Sunday, February 04, 2007

Great Suburban Traditions No. 2 - Neighbourhood Watch

There’s a crime wave sweeping across suburbia. You may not have seen it, or even heard about it. But fear not, Neighbourhood Watch will soon be stamping it out. Yes, North Chevy Chase has declared the War On Crime!

I received an e-mail the other week from a woman I’ve never met, but she lives a few streets away. She’d set up a Neighbourhood Watch on her street and wanted to tell me about some police seminars being offered at the Audubon Society in case I wanted to do the same.

Why in the name of sweet weeping Jesus would I want to do that? Because “my husband and I [oh my God, the Queen of England has moved to my ‘hood] have become concerned about some car thefts, burglaries and robberies in our area,” she wrote. “Some”? How many is “some”? You just know that there’s maybe been one car theft and one burglary in six months, and a robbery two towns away she read about in The Montgomery Gazette.

Crime in suburbia’s not easy. Every car has an alarm, so you’d have to be careless to have one stolen. Likewise every house. We once locked ourselves out and it took a professional locksmith an hour to get us back in. Not that we’ve got much worth nicking. Our TV’s a modern, fat-backed antique at seven years old, and my CD collection is unsaleable - I’m such an elitist that the police would track them down and trace the burglar in hours. (The official police report: “The criminal was apprehended trying to sell a Jackie Leven boxed set to customers at a Burger King in Wheaton. They became suspicious that the cult Scottish soloist’s collected works were some kind of an explosive device and alerted security.”)

True, there was a home invasion (an ‘invasion’ being as few as one or two persons) a couple of months back in the posher part of the neighbourhood, down towards DC. That’s where some of the houses are so big that the invader’s defense will be that he thought he was strolling into the Mormon Temple for some quiet time. If you had enough savvy, you could invade and live in one of the spare rooms there for months, and the only person you’d ever meet would be the cleaning lady.

And an unwelcome ‘invader’ would certainly be cause for a Watch campaign. In suburbia we don’t even like invited guests to be in our house, in case their feet inadvertently brush the carpet pile the wrong way, or their kids leave snot trails on the upholstery. But we put up with them anyway, for a couple of hours a month, if absolutely necessary, provided they send in advance a doctor’s certificate giving them full medical clearance.

But what about all this crime? Until I moved my office to an upstairs room at the back of the house at the end of last year, I spent seven and a half years watching the neighbourhood through a downstairs window from my desk. Believe me, nothing ever happens. There’s no one around to make it happen. If someone walks past the house you jump up. “Christ, what’s that?!” Oh, just a human being. The postgirl, in fact. Don’t worry, she’ll soon be gone.

The only crimes on our street are committed by the dog two doors up that regularly craps on our front lawn (to be the subject of a future ‘Great Suburban Tradition’), and the quarter-witted commuters who speed down our street at 40mph every morning because they can use our neighbourhood to shave 15 seconds off the journey to their doubtless essential jobs.

Other than that, the "concerned" and beady-eyed watchers on patrol are going to be hard pressed to spot much criminal activity around here, unless they stop me late at night walking back from the Ri-Ra bar and demand to see my ID. The chances are that there would be an immediate crime involving aggravated verbal assault.


Evan said...

The suburban neighborhood I grew up in had Neighborhood Watch signs posted up, but there was no actual group.

The closest thing we had was the people across the street when I was little. Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, was at large and the local television news was reaching a state of hysteria. For some reasons I can't remember--I think some of his victims lived near freeways, and more than a few lived in yellow houses--our neighbors determined that our house was at risk.

One night, the people across the street came over to assure my parents and me that they would be watching to make sure nothing happened to us. The older woman, who did the talking for her and her husband, said something like "and we've got more than just eyes," and opened up her bathrobe and pulled out what is still the biggest handgun that I've ever seen in my life from the waistband of her pajamas. She laughed, and my parents pushed me back away from the door quickly.

Reed said...

My mom got on the local news discussing the formation of our neighborhood watch. She really spearhead the hell out of that initiative, to quote Homer Simpson.

Thing is, we actually had been robbed and so had a few other homes in the neighborhood. Of course, prior to the string of burgalries, nobody except the one somewhat famous resident of our neighborhood ever bothered to lock their front door. We didn't because the lock mechanism was broken and would be costly to fix, so my dad told me.