Some might call it being nosy. But to Carrie Chattell, it’s really just being aware.
She’s talking about Block Watch, a crime prevention program program where neighbours look out for each other, and report any suspicious activity to police.
Surrey was the first jurisdiction in B.C. to introduce Block Watch, now celebrating its 25th year in operation.
The program works on the assumption that your neighbour knows who you are, what kind of car you drive, and may be the first person to notice someone suspicious at your home or block.
Surprisingly, considering how close-knit the community seems, Cloverdale has the lowest number of Block Watches in Surrey.
Except, that is, for Clayton, where new residential growth has been booming, says Chattell, Cloverdale Block Watch Coordinator.
“We could really use more Block Watches here,” says Chattell, who also acts as crime prevention programs coordinator for the Surrey RCMP’s Cloverdale/Port Kells district office.
Her theory? New town homes are built so close together, residents might be a little more prone to guarding their sense of privacy than in older neighbourhoods.
“The closer the houses are, the less you know your neighbours,” she laments.
“Block Watch isn’t about being a nosy neighbour, it’s about being an aware neighbour.”
She says the program encourages residents to be more aware of what’s going on in their neighbourhood by getting to know one another.
She suggests Block Watch groups hold get-togethers or parties once or twice a year, so neighbours can meet face-to-face.
The results have a social benefit beyond crime reduction: “People don’t feel so isolated. They feel like neighbours.”
There are other, tangible benefits to Block Watches, too: many insurance brokers also offer discounts on home insurance to home owners who are part of a Block Watch Group, she notes.
After talking to their insurance company, they often turn to Chattell as their next step.
“They come to me and say, ‘Ok. How do I start one up?’”
And finally, Chattell says even the act of adding Block Watch signage has been proven to deter criminal activity.
Depending on the size of the properties and proximity of homes, Block Watch groups can be as large as 10 to 15 homes or as small as just three.
She keeps in touch with Block Watches via email and newsletter (long gone are the days of cumbersome telephone chains), but participants are also encouraged to chat over the proverbial backyard fence; she finds it’s more conducive to information-sharing.
Almost anyone can get involved in Block Watch, from rural homeowners with large properties and cul-de-sac suburbanites, to residential complex-dwellers and basement suite renters.
Time commitment is minimal; just an hour or two each month.
Starting up a new Block Watch Group is easy, she says. Block Captains receive free training, and then help sign up neighbours who are interested.
Join the celebration
On Saturday, Cloverdale and Clayton residents are invited to join the Surrey RCMP for the Block Watch 25 anniversary celebration. It’s a free, family-oriented event running from 10 a.m to 3 p.m. at Clayton Hall, 18513 70 Avenue, Surrey. It’s one of five anniversary Block Watch events planned for Surrey.
There are door prizes and givaways all day, making it the perfect time for residents and families to drop by and find out more about Block Watch.
“Come out, ask questions, and find out that it doesn’t take much to get involved,” she says.
There will be lots going on; not only is the RCMP’s Air 5 helicopter scheduled to make an appearance, local dignitaries will be there, too.
Surrey mayor Diane Watts and councillor Mary Martin are slated to be on hand at 1 p.m.
There will be family-friendly activities planned. The Surrey Library will be doing a storytime. There’s also facepainting for the kids.
Other participants include Cobbs Bread, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, SpriceSmart, RCMP, CN’s rail safety, the Langley Gymnastics Club, and a Lions barbecue, Fire department personnel, and activities through Surrey Parks and Recreation.
The City of Surrey’s neighbourhood emergency planning department will also be on hand; representatives will be handing out emergency kits for home and for blocks.