"It's an absolute perfect storm," says Woodson. "[Federal policing grants] were cut before the economic crisis, which is just now playing out on the law enforcement front. And now you have people being laid off, and some of those people are going to start stealing in a variety of different ways."
Rising property crimes a factor
Though violent crimes are down across the nation, property crimes by many accounts are rising. (FBI crime figures for 2008 won't be available until fall.) Transitional neighborhoods around major urban centers are particularly prone to the cause-and-effect between rising crime and community patrols, as national migration figures slow and more and more Americans hunker down.
What seems to have sparked many groups isn't just low level crime, but high profile incidents and brazen tactics like bashing in front doors to get at large flat-screen TVs. The murder in Atlanta of a bartender by four armed bandits on Jan. 7 resulted in the creation of a group called Atlantans Together Against Crime (ATAC). In the span of two weeks, the group had almost 5,000 members on Facebook.