The Bad Side of A Good Neighborhood

by Janis Patterson

I’m angry. And I’m scared.

I live in a good neighborhood. The lawns are maintained, the houses are nice and so are most of the people, but by no stretch of the imagination is it considered a rich neighborhood. I grew up in this house and, after my parents passed away and left it to me, The Husband and I moved in. It’s bigger than the house we had, and light years closer to his work.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it is – partially. I love the house and the neighborhood, but over the years this area has become a target for all kinds of miscreants. We have a weekly email notification of crimes and every week there are several worthy of police reports – all in a neighborhood barely half a mile square.

Anything left outside is apparently fair game for burglars; cars are routinely broken into for what might be inside them and we are warned to keep our cars either in garages or behind locked gates. For a while one gang of crooks was brazen enough to jack up the cars and steal the wheels!

Nor are houses safe. Reports of break-ins come in waves, as one gang or another smashes their way in to take whatever they can. Most have no qualms about hurting anyone - human or animal - who gets in their way, either. During the long years The Husband was deployed overseas to war zones and I was alone in the house I tried not to let him know that our neighborhood was becoming a war zone in itself. I kept several handguns around and made no secret of the fact I would happily and without reservation blow away any intruder. Sometimes having the reputation of the Neighborhood Crazy Lady is a good thing. We also have an alarm system that is set most of the time, whether we are home or not.

When we first moved here the very idea of that seemed ridiculous. In my late mother’s day she didn’t even lock the doors half the time and had no problems at all. This was a nice neighborhood, and crime like that didn’t happen in a nice neighborhood.

No more. Besides burgling houses and yards the crooks have expanded operations, now openly attacking primarily women alone and the elderly in gas stations and grocery store parking lots – in the daytime, no less. No one has died yet, but I am so afraid eventually it will happen.

So far The Husband and I have been very fortunate – our house has been left alone and we have been unmolested as we go about our business. Hopefully it will always be so. Unfortunately, far too many of our neighbors have not been so lucky. I am so alarmed by these events that I have put my wedding ring (along with my few other pieces of good jewelry) in the safe – my beautiful, beloved wedding ring that was bought both as an investment and a symbol of love. The other day I bought a cheap cubic zirconia ring to wear in its stead; it’s pretty, it looks quite real, and I would have no qualms about giving it to a robber, but it infuriates me that there is a climate in this world which makes it unsafe for me to wear and enjoy my own property without fear.

For those of us who write crime for a living it is very uncomfortable to have real life so closely mirror our fiction in so many ways except one. In our books justice is always served; in real life it seems to be a hit and miss proposition. This is in no way a criticism of the police; they are understaffed and underpaid and all too often not given the respect they deserve. They simply cannot be everywhere, and the criminals depend on that.

It makes me livid that there is a far too prevalent mindset which believes simply because this lowlife scum wants something they can just take it with impunity. This must be changed. There must be consequences, and decent people must reclaim the right to feel safe again.

I don’t mean this as a political post slanted to either side; my politics are my own, and not to be aired in this space. This is a justice post. We work; we pay our taxes; we obey the laws; we deserve to feel safe, to be able to enjoy that which we have legally purchased. Crime is fine, when it is confined to fiction, where it will be dealt with according to the law. Real crime has no place on our streets or in our homes.

And as mystery writers, we have the responsibility and duty to our fellow man to entertain - not to instruct. We should never write anything that some enterprising crook can translate to real life with criminal consequences. For that reason we must not put in complete instructions on anything. It's okay to play with 'mysterious untraceable poisons'  - but not give instructions on how to make it. Want a ballistically clean bullet that cannot be matched? Fine - invent a gun with sketchy details accurate enough to convince the reader but not enough to teach a criminal. (In case you wondered, there is a way to make a ballistically clean bullet - and I have been sworn to secrecy as to how it's done, so don't ask.)


In real life thank God an increasing number of states have the Castle Act which gives people the right to protect themselves, others and their property. As for me, I will always stand my ground.

Comments

Unfortunately, we can't distance ourselves from crime. It doesn't matter where we live. It's a grim fact of life. That's why crime fiction continues to fascinate, whether real or fictional.
I agree crime should be confined to fiction. Unfortunately that's not the case and even the "best" neighborhoods aren't exempt.
Take CARE and be SAFE!
Good luck and God's blessings
PamT
Ann Aptaker said…
You've left out critical information: why is the neighborhood descending into crime? Yes, as mystery writers we have the responsibility to refrain from sharing crime tips we learn through research, but I believe we also have the responsibility to understand why crime happens.
Ann Aptaker, Author
Cantor Gold crime series
Rita said…
Such a difficult subject because of the many, many issues involved. Sad.
Susan said…
Ann Aptaker - I deliberated putting in that information, but decided to leave it out because it isn't 'politically correct' and I didn't want to stir the pot more than necessary. However, since you asked, I'll tell you. As I said, our neighborhood is very nice. The surrounding neighborhoods are nice as well. But - these are all small neighborhoods, and none as affluent as ours - and we aren't what you could really call affluent.

The rot really set in right after Katrina; there used to be some old, somewhat shabby apartment complexes about half a mile from us. They were originally very nice complexes, but rental properties are seldom if ever well taken care of as privately owned properties. (They have since been replaced with upscale condos, thank goodness.) As there was already a discussion about tearing down the apartments for redevelopment, our city fathers put in hordes of Katrina refugees. And our crime rate started to soar. Finally the refugees were moved because the complexes were finally cleared for demolition. And the crime rate started to drop. Then, about a year later, another bunch of elderly apartment complexes about a mile or mile and a half north of us were changed to Section 8 government subsidized housing. And our crime rate started to creep up again. Not soar suddenly, as it had after Katrina, but with a steady upward trend. Our homeowners' associated pays for extra police patrols, and we have an organized and authorized group of citizens who take city training and patrol the streets on a volunteer basis, which helps keep the crime rate down a little, but not enough.

So you see, as 'politically incorrect' as you can get, but still very true. And that's why the crime rate rises. Before Katrina and the flood of refugees, there were maybe 3 or so burglaries a year. For a while, there were that many in a week. On the whole, it's better (less worse?) now than it has been in a while, but not anywhere near before Katrina.

Susan, aka Janis
jean harrington said…
Susan, Are you saying that underneath the veneer of normalcy, people in your area are hurting badly enough that they revert to crime? Sad, whatever the cause.
Susan said…
Jean Harrington - no, I'm not saying that at all. Ours is a solid middle-class neighborhood (and yes, I know some middle-class people commit crimes, but not like this) which had a very low level of crime since it first turned ground in 1960. As I told Ann, 3 crimes a year was a high number - before the Katrina refugees were brought in to aging apartments just outside our neighborhood. Then the crime rate skyrocketed. The Katrina refugees went away when the old complexes were demolished and the crime rate plummeted. Then some other aging complexes a little bit north of here were made into Section 8 government subsidized housing and our crime rate started upward again. Neither of these complex areas are part of our neighborhood and their residents were/are not part of ours. Our residents are law-abiding decent people and I think it is obscene that because while it is the residents of my neighborhood who suffer, the crimes are not committed by neighborhood residents. Susan, aka Janis
Rebecca York said…
I'm sorry you are going through this. We have an alarm system because our house was broken into twice. Both times nobody was home, thank God. Also, our car was broken into once. And I don't consider this a bad neighborhood, either. None of this is recent. The second break in was in 2001. There are still break ins, but maybe they stay away from houses with alarm systems?
Susan said…
Rebecca York - maybe they choose un-alarmed homes over alarmed, but it's not the deciding factor - if it factors in at all. Average police response time to an actual alarm is 5-8 minutes; the gang that did so much damage and injured people and animals was in and out in 3, breaking out the patio door, doing one quick swoop through grabbing anything and everything that was valuable. We have a courtyard parking area and entrance and once when The Husband was overseas someone started banging around our cars. It was very late (I work late when alone) and I heard them - grabbed my desk pistol and dashed outside. Just the sight of this white haired fat old lady in a nightgown waving a pistol put the fear of Whatever into these young punks and they took off tearing down the driveway and down the street, me running after them, screeching like a banshee and telling them to stop or I'd shoot. Well, of course I didn't - I was out of breath after 2-3 houses, and as the breath left my body common sense came back in and I realized that although I am rated expert in small arms fire I didn't want to risk plugging any of my neighbors. Never did tell The Husband that, so keep it quiet, huh? Sorry you had some breakins - it's such a sense of violation.
Toni Anderson said…
Real crime is scary. I'm very aware of not giving away certain details and often make things a little vague on purpose, or plain old wrong just to muddy the waters. I may enjoy it in fiction but it's no fun in real life. I'd advise a big dog--they always know when someone is around. That's just me.
Rebecca York said…
Well, here they had time to take a lot of electronics. Then neighbors told me the cops had helicopters flying over the woods. I can just picture a burglar running through the woods carrying an old-style 40-inch TV. We do have "replacement value" on our homeowners policy. the first break in they took gold jewelry. This is after I had decided that gold did not look good on me, and I'd put yellow gold jewelry into a jewelry box in the guest room. So these were old charm bracelets I used to wear. Sigh. Yes, a violation, and I know it scared the crap out of the cats.
Being burglarized not only means losing your possessions, but also feeling violated. Unfortunately, times are changing, and not for the good.
Sally Carpenter said…
Some cities around my area seem to have high burglary rates, but part of that is because people leave their cars and homes unlocked, home windows and sliding doors open/unlocked, garage doors unlocked/open and valuables left in plain view inside cars. Locking doors/windows may not stop criminals completely, but they may move on to more unsecured homes/cars. I knew a guy who left his condo unlocked because "my neighbor will call the police." The neighbor won't be watching 24/7, and by the time the police arrive the crooks will be long gone.

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