Changing face of community watch programs

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Neighborhood watch groups first began appearing in the US in the late 1960s. According to the National Sheriff's Association, they started forming in response to rising burglary rates.

By 1979, the movement had spread to Huntsville.

Today, the city has more than 166 community watch groups.

However, how they operate has changed over the years.

"It used to be a thing (where) we said put a sign on your car, drive your neighborhood. You know, that was community watch," says Rheajoela Caldwell, president of the Huntsville Community Watch Association.

Now, Caldwell says the groups recognize there are many other ways to keep an eye out for suspicious activity.

"From porch sitting to walking your dog to driving back and forth to work to doing your exercise in the evening... all of those things provide an opportunity for you to look around and see what's going on in your neighborhood," Caldwell explains.

It may sound simple but Caldwell says it works, "because if people are watching and they see anything and they report it, criminals don't like getting caught."

If you're interested in starting a watch group in your neighborhood, Caldwell recommends contacting the community resource officer at your local precinct.

The officer can walk you through the steps required. The Huntsville Community Watch Association will also assist you.

If you'd like to become involved in an existing neighborhood watch group, the association can also help. The number to call is (256) 746-4139.