How it all started

“Not only was I at the birth of Neighbourhood Watch, I was there at the conception.”

Chris Coster, former Chief Inspector and Neighbourhood Watch State Coordinator with Victoria Police, shares his memories of how Neighbourhood Watch started in Victoria.

The first planning meeting to implement Neighbourhood Watch (NHW) in Victoria was in November 1982 in Frankston. I was one of six people at the meeting.

I was a Senior Constable then so naturally every action item came my way. Things were much simpler then and we did not need anywhere near the number of approvals as required today.

We also had no technology apart from calculators. We commenced planning for a pilot project to be launched in mid-1983. We studied ABS data and looked for a defined area that was representative and separate so we could identify any changes in crime. It came down to two choices – either Kananook (near Seaford) or Belvedere Park (also near Seaford). We chose Kananook because it was more clearly defined and separate.

We had the first public meeting to launch Kananook, then titled Z1, in on 8th June 1983. I recall the lead up vividly because in the month before the planned launch everything had come down to me to do.

I remember running around Kananook on a Sunday afternoon, whilst pushing my young son in his pusher, as I delivered invitations to the first meeting. I got a real insight to an important lesson that day.

I was approaching one house where the occupant was doing some gardening out the front. He had seen me running around putting something in the letter boxes. As I approached his house he looked up and said, “Don’t bother, I’m not interested”. I replied, “I don’t care if you are interested or not, you cannot have one”. He jumped up and snatched the invitation out of my hand – and he was at the meeting.

Two days before the meeting an Inspector rang me to ask how the planning was going. In those days I did not even look at Inspectors. I told her  that we were ready to go. She then told me that normal rules apply; if it is a flop it is your fault, if it is a success we will claim the credit! I knew the rules clearly.

We set up for that first meeting in the Southern Umpires rooms in Kananook. We were hoping for somewhere between 50 and 100 people. At 7.20pm we had about 10. I could see my career flashing before my eyes. At 7.30pm we had 160 and NHW was on the way in Australia.

Everything moved quickly from there. We owe that group a huge debt because we learned so much from them and they contributed so much. One of them even designed the unique Australian logo. We did everything we could to make this a genuine pilot project and see if it worked. It worked spectacularly.

My involvement with the NHW program was the highlight of my 45-year police career. I have had some amazing opportunities in VicPol; my involvement with NHW was the best. When I was in charge of recruit training at the Academy I was often asked if it was the best job I ever had. I always replied, it was a close second.

I transferred from the NHW job in 1990. I felt like I was abandoning my child. I used to comment that not only was I was at the birth, I was there at conception.

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Neighbourhood Watch Victoria acknowledges the 38 mobs, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live, and gather as employees and volunteers. We recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community and pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

At Neighbourhood Watch, we believe everyone has the right to feel safe and welcome. We are committed to ensuring diversity, inclusion and equity are embedded throughout our organisation – in the work we do, the services we deliver and among our staff, volunteers, and the communities we work with.