University of Missouri Extension

DM1505, Reviewed October 1993

Rural Neighborhoods for Crime Prevention

E. Frederick List
Department of Community Development

There is increasing concern throughout the state for the growing incidence of burglary, theft and vandalism in rural areas. Whatever the reasons, these crimes have increased sharply in the past few years. Rural residents are taking steps to assist law enforcement officials to deal with this growing problem. These efforts have come to be known as neighborhood crime prevention or neighborhood crime watches.

One of the most effective crime prevention measures in rural areas is the establishment of a neighborhood organization to maintain surveillance of local properties, roads and highways. The mere existence of such a group serves as a deterrent to thieves and burglars. However, once it has been put to use and found to be effective, it becomes an even more powerful weapon against crime.

Other measures a neighborhood organization can take are immediately reporting to law enforcement officials suspicious persons, acts and the location of questionable vehicles with license numbers. Also, mark (in a recommended manner) personal properties most likely to be taken by thieves, so that if stolen — and recovered — it can be identified, returned to the owner and the thief prosecuted and convicted.

Experience has shown that the three steps (organization, reporting and marking of properties) can sharply reduce the amount of criminal activity in rural areas.

It has often been said that nothing is so potent as an aroused citizenry. Even in cities and towns, law enforcement officials cannot be everywhere all the time. So it is "Mr. and Mrs. Average Citizen" who become the additional eyes and ears needed to maintain law and order. When things get out of order, citizen cooperation is an absolute necessity.

Perhaps our collective public attitude toward crimes of burglary and theft is one of the important aspects of the issue. It has been too easy to lean on the insurance companies to take the sting out of losses from theft. We are then prone to excuse the criminal from prosecution, rather than pressing for conviction. In the long run, this costs us more and encourages the thief.

Unfortunately, some mass media adversely influence our unconscious thinking about crime. Clever criminal activity is often glorified in television programs. The intricacies of the almost perfect crime are paraded before the viewing public, creating a sort of admiration for the perpetrator who, time after time, is able to outwit the police. But then after eventual apprehension or capture, the drama is over. The viewers seldom — if ever — see the conviction, the beginning of punishment or any indication of remorse on the part of the criminal. The residual effect on the viewer is that the perpetrator almost got away with it.

However, crime ceases to be entertaining when we ourselves become the victims of burglary or theft. We then realize that we must regard our neighbor's property as inviolate as our own. This is the beginning of that mutual concern that holds the community or neighborhood together.

Organization is the key to effective action. The local residents must band together and take responsibilities not previously being fulfilled.

Beyond the organizational activities, individual households and farmsteads must be given attention to minimize the chances of becoming the targets of thieves and vandals. Such things as night lights, locks and care of equipment and livestock must all be taken into account. Frequent communication with trusted neighbors is also a good preventative measure.

The following is a list of steps to take to help protect your rural properties. (From the Institute of Public Safety, MU.)

Security steps for rural residents



Self-help measures



For further information on this subject, contact The Law Enforcement Training Institute, 321 Hearnes Center, MU, Columbia, Mo. 65211; or phone 573-882-6021.
DM1505 Rural Neighborhoods for Crime Prevention | University of Missouri Extension

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