Crime Watch Signs - A Critique

More and more communities use neighborhood watch programs to deter criminals and fight crime. Since 2002, the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) has registered more than 22,000 watch groups on its affiliate, As these groups multiply, more crime watch signs pop up in local cities, towns, and neighborhoods. These signs all work to convey the same basic message – that the neighbors are watching you.
Neighborhood signs come in three basic categories: “Boris the Burglar,” the ambiguous “Floating Eye,”and the “Stepford Family.” Interestingly, the artwork and captions of each of these signs evoke very distinct and sometimes contrasting feelings ranging from warmth and safety to outrage and suspicion.
Neighborhood Watch Warning Sign
a Controversial Neighborhood Watch Sign.
Neighborhood watch sign
Other “Figure-Based” Watch Signs.

Boris the Burglar

Suspicion emanates from the NSA’s Boris the Burglar sign. A classic neighborhood fixture, Boris peers out at passersby from under his tipped black hat with a smirk. His haunting, all-black figure hides behind an orange “Prohibited” symbol. With a bold WARNING displayed over Boris’s crossed out face, this sign aims to intimidate. Even the caption – comprehensive, without frills – seeks to deter criminals.
Whether or not the sign actually deters criminals remains to be determined. It does, however, carry with it racial overtones by stereotyping burglars and criminals as black men. Viewed from a distance, the sign could even be misinterpreted as racist paraphernalia, banning African Americans from the neighborhood. Instead of making the reader feel safe, Boris signs threaten the viewer. This type of negative reinforcement may be less effective.
These crime watch signs, though not offensive, may be ambiguous.

Ambiguous "Floating Eye"

An alternative to the Boris the Burglar signs, the “Floating Eye” signs also populate many local communities. Varying shades of blue surround an almond shaped white blob dotted with a large, dark pupil. The design of the eye appears sleek and sophisticated, but ambiguous. Signs are meant to be quickly processed and easily understood. The “Floating Eye,” however, is somewhat confusing, and the average passerby can not discern what the image means to represent without pausing to take a second.
The large amount of text in comparison to the smaller graphic also diminishes the power of the image. Instead of feeling intimidated or safe, the reader feels confused. “What is that white blob with a dot? Is it an eye or a tadpole?” Plus, confusing signs can do more harm than good. Signs only deter criminals if they understand them, which is why images make a stronger impact. Dense wording and ambiguous images make this sign inferior to the alternatives.
The panacea of all crime watch signs. A little bit of idyll.

“Stepford Family”

Perhaps the best-suited sign for creating a positive community watch environment, the “Stepford Family” sign depicts a loving family housed under a roof. Using the classic outline of the linear male figure and triangular female figure, this sign creates an illustration of the idealized nuclear family achieving the American Dream with an older son and younger daughter. Large, uniform letters surrounding the image declare NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME WATCH. Notwithstanding the underlying warning, the combination of the image and words engenders a feeling of safety and security. People in this neighborhood live safely because their neighbors look out for one another like a family. Thus, this sign promotes a positive atmosphere of community caring, which fosters the most successful type of neighborhood watch. The simplicity of images and words makes this sign ideal because it is easily understood and visually appealing.
Choosing the right sign to send the right message can change the way that community members, criminals, and visitors perceive your community. Choose wisely: choose SmartSign.