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Saturday 31 March 2012

Home Watch has been helping fight crime for 30 years


A senior police officer in Cheshire has described Home Watch as "a major contributor to the fight against crime"

The first Home Watch in Britain was launched just thirty years ago in the Cheshire village of Mollington when local people were concerned about a spate of burglaries.

Cheshire′s Assistant Chief Constable Janette McCormick says, "From the success of that first scheme in an area with a total population of nine hundred, the Home Watch movement spread across Britain. It has had a real impact on preventing crime and catching criminals.

"Thirty years on, we can appreciate the value of Home Watch. It has adapted to a changing world and adopted new technology but, at the core, it is still about people making a constructive effort to protect their local community."

Thirty years ago, Harold Cooper, Chairman of the Mollington Residents Association, approached Chester Crime Prevention Office about the burglaries. Inspector Grahame Andrews (Ret′d) was then the Crime Prevention Sergeant. He had been passed American Neighbourhood Watch papers by the then Chief Constable, George Fenn.

Mollington readily took on the concept of a similar scheme but called it ′Home Watch′. After the launch in March 1983, the burglaries stopped and representatives from thirty four police forces came to Cheshire to look at the operation of Home Watch.

Grahame Andrews says, "We made it clear that it did not involve snooping on your neighbours and it was certainly not about creating a vigilante outfit.

The guidelines set up back then are just as important now; improving the security of your home, security marking property and knowing who to contact if something suspicious is seen. The fact that the approach was ‘from the bottom up′, rather than ‘from the top down′ was a real reason for its success. Initially Mollington did not want any window stickers or street signs but later on groups could see the advantage of deterring burglars by advertising schemes locally."

Leaflets were produced and the local community spirit was strengthened by a series of meetings. The project was promoted at the Cheshire County Show that year.

One of the big challenges was how to communicate the latest information to the Watch members. In 1992 Inspector Andrews, then serving at Crewe, utilised the latest available technology − the Oracle teletext system on ITV. When Home watch started in Crewe there were eight pages on Oracle dedicated to Crewe for displaying recent crime, people arrested, stolen vehicles and major crimes. Grahame Andrews says the local people found this worked well.

Today, email provides the ideal route for rolling out information. Whether it is alerting people about a pattern of crime in a particular area or locating a stolen vehicle, the details can be sent to hundreds of people in seconds.

Grahame Andrews said, "Although the technology has advanced, the basic principles of Home Watch from when it started back in 1982 are still relevant to the scheme now. It is based on people being good neighbours in a local community."

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