If you turn on the news, you will find one story after another about murder, drugs, theft and other crimes. These incidents are not only happening in big cities; rural areas and small towns are dealing with an increasing amount of crime.

Our young professional group recently toured the offices of our police, sheriff and county jail. The visit was eye opening because I have almost no interaction with law enforcement. An important takeaway was the officers’ request for our participation in public safety and community vigilance. Law enforcement officials often rely on community informants and private security footage to capture criminals.

There is a lot of truth to the saying nothing goes unnoticed in a small town. If crime or anything else is happening in your neighborhood, someone knows about it, and they will probably tell you about it. Unless they don’t know you.

Growing up in a very small community, I knew almost everyone in the whole town. In adulthood, that has not been the case. My education and career took me from coast to coast through several big cities over the course of a decade. During that time, I can count on one hand the number of neighbors I met.

Honestly, I avoided them. I was busy, tired from work, had enough people in my life, I felt safer not knowing them and any other excuse that came to mind. None of my neighbors ever knocked on my door either. We were all content in our isolated lives.

This seems to be a trend even in small communities. How many people actually take the time to welcome new neighbors or go door-to-door to meet people if they are new to the neighborhood?

The technology and culture of our connected world have negated the need to interact with others because of their proximity.  The unintended consequence of this is our neighborhoods are now filled with strangers who have no loyalty or reason to care.

The problems this causes are deeper than just an occasional awkward interaction. Not knowing our neighbors is eroding communities.

A podcast on the subject, featuring a crime prevention specialist Stephanie Mann, made me realize this unwillingness to meet neighbors is part of the reason crime is seeping into our neighborhoods.  

Mann says fixing community’s problems begins by the small step of meeting your neighbors. Simply knock on their door, ask what concerns they have about the neighborhood and if they are willing to help.

She highlighted multiple examples of this simple step working to bring neighbors together to stop vandalism by supporting the family of troubled teens. Another community documented license plate numbers for visitors to a known drug house while getting the mail and walking their dogs.

Crime is not inevitable. Each one of us has the ability to help protect our family, friends and neighbors. Going outside our comfort zone to get to know our neighbors can create relationships and shared commitment to the goal of a achieving a safe and healthy community.