Text: Joost Bijlsma
Picture: Gerdien Wolthaus Paauw
Neighborhood watch app prevents burglaries
Life for the criminal fraternity has just become even more difficult. In Tilburg, local residents notify each other of any suspicious activity using the WhatsApp messaging service. This novel approach has proven very successful, as researcher Ben Vollaard can confirm. He and Master’s student Martijn Akkermans monitored crime figures throughout the city.
Initial results were astonishing. By the end of the trial period, the number of domestic burglaries had fallen by an average of forty per cent in those neighborhoods which had adopted the warning system. “There is no question that Tilburg has become much safer,” Vollaard concludes. “There are now half as many break-ins as there were before the first group was set up.”
“No question, Tilburg has become much safer”Ben Vollaard, Tilburg School of Economics and Management
Vollaard’s research will identify key success factors of the system so that other towns and cities can follow Tilburg’s example. He cites thorough planning and careful organization. “The local authority set up the WhatsApp groups and appointed neighborhood coordinators who would maintain contact with the police. The police always provide feedback about the action they take further to the reports. When people know that the police will respond, they are more alert and more willing to take part. Because all 88 neighborhoods in the city are now involved, it is possible to track any suspicious characters.”
Rules and guidelines
Another success factor would appear to be the rules and guidelines for making a report, which have been clearly communicated and are rigidly enforced. “This prevents the system being abused or misused. We want to avoid false alarms, idle gossip or offensive remarks. If you see a report of suspicious activity, you know that it is genuine.”
The Tilburg approach has attracted considerable media interest at home and abroad. A Belgian journalist decided to conduct his own research by coming to Tilburg and acting suspiciously in a residential neighborhood. “It was less than three minutes before someone asked what he was up to,” recalls Vollaard with a smile.