Neighbourhood Watch plans to get local, and get online, to prevent petty crime in Bendigo

Neighbourhood Watch members Alison White, Helen Bradshaw and John Smith are keen to boost the group's online presence, and work with other community organisations. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Neighbourhood Watch members Alison White, Helen Bradshaw and John Smith are keen to boost the group's online presence, and work with other community organisations. Picture: DARREN HOWE

USING online tools to bring Neighbourhood Watch into the 21st century could be a way to stem the rise in petty crime in the suburbs, members of the six Bendigo groups believe.

They are calling for support in establishing an online presence as a way of bringing communities closer together to take a proactive approach to crime prevention.

Helen Bradshaw, of Epsom-Huntly Neighbourhood Watch, said the groups wanted to change the perception that they were simply about “prying” on neighbours.

She said moving into the digital age with webpages while forming partnerships with community organisations would bring back the feeling of “community”.

“We have to change the energy of our neighbourhoods,” Ms Bradshaw said.

“Years ago, you’d be having the same neighbours for 50 years. These days, you might be the only person in your street who’s been there for more than 10 years.

“People don’t know their neighbours as much. But online, people are much more willing to get in contact with each other.”

Bendigo will soon have a seventh Neighbourhood Watch group, in Myers Flat. About 400 people are involved in the groups in Bendigo alone, and the numbers are increasing.

John Smith, of the Maiden Gully group, said they wanted to follow in the footsteps of other public safety campaigns.

He said crimes like thefts from vehicles – one of the city’s most common forms of crime – could be preventable if people had the right information.

“Residents are entitled to feel safe. At the same time, we need to take responsibility for our own actions,” Mr Smith said.

“Keys in an ignition even while paying for fuel are a serious temptation… for the majority of instances, the vehicles are not secured.”

Getting more children involved in the movement was one of their priorities. Elsewhere in the state, a partnership with the Scouts has led to the creation of a Neighbourhood Watch badge where children complete good deeds in the community.

In Melbourne, groups work with schools to create programs focused on home security, road safety and stranger danger.

Mr Smith said they were having a positive effect.

“We now hear of people niggled from the back seat when speed exceeds legal limits,” he said.

“The Neighbourhood Watch groups in Bendigo are beginning to move in that direction, but desperately require young technology-savvy people.

“Neighbourhood Watch is undergoing a revival.”

Police back a holistic community approach

A rise in thefts in Bendigo in recent years means community-based approaches to crime prevention are more important than ever, local police believe.

There were 700 more thefts in the 12 months to June 2016 in Bendigo compared to the previous 12 months – an increase of 35.1 per cent.

The crime rate as a whole in Bendigo increased 10.1 per cent. There was one criminal offence for every 10 people in the city.

Senior Sergeant Craig Gaffee said groups like Neighbourhood Watch can play an important role in keeping communities safe.

“Neighbourhood Watch groups can be good for looking out for each other, and knowing who should be around a certain area, and who shouldn’t,” he said.

“As a group, they provide useful information to police. They are aware of their area.

“We rely on information from members of the public. The more accurate it is, the more valuable it is for police.”

Senior Sergeant Gaffee said theft of motor vehicles and theft from motor vehicles remained the most common forms of crime in Bendigo – and a well-functioning Neighbourhood Watch can be useful in creating awareness of preventing the form of petty crime.

Rates of other crimes, including assault, drug use and possession, sexual offences and stalking, remained steady compared with previous years.

A representative from each of Bendigo’s six Neighbourhood Watch groups meets with police every month to discuss crime statistics in the local area.

Local group members are able to spot trends and spread the data through their local Neighbourhood Watch branch, with the hope the message would reach members of the local community through their newsletter.

But the newsletter can only reach so far.

Epsom-Huntly Neighbourhood Watch’s Helen Bradshaw said an increased online presence would make the information more readily available for residents, who could then better secure their property and their families.

“At the moment we only print off newsletters. If we had a webpage, we can target a lot more people,” she said.

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