Our quiet little Reno neighborhood is amazing. Out-of-towners would be amazed to find that just beyond the neon lights of the casinos is a perfectly wonderful, tree-lined, Norman Rockwell-esque neighborhood. To us, it just seems like a little slice of heaven. Great neighbors, fun block parties, fantastic schools, all walking or biking distance to main street.
Recently however, we have become increasingly aware of crime in our neighborhood. Burglaries, car thefts, attempted break-ins, and even violent crime (see this horrible story) have hit neighbors all around us. We had someone come into our back yard and steal a bike with our kid's bike trailer attached - a petty theft, but it left us feeling violated nonetheless.
Traditional Crime Prevention is Good, But It's Not Enough
The neighborhood is reeling. We are all trying to figure out how to stop this nonsense. Our family has installed motion lights, a security system, we leave our porch lights on all night. We've got the gear!
I attended a Neighborhood Advisory Board meeting where a Reno Police officer gave a presentation on setting up Neighborhood Watch. Basically it's, "Talk to your neighbors, lock-it-up, watch for strangers, call the cops." All good advice, but it left me feeling a bit powerless.
Random Crime is Likely to Continue
Any intelligent person looks at a trend and tries to figure out likely causes. I would guess our crime problem is related to a few factors: our proximity to the center of the city; our neighborhood is relatively affluent but not "gated"; a friendliness that screams we are less likely than other neighborhoods to have guns under our pillows.
I'm not sure if any of this is true, its just a hunch. Even if these are the causes of crime, my personal feeling is that I wouldn't want to change any of this. I like that we are close to the center of the city. I like that we are not gated. I like that we are friendly.
The bottom line is that I think we can only make marginal improvements in preventing crime. I think crime will continue to happen in a more or less random pattern. I also fear that an overly-paranoid, locked-up, and stranger-fearing neighborhood can erode the very reasons we all love living here.
Reno spends well over $100 million a year to prevent and respond to crime, fires, and medical emergencies. People's opinions range on whether this is way too much or way too little to spend on emergency services. We are devoting lots of resources to what happens before and during an emergency. But we are missing a much deeper set of neighborhood responsibilities. What do we do after the police report is filed?
When Awful Things Happen to Our Neighbors, How Do We Respond?
We should be making a neighborhood plan for how we respond to crime (and other unforeseeable awful things that happen to our neighbors). I believe that great neighborhoods have both organic and systematic ways that they respond to these horrible things.
After the police or fire department is called, there needs to be a second call. This needs to animate an appropriate community response that helps people pick up the pieces, feel safe again, and otherwise repair the damage that is done. What can we do as a neighborhood that transforms every bad event into something that actually draws us closer together?
Here are a couple of ideas:
- After any incident, we need to make sure the person has increased contact with the people on their block - collecting and sharing names and contact information of neighbors. Encouraging their neighbors to stop by and say, "I heard what happened, that is not right, I am here for you!"
- We need to shower the victims of crime with baked goods, home cooked meals, and cards and flowers to let them know we care for them and sympathize with their hardship and help them devote their time fixing damage, filing claims, and restoring order.
- In the event of a violent crime or a home invasion, we need to make people (especially single, female, or elderly) feel safe again. Trusted neighbors need offer to sleep on the couch until nerves are settled. We can call or knock to check in in the days and weeks after the event.
- If the crime results in property damage, do we have list of highly trusted handymen/handywomen who can be first responders to put the door back on the hinges, board up the broken window, or add a deadbolt where one was missing etc.
- If some one's car is stolen, do we have a few people that would volunteer to loan their extra car or give a ride to the victim. Yes, insurance companies provide rental cars, but this may take time to organize and it does nothing to support the victim.
Much of this happens organically already. We should be proud when it does. Great neighborhoods guarantee a positive response to the bad things in life. The act of offering support is a powerful medicine. How neighbors respond to crime can make neighborhoods better, stronger, more connected places to live.