by Jason G. Whitworth, Esq.
Nobody wants to think about crime – until you become a victim. Then it becomes hard to shake off that feeling of being violated. That is why we should all be thankful that Aaron James and other concerned neighbors have taken up this crusade to crank back up a renewed Cooper-Young Neighborhood Watch program. For every crime that can be prevented, there will be one less family who will experience that sense of vulnerability inside their own home.
It is not a pleasant experience. When I first moved to Cooper-Young in 1997, one of my close friends described living in Midtown as a “contact sport.” It did not take long before I understood. Right away I borrowed my neighbor’s extension ladder to put up storm windows, and it quickly vanished from my backyard (sorry, Jeff). Then my twelve-speed bicycle which I had scrimped and saved to purchase as a teenager suddenly disappeared; then some porch furniture I had hand-built. Then I discovered the local “walkabout” I was paying to help remodel my house and detail my truck every weekend was stealing right under my nose. (I was so furious that he took advantage of my generosity that I threatened to have him jailed if he ever set foot in Cooper-Young again.)
At first, I was hurt and angry and wondered what I had gotten myself into. But I quickly adjusted by learning how to not be such an easy target. That meant installing outside motion-detector lights and a strong gate closing off the back yard. I started locking doors and leaving the porch light on. The yellow Adirondack chairs on my front porch have been pinned to the concrete with masonry anchors and steel cable since I made them in 1998. (I once woke to find them at the bottom of the steps where a thief dropped them when he ran out of cable.) Perhaps the most successful anti-theft measure was an outside dog, a Jack Russell Terrier who barked furiously at strangers. After doing these simple things, I made it close to fifteen years without another incident and ended up very happy with my decision to become a part of Cooper-Young.
For whatever reason, the crime has returned in a significant way. Lately, Cooper-Young has been beset by petty thefts from yards and outbuildings and even serious home-invasion burglaries. I saw where Aaron was rallying troops on Nextdoor.com to start up a renewed neighborhood watch; but frankly, I did not get excited about it until someone broke the hasp off my back gate, leaving my backyard, workshop, and garden shed exposed. Fortunately, given my past experience, I knew there was no reason to despair. We are not helpless. There are a number of things that you can do to avoid being a victim.
The first step is to be extremely wary of allowing the “walkabouts” into your yard or home unless they are very well known to you. That person that wanted to rake your leaves or detail your car may well come back later and clean out your garden shed. The guy you let inside to help paint a room may break in when you’re not at home now that he knows exactly what he is after. If turning away people desperate for work sounds harsh, well it is. Nobody loves to help people in need more than I do. It was a very hard lesson. But the fact remains that bringing these folks onto your property significantly increases your risk of theft and/or burglary.
Locks and Lights
You should harden your defenses. Install motion-detector lights around the house. Check the strength of your gate to keep unwanted visitors out of your back yard. (I recently upgraded to a stronger hasp and lock that, hopefully, are not so easily broken next time.) If the padlock is on the outside of your gate, then you may want to invest in a higher grade of lock. (There is a YouTube video where a guy picks one of those Number 5 Masterlocks with a chicken bone to demonstrate how incredibly easy it is.)
Put heavy locks on your workshop and garden sheds. Keep your house and automobiles locked at all times. Think about investing in security doors. I get added window protection from my storm windows, not to mention the energy savings. (I personally refuse to put metal bars on windows because it looks just terrible. It was a happy day when I replaced mine with storm windows and threw them in the garbage.) Bolt down your porch furniture with some cable. Don’t leave valuables out in sight in your yard or vehicle. You might want to mount some fake security cameras for deterrence. Again, I firmly believe that a territorial, possessive dog is a great deterrent. (The most territorial dog I have ever owned was a rascally Australian Blue Heeler that would literally nip the heels of strangers. That may be a little much if you have frequent guests.) If you do these rather simple things, you can significantly reduce your chances of being a victim of theft or burglary.
If you are not a cheapskate like me, you may want to go the extra mile. There are quite reasonably priced security cameras available now that will record anyone trespassing on your property. Game cameras are very simple to use. Several people in the neighborhood already own one and would probably be happy to loan them out if you know that people are entering your yard. Or if you really want to splurge, you can subscribe to a security service. I don’t think that is necessary, but that’s me. I have enough monthly bills coming in already.
You should beware of vacant homes and/or alleys near your home. There have been numerous reports of criminals entering backyards from the alleys. Fix your fence up good and tight. Vacant houses are magnets for ne’er-do-wells. I firmly believe the abandoned house behind me presented an opportunity for a criminal to access my back yard unseen. Report any dilapidated vacant houses to Code Enforcement if there appear to be any code violations. Find out who owns them and pressure them to do something with them.
Another thing you can do is keep a close eye out for what is going on in the neighborhood. I get a TON of foot traffic on my stretch of Young. I have been known to stare down guys that look like they are up to no good. Many years ago, I actually stood in my front yard with a camera and took pictures of a guy I suspected was selling drugs in front of the school across the street. He left and never came back. Get to know your neighbors and keep a close eye on their houses. Get their contact information in case you see something suspicious and need to contact them. Get on Cooper-Young Nextdoor.com and learn who is who in the neighborhood. Join the revamped Cooper-Young Neighborhood Watch and agree to be a Block Captain. Go to meetings and make suggestions. Get to know local law enforcement ahead of time so they will be more responsive when you need them. I don’t plan on rolling over because of this and neither should you. Stand your ground.
A NOTE ABOUT FIREARMS
A final public service note here about guns. They are NOT for everybody. If you did not grow up shooting, then a good question to ask is, “are you the type person that can safely operate a chainsaw or table-saw (remember Johnny Cash’s brother in “Walk the Line?”) without endangering yourself or others?” If not, then you don’t need a gun. If you are capable of constant attention to detail and safety, then you still need to take as much training as you possibly can before becoming a gun-owner for the first time. Take a Hunter Safety Course from Tennessee Wildlife Resource Association (T.W.R.A.). Take every class on offer at Rangemaster. Take the Concealed Carry Permit (CCP) course even if you never plan to carry, in order to learn the law about when you can legally use a gun. Spend time at a range with experienced gun owners. Do not jump into it lightly.
If all this fails and you are the victim of a crime, then be sure to report it to the Memphis Police Department. Yes, it is an aggravation, and no, there is not much probability of getting your stuff back, but police manpower is allocated based on crime reports, so more reports can help bring about more frequent patrols, which can benefit the next person.
I hope you find something here that is helpful. If there is anything I can do, any question I can answer, I will be happy to try. I hope that you will participate, or at a minimum support the Cooper-Young Neighborhood Watch. If nothing else, use this as an excuse to get out and meet some neighbors. You’ll be glad you did.
Jason G. Whitworth is a local civil litigation attorney, handling personal injury, wrongful death, denial of insurance, Worker’s Compensation, business fraud/breach of contract, and other disputes. He can be reached at (901) 729-9999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.