or vehicles. Although neighborhood surveillance is the primary goal of neighborhood watch programs, most engage in other activities as well, such as property identification, home security surveys, lighting improvement, and so on.
The rapid rise of neighborhood watch programs in the late 1970s and early 1980s was accompanied by strong claims in the media concerning the effectiveness of such programs in reducing crime and fear of crime, as well as high expectations among community activists and some researchers (Lurigio and Rosenbaum, 1986; Rosenbaum, 1988). However, the current state of evidence seems to support the rather pessimistic assessment of Garofalo and McLeod (1989) and others. Much of the evaluation research cited in support of neighborhood watch programs suffers from severe methodological deficiencies, and the most rigorous quasi-experimental studies indicate that victimization rates and fear are not significantly reduced by such programs (Rosenbaum, 1986, 1988; Skogan and Maxfield, 1981; Lurigio and Rosenbaum, 1986). One reason seems to be that neighborhood watch programs are most likely to arise in those neighborhoods that need them least (e.g., Garofalo and McLeod, 1989; Bennett and Lavrakas, 1989). Another is that the initial interest taken by residents often fades quickly, with the result that many neighborhood programs soon become dormant (Taub et al., 1984; Garofalo and McLeod, 1989). Finally, it is possible that neighborhood watch programs, by drawing attention to or dramatizing local crime, increase rather than alleviate fear among some residents.
There can be little doubt that fear of criminal victimization affects the lifestyles and quality of life of U.S. citizens. In assessing the social implications of fear, however, several points need to be considered. First, much of the current concern with fear of crime arises from an assumption that fear is an intrinsically negative emotion with no redeeming features. In the biological sciences, however, fear is widely regarded as a beneficial rather than a deleterious reaction. Many animal species display apparent fear responses (escape behavior, tonic immobility or freezing, distress calls, crouching, jumping) when confronted by predators and other dangers, or exhibit forms of caution such as neophobia (reluctance to enter a novel area). Far from being dysfunctional, such behaviors are generally regarded as highly adaptive because they reduce individual or collective exposure to risk and maximize the probability of survival in the face of lethal risks (see Sluckin, 1979).