When a crime occurs, it not only affects a given victim, but also deprives many people of their opportunities to work and live in an environment free of fear. Unfortunately, no community–whether unsuspecting or otherwise–is immune from falling prey to a variety of unlawful actions.
Bearing this in mind, the Youth Crime Watch of America (YCWA) was established 30 years ago with the following purposes: safeguarding public order; preventing and detecting criminal activity; eliminating unwarranted violence; and ensuring the safety of a neighborhood’s citizenry. Modeling itself after the Youth Crime Watch of Miami-Dade County, this nonprofit organization was founded by a handful of concerned citizens in Florida in 1978. Born out of a series of heinous sexual crimes in Miami, YCWA was initially housed in a few high schools as pilot programs. Within a year, school substance abuse and theft of student personal property significantly decreased at these sites. As a result of students gradually summoning up the courage to report crimes, these programs gained community momentum, eventually leading to their statewide implementation.
By 1986, YCWA initiatives had sprung up across the United States, culminating with hundreds of programs. Today the YCWA has created more than 2,000 program sites not only across this country, but throughout the world. Indeed, nearly every state has a YCWA chapter, while model programs exist on four continents. All are welcome to join a YCWA program, with an eye toward encouraging youth volunteers. Once a program is established, YCWA-trained leadership ensures that it is run effectively by providing drug and crime prevention education, creating crime reporting systems, and developing mentoring programs. In addition, YCWA programs are responsible for fostering good community and law enforcement agency relations, in part by hosting a number of events that promote youth involvement.
Unlike other meaningful national and international programs, YCWA counters crime, violence, and drug use with team-oriented collaborations between adolescents and adults. Rather than being solely dependent on well-intentioned adults– namely, teachers, parents, or school administrators–YCWA programs impart the wherewithal to enthusiastic youth determined to help solve community problems. Through a hands-on method, young people become passionate participants in the conflict resolution process.
YCWA programs also work closely with public schools and youth recreational centers. In doing so, advisors stress conflict resolution strategies while championing school bus safety.
Beyond local leadership, each year YCWA divisions come together under the auspices of the National Crime Prevention Conference. During this four-day anti-crime conference, thousands of educators, law enforcement officers, policymakers, and both youth and adult volunteers share practices and perspectives on preserving community integrity. From workshops to training seminars, this conference presents multilingual materials such as operating manuals, handbooks, DVD directives, and success stories so that attendees can start a program of their own in short order. These essential start-up elements define how to launch, maintain, and expand programs while avoiding obstacles. The annual YCWA gathering also allows chapter counselors an opportunity to exchange contact information, thereby ensuring that newsletter mailings and follow-up sessions are ongoing.
In recent years, YCWA has garnered national attention for its effectiveness in uniting communities to challenge and ultimately deter crime waves. In fact, every U.S. president since the Reagan administration has honored YCWA for its youth leadership development and proactive approach in nurturing positive communities. Equally noteworthy, YCWA has received a number of national awards, including being designated as a U.S. Department of Education Exemplary Program of Excellence.
The level of recognition and sustained success of YCWA has, in turn, influenced higher education. In 2003, YCWA spearheaded College Crime Watch (CCW) programs aimed at reducing campus crime. In conjunction with building security and university police, CCW promotes safety escort services and timely campus patrols.
With an emphasis on hard work, self-reliance, resourcefulness, social responsibility, self-esteem building, good citizenship, and a greater appreciation for the role of police departments, YCWA community chapters help adolescents become increasingly prepared for almost any seemingly insurmountable ordeal.
- Guerra, N., & Smith, E. (Eds.). (2006). Preventing youth violence in a multicultural society. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- Miller, T. (2008). School violence and primary prevention. New York: Springer.
- Payne, P. (2006). Youth violence prevention through asset-based community development. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishers.