Friday, September 10, 2010

The midday prowlers

More than ten years ago someone tried to break down the door of my friend's apartment while she was inside.  They were scared off, and she took steps to secure the place.  (She eventually moved out.)

Security was naturally on her mind after this incident.  She spoke to a friend of hers who lived in a more suburban neighborhood, and her friend told her how, once when she had taken a sick day from work, she had had an opportunity to observe the neighborhood in the daytime.  While most of the residents were off to work, the place came alive with other people.  People ringing doorbells.  People knocking on doors.  People peering in windows.  People checking out back yards.

My schedule allows me to do observations like this myself.  I noticed once, years ago, that it seemed like no one in town was actually working - the streets were full of traffic in the middle of the day.  Now it seems like there are lots of people - people in their teens, and twenties, and thirties -  who are just hanging out, or strolling around, checking out neighborhoods and houses.

I noticed something else a few years ago.  Just before Halloween my phone line died.  I needed to have someone stop by to fix it, and they weren't able to give me a very specific time.  So I wound up sitting on my front porch, waiting.  As I waited I watched utility van after utility van drive by.  Why so many?  Where are they going?  Do so many utilities have problems that need fixing?

The police think that the people who broke into my house are local, maybe from the immediate neighborhood.  Who better to know the comings and goings of neighbors, and when there would be people around who might hear or see something?  After all, if you're going to smash through a window, cut out all the copper pipes from someplace, and then haul them out to a waiting vehicle, you actually have quite a few opportunities to be heard or seen.

I have my eyes on some neighbors who may be responsible.  They - most of them, for there appear to be many people living in their apartment - do not appear to have jobs.  They hang out much of the day,  smoking cigarettes and talking on cell phones or entertaining (or, more likely, engaging in business transactions with) the many, many visitors who come to their front door.

The other night I was leaving my house to do something at my mom's when I noticed one of these people hanging out on the sidewalk and talking to someone in a utility van.  It was from a heating and air conditioning company.  It had a ladder strapped to the roof.

If you're going to be brazen enough to smash into a house through a side window, I thought the other day, you'd be brazen enough to do a second-story entry through a window.  After all, most people will only alarm the first floor of their house, since that's where an entry is most likely to take place.  How paranoid is it to imagine someone making a second floor entry?

Well, not very.  There was a case in town a year or so ago that involved someone hopping up on the roof of a porch and breaking into a residence through the second floor.  And earlier this week someone broke into a nearby business through a second floor window - accessed by climbing a tree.

But this would be so much easier if you had a ladder handy.  One of my neighbors actually has (or had, I'm not sure if it's still there) a huge ladder hanging from a fence between our properties.  But if you have to bring your own ladder, why not use a utility van as your base of operations?  Most people might assume that any operation a contractor is engaged in - propping a ladder up against a second-story window, hauling old pipes out to the back of a waiting van - is actually legitimate.  If you hide your activities in plain sight, will anyone notice?

UPDATE, 9/11/2010:  Oh, it gets better.  As I pulled up to the house this morning, a strange truck was parked in front of the neighbors' house, sporting an "I LOVE SCRAP" bumper sticker provided by a local scrap yard / recycler.  Now, there's a law locally that any recyclings of certain metals over certain limits must be reported to the authorities - unless, of course, these are transactions by a legitimate business, like the HVAC company that had a van parked by the neighbors' house for two nights last week.  So do thieves fence their takings to legitimate businesses, who then turn in the metal to a recycler, no questions asked?  Are all these businesses in on the deal?


Brian from FB said...

I can sympathize, to a degree. My brother had most of his tools, including his power tools, stolen from his garage, while he was in the house with his kids. His wife had gone to the store and left the garage door open. The thieves were his neighbors across the street. And he lives in a fairly affluent neighborhood in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Thieves don't care about income or security, or neighborhood, they only care about opportunity and likelihood of getting caught.

hedera said...

Speaking from my own experience with public safety volunteering, my recommendation would be, if you see people walking around, peering in windows and yards of houses - call the police. Tell them you think thieves are casing your neighborhood. Give them as good a description as you can. And as for the business transactions on the porch - is there an anonymous drug hotline in your area? There is in ours.