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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It Is My Business...And Yours

"Mind your own business."

I get that a lot, someone telling me to mind my own business. Maybe I should mind my own business more, but where is the line where my business ends? What if I do mind "my own" business, and so does everyone else? What happens to our neighborhood? To our community? Is the safety of my neighbors and their possessions part of my business?

I tend to think it is. I feel that part of my social contract with my neighbors, and my community, is to mind not only my business, but extend my business to them as well. Especially when it comes to trash pickers, loiterers in the alleys, or dudes hanging out in parked cars in the middle of the day.

So it is that when walking Harrison in the morning when I see someone cruising the alleys picking through recycling bins I give them a shout and tell them to move on. There are two reasons I do this. One, because it is illegal to do so, the contents of the recycle bins in Long Beach belong to the city who benefits financially (a different story) from the contents. Those who pick out the bottles and other recyclables are stealing money from our city. Second, identity theft is easily guised as recycle bin diving.

Often when I give my shout to move on I am met with a blank stare and silence, the picker hopes I will ignore them and move on my way. That is what they want, me to move along and mind my own business, not their business and not my neighbors' business. Having seen and picked up bags of credit card receipts, opened bank statements, envelopes of paystubs, and other personal financial information found in our alleys and gutters around our neighborhood over the years, I know that personal financial information that can be exploited and used for identity theft is easily accessible in the trash and recycle bins that line our alleys.

I won't move along and ignore the picker until he moves along, until he knows that he does not belong here, in my neighborhood. I make a show of pulling out the ever present Blackberry, hold it up and tell the picker, "I'm calling the police." And I do so. "I would like to report a person picking through recycle bins, I'm not sure he is not looking for financial information and engaged in identity theft. Please send a patrol unit." I give the location and the description of the picker, if he has a car or van I describe that and give the plates.

I know I can't prevent people from picking through trash, or from engaging in identity theft. But I can try, and if I move one picker out of my neighborhood I may have saved myself or one of my neighbors from theft. Or residential burglary.

Bixby Knolls, were we are located in Long Beach, has seen a spike in burglaries in recent months. Local businesses have had an increase in burglaries, including armed robbery, as have the residential neighborhoods in the area. Brazen, daylight robbery of stores is difficult for members of the community to prevent or stop; anyone with that kind of desire to do bad or harm is difficult to stop. Many residential burglaries however can be prevented if a team effort is put forth. If people mind their business, and their business includes the protection and safety of their neighborhood.

With the State of California releasing several thousand prisoners from state penitentiary on early release, police officials across the state, particularly in urban areas, are anticipating a increase in all types of crime. While the state is trying to sugarcoat the records of those being released as "non-violent" offenders, those being released are being labelled based on their last arrest. So if a man has a prior conviction for battery and spousal abuse and subsequent to his release for that crime is picked up for commercial burglary and now is being released, the state is contending it is releasing a non-violent offender. Or "he was just in on a drug possession charge." How much drug possession does it take for a man to be locked up in the state prison system on a felony as opposed to a county facility? Perchance is the felony drug conviction a plea bargain from a more serious offense?

Released back into communities across the state, with a felony conviction or two, no residence or jobs lined up, what's a felon to do? How to support himself? How to eat? The easiest thing to do is to put into use skills used and honed through experience, steal, cheat and rob.

Burglars are basically lazy and look for the path of least resistance. Unlocked doors and windows. Homes that are isolated and obviously vacant. Homes that are obvious that have no alarm system. Neighborhoods where there is little activity in the streets, where they can cruise around streets and alleys and no one pays them attention.

The guy pushing his bike down the street slowly looking into parked cars? "What are you doing?" I ask. "Mind your own business." "I am. This is my neighborhood, I have never seen you before and you are walking a perfectly good bike. Get on it and ride away or I call the cops."

"Why are you parked here?" "Mind your own business," says the guy in the white van that has been in front of our neighbor's house for about thirty minutes. "I am. This is my neighborhood and you have been just sitting here for half an hour. We have had some robberies and I am suspicious. Why are you here?" I pull out my phone. "Hello Long Beach police, I would like to report a suspicious vehicle, a white van with license plate number IM A CRUK. He has been parked in the street for half an hour and will not tell me why he is parked here." The van drives off.

"Show me your identification, driver's license or school ID, give me the phone number of your boss." "I'm just trying to sell magazines for school." Or perhaps seeing who is home, or find an elderly neighbor whose home you can enter and steal from.

"Show me your identification and paperwork from the U.S. Census Bureau." "I left it at the office." "Then you better leave to get it because I'm calling the police."
Theft can be prevented if we are all vigilant and look after each other. See the neighbors who walk the dog every morning or jog? Wave, say hello and get to know them. They see who is home at what times and what belongs. Know which of your neighbors are home during the day and which are not. Ask your neighbors if they have seen anyone suspicious picking through trash, knocking on doors or cruising the neighborhood.

The overwhelming majority of thieves and burglars are lazy, non-violent and not wanting any confrontation. When confronted with simple questions, "What are you doing? Why are you here? Who are you?" and the presence of a mobile phone is enough to make them move on. Are they moving on to create problems for someone else? Probably, but if enough people confront them and ask them questions they may get the hint: not in this neighborhood, not in this community, not in this city.

Look at the areas with highest crime rates. When a crime happens the police are often left with no statements from neighbors and residents. They are "minding their own business" and in doing so enabling criminals to prey on them and their neighbors. In our neighborhood I want everyone to mind their business, business that extends to my home, my family and our safety. In return I promise to extend my business to include the safety of their home and family.

Walk regularly in your neighborhood to get to know your neighbors. Know who lives where, what their schedules are. Pick up newspapers that have been out all day for your neighbors. Arrange for mail and packages to be picked up. Question those who are unfamiliar to you. Carry a phone and have the local police non-emergency number entered and on speed dial.

Our elected officials have decided that the payrolls of their campaign contributors are more important than the safety of their constituents and are releasing six thousand convicted felons early from prisons in the coming months. These criminals will be looking for ways to survive, and recidivism will be high. Don't let them prey on you and your neighbors. Be aware, be active and be engaged with your neighbors.

Mind your business.


1 comment:

David said...

Neighborhood Safety Meeting 6 pm tonight (2/10) at the Hughes Middle School Auditorium.
If you live in the neighborhood it is your business.