Keeping the neighbourhood safe in Zilina

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The idea of neighbourhood watch - local people keeping on eye out for crime in their neighbourhood is well established in many countries - but it's quite new to Slovakia. However in the northern city of Zilina, citizens have decided to join forces with police to help make their city a safer place.

Teenage gangs or violence by individuals is something people in Slovakia living in concrete block neighborhood are often afraid of. As the police can't be everywhere, several people decided to replace them in a certain way. The city of Zilina now has a neighborhood watch program. A group called The Night Crows came into existence in cooperation with the Municipal Police. Commissioner of the municipal police, Milos Michelcik, says what he thinks of the project.

"I think the project is a big plus for the community. People involved in the neighborhood watch program will monitor groups of people who commit crimes related to vandalism or public nuisance. The suspects often damage public property, like schools or playgrounds."

Contrary to public opinion which considers these crimes a matter of nightlife, teenage gangs commit these crimes in daytime, as they have nothing else to do. So according to the organizers of this initiative, they want to provide safety to kids who are being nice, who simply have to grow up in the concrete block suburbs. So it is no surprise that even the parents of the kids are involved. Eva Sokolikova from the organizing committee confirms it.

"Our philosophy is very simple. We don't want parents to sit at home and fear for their children, asking themselves whether the kids will come home safe and unhurt from a dance club. We want these parents to leave the house and hit the streets. They can prevent crime, drug sales or other situations like this."

However there are fears that most of the so-called members will be pensioners who have nothing to do all day. Representatives of the municipal police admit the thing is not totally new. The volunteers are going to receive very small, if any, financial contribution. They should wear uniforms or other distinctive marks on their clothing and all they would be equipped with is a cell phone.

"They are going to monitor only public places. They won't have the right to enter private premises, not even restaurants or clubs. And they will never, ever try to resolve disputes and street fights."

Eva Sokolikova's optimism when it comes to drug sales prevention in suburbs is moderated by street workers who say these sales are now conducted well out of the sight of obeying citizens. And thus, the only real help of the people involved in the neighborhood watch program will is using the phone and calling the police - which is what every one of us should do.