Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nosing Around

The latest email from my neighborhood association reports two recent break-ins within a few blocks of my house, and specifically asks me to be a "nosy neighbor" to deter future criminal activity. If I see a person or vehicle that "doesn't seem to belong in the neighborhood," the email recommends "slowing down and acting interested," getting a description (e.g., noting cars' license plate numbers) and passing that info along to the neighborhood association, and/or calling the police department's non-emergency number.

I'm all for "acting interested" in what's going on in my neighborhood (that's just being neighborly), and I help law enforcement in any way I can, but now I'm torn between...
  • my desire (if not my tendency) to think the best of others, and my desire to protect my property (and that of my neighbors);
  • my dismay over the idea of targeting people based on race and/or perceived economic class, and the knowledge that recent thefts—and one I personally witnessed last summer—involved black men (some driving older, beat-up vehicles);
  • my commitment to behaving as a law-abiding citizen (apart from a slight tendency to regard speed limits as "suggestions"), and my resentment of scrutiny from my fellow citizens and from law enforcement.
Is there such a thing as "situationally induced multiple personality disorder"?

The neighborhood association is meeting tonight, and I plan to attend. A representative from the police department is scheduled to give a presentation, which I hope will include some tips on "how to protect your neighborhood without feeling like a government informant."


I'm home from the meeting, which had a generally upbeat tone and was well-attended (in comparison to previous meetings I've been to in my five years in the neighborhood). The recurring theme was "get to know your neighbors so you'll know who belongs in the neighborhood and who doesn't." The police officer who attended didn't offer much specific advice other than "do your own research" (on alarm systems, the pros and cons of gun ownership, etc.), and the few specifics he did share—about the recent and upcoming decreases in the number of officers on the force—were depressing. But he did say that the neighborhood isn't being specifically targeted by criminals, and he repeatedly encouraged us to report any suspicious behavior, as that kind of reporting has helped solve cases in the past. The phrase "racial profiling" was used by a resident, but the officer dismissed it, saying "we don't do that."

There are no immediate answers to the neighborhood's problems, but after tonight's meeting, I feel reassured that even though I bought my house based primarily on its price and location, I chose my neighbors well.

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