood watch/the volunteers may need to be added to the policy.
- Finally, ensure that the community keeps its corporate status in good standing. It is easy for an community corporate charter to be forfeited because of clerical error. Continue to monitor that the Association is in good standing so that it retains its corporate protections.
Establishing a neighborhood watch can impart risk on your community in the event someone is injured as a result of neighborhood watch action. Though the above recommendations will help minimize liability, it is not possible to completely insulate the community from liability. As a result, when deciding whether or not to establish a neighborhood watch, please make sure to evaluate the potential risks with the benefit the Board believes the neighborhood watch will impart to the community.