Thursday, February 10, 2011

Criminals Working the Suburbs

I live in a nice quiet neighborhood where most homes are 15-25 years old. As long as we've lived here children have played freely around the neighborhood without parents having to be too concerned. Everyone kind of keeps an eye on their neighbors.

Last week a neighbor of mine was doing stuff around the house and in the yard before getting ready to head to a shift of work that started in the early afternoon. He is a detective with a local police agency. Some people are home in my neighborhood in the middle of the day on a weekday, but many homes have nobody home at that time.

My neighbor noticed a guy wandering from door to door that looked out of place in our neighborhood. So he just kind of kept an eye on the guy, who was carrying around a handful of flyers. Before long he noticed that as the guy was going from door to door he never left a flyer at any home.

In the meantime, my neighbor finished his chores and got ready to leave for work. But instead of leaving the neighborhood, he parked down the road and watched the apparent peddler. He noticed that when someone answered the door, the guy seemed eager to move on to the next house. But he also watched the guy try the door at some homes where nobody answered.

Finally my detective neighbor went up to the guy to chat with him. The guy claimed to be a vacuum salesman. But he knew nothing about vacuums. He couldn't explain what his flyers were about. He said that he had been dropped off in the neighborhood by his boss. But he didn't know who his boss was nor could he describe the boss' car. Besides, the guy looked a lot more like a drug peddler than a vacuum salesman.

Finally my police friend asked the man to verify his identity. He was unsurprised when the man first produced a fictitious name. But my friend has been doing this kind of work for a long time. He was soon able to get the guy's true identity. Although he hadn't broken any serious laws while in our neighborhood, the man had several outstanding warrants for his arrest. My police friend packed him up and hauled him to jail.

For the first time in its history our neighborhood saw a spate of crimes last summer. Items went missing out of garages. There was some vandalism. A couple of homes were broken into. One was ransacked pretty thoroughly.

Then a neighbor caught an unfamiliar 14-year-old girl in his garage in the middle of the day. The girl took off running. This man can no longer run, so he called the police from his cell phone. They came immediately and caught the girl only a block and a half away. She led them to her older accomplices. The neighborhood crime problem dried up after that.

That is, it dried up until autumn. Then a spacious home in the ritzy adjoining neighborhood was ransacked while the owners were out of town. The police said that this was a job by experienced thieves. The home is highly visible and near a thoroughfare. But the criminals got away without anyone noticing their activity.

A couple of police neighbors have said that they are seeing more crime in the suburbs lately. Criminals are expanding their markets. So we have been told to be more aware of what is going on in our neighborhood. Watch anyone that doesn't look like they belong to see what they are up to. Don't leave garages open. Don't leave valuables in cars, especially in open sight, even when the cars are parked in a garage.

We have also been told to watch to make sure that people that appear to be service workers in the neighborhood are really working for one of our neighbors.  We have been told to be careful about who we hire to come to our yards and into our homes to do work.

A manager of mine said that her parole officer husband came home for lunch one day to find a parolee doing yard work at his neighbor's place. The neighbor had seen the guy with a "will work for food" sign and had brought him home. The parole officer knew that the guy was there merely to case the joint. Besides, his activity was a clear violation of his parole terms.  So back to jail he went.

I guess my neighborhood isn't quite as innocent of a place as it once was. Residents will have to be more vigilant than in the past. But over time I suspect that continued problems will cause people to relocate and will bring a different type of resident into the neighborhood.


Bradley Ross said...

A young man showed up at my door wanting to give me a "free" security system. I laughed and told him I wasn't interested. "But it's free!" he said.

"Who wants to live in a world where every home needs a security system?" I asked. "Not me. Good luck." Off he went.

Still, I wonder as I read your story if I shouldn't be more cautious. Perhaps our neighborhood doesn't make a very enticing target. We joke that thieves won't find much to steal in our home that they could resell. I'd almost rather rig up a camera rather than lock my house all the time. Then you could catch someone after the fact but you would have to fuss with the security all the rest of the time.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Some of our neighbors had a security system for a while. They still have the stickers on the door and in the window. They figure that the stickers are probably just as effective.

While strangers do break into homes, most home break-ins are perpetrated by people that know the home and the people living in it. Often they are familiar enough to know how to circumvent the alarm system.