Monday, August 3, 2009

Coping with Crime

I hate to say it, but I seem to have bad luck when it comes to crime.

In my early twenties, I had my first car stolen (yes, I've had more than one stolen). I parked it in a Staples parking lot (in Tampa, FL) to carpool to a professional development course for my new job. When we returned a few hours later, everyone else's cars were still there; mine was not. It turns out that Dodge Neons are very easy cars to steal, and certain sixteen year-olds playing hookie from school enjoy popping out the lock, busting the steering column, hot-wiring the vehicle, and joy riding around town. A cop caught them going through the McDonald's drive-through the same day it was stolen, and my lovely car was returned to me with approximately $800 worth of damage.

My second experience with crime happened a few years later when I was teaching in rural Louisiana. I awoke on a Sunday morning to knocking on the front door. I pulled the French door curtain to the side to see who it was, and the guy started banging on the door and yelling, "Open the door, _________!" [insert a profanity that involves taking the word "mother" in vain].

As I dialed 911, the perpetrator started kicking the door. I managed to escape out the back door, just as the glass was breaking on the front door.

(Long story, short: it turns out that the guy was high on drugs and thought his friends were locking him out of their house.)

Several years later, the third incident occurred. My partner and I left our house in Denver to go to a 10am yoga class. When we returned, our house had been ransacked by a guy who was apparently looking for cash. We had accidentally left the bathroom window unlocked, and he used a raised carrot bed box from our garden as a step-stool to get into our house. He managed to break into five houses within an hour before being caught.

When I moved to The Heights last year, I had some trepidation about living so close to N. Main and Studewood, due to my past experience with crime. Our neighbor who has lived on our street for more than 20 years assured us that she felt very safe.

Less than four months later, we had both our cars stolen (one was parked on the street and the other was parked in the driveway), even though both of them were locked and one of them had a security system.

And just last week, I woke up at 6:45am to the dog barking next door. I fought the urge to cover my head with a pillow and go back to sleep. I got up and walked to the window to see what was going on. As I got closer to the window, I thought I heard the sound of breaking glass either coming from my driveway or my neighbor's house. Then I heard the sound of an alarm coming from next door. I grabbed my dog and my cellphone and ran to another neigbhor's house across the street, so I wouldn't have to be alone. On the way, I called 911, and three officers arrived after a few minutes.

After a little investigating, the officers discovered that someone had attempted to break into my neighbor's house. Nothing was stolen, but the experience reminded me of the need to be vigilant when it comes to crime. It's easy to get lulled by the quaintness of our neighborhood.

As a result of my most recent close encounter with crime, I'm recommitting to the following:
  1. Checking on Things Consistently: It would have been easy to roll over and go back to sleep when I heard the dog barking unusually loudly and ferociously. Even when I heard the glass breaking, I could have chalked it up to being half-asleep and hearing things that weren't really there. We can't drive ourselves crazy with fear, but a little checking up is a good thing.
  2. Bringing a Cellphone: Whenever I walk my dog around the neighborhood, I'm going to make sure I have a cellphone with me, so I can call the police if I see anything sketchy.
  3. Getting My Neighbor's Contact Information: I tried to call my neighbor at work to let him know his house was broken inot, but it turns out I didn't have the rigth number. I'm going to make sure I have the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses for everyone on my street.
  4. Keeping Each Other Informed: When a crime occurs on our street, it's important that we keep each other informed, so neighbors can be on the lookout. I was able e-mail several of my neighbors to let them know what happened.
  5. Letting Neighbors Know When You're Away: If you're going to be out of town, ask a few neighbors to keep an eye on your house. They'll be more likely to call the police if they see something unusual happening.
  6. Keeping Doors and Windows Locked: Locked doors and windows won't keep a determined miscreant out of your house, but it definitely increases the difficulty.
  7. Using the Alarm System: It's tempting to leave the alarm system off when I make a quick trip to Fiesta or Antidote. But if I'm paying for it each month, I might as well use it.
  8. Always Locking the Car and Removing Valuables: It's easy to get lazy and leave an iPod or a wallet in my car. I now try to hold myself accountable for removing all valuables. I even use an anti-theft bar, in addition to my car security system.
  9. Call the Police When Something Doesn't Look Right: It's better to be safe than sorry (but remember that a Latino or African American man walking down the street in The Heights should not be immediate cause for suspicion or alarm).
Overall, we live in a safe neighborhood, and we shouldn't focus too much on crime. However, if there are relatively easy things we can do to keep ourselves a little safer, it's worth it.


  1. These are all great recommendations. Though personally, I am quite skeptical about the anti-theft bar in the car, having had a car stolen with one of them engaged.

    Something I will add is to also think about your personal safety when you're walking around. I used to live in Washington, DC, where this is a much bigger issue (because the city is so pedestrian-oriented, robberies and assaults on people walking around happened in all parts of the city).

    So i would add:

    Don't walk or jog with headphones on, especially at night. Being tuned out of your surroundings makes you an ideal victim. (Plus there's the whole "being hit by a car" thing because you're not noticing what's around you.)

  2. Sorry to hear this happened. My neighbor has lived in her house since 1985 and has had zero problems. The woman across the street has been there since 1974 and had no problems. In the end it's a probability game, the odds are you will not be affected by crime in The Heights. But it sure sucks when it happens to you [and it HAS happend to me :( ]