Maybe I'm in a state of denial about crime. It does seem to be something that happens to the other guy, the people who aren't careful, the people who live in bad neighborhoods.
OK, I could be wrong--but the blood-soaked Los Angeles, the Sarajevo west that I read about and see on TV, just doesn't seem to be the one I live in.
I have an uncle who lives in South-Central Los Angeles in a quiet, well-kept, family oriented neighborhood. Whenever I hear news stories about how bad crime is in South-Central, I remind myself that those stories are referring to "the other South-Central" and not the neighborhood where my uncle lives.
I recently read the crime statistics that listed North Hills as one of the Valley's hot spots. My North Hills? No, I assumed, the hot spot must be "the other North Hills." I keep listening for the small-arms fire; I just can't hear any.
It's not that I haven't gone looking. I am one of the Neighborhood Watch block captains for my area, casting a suburban dragnet for suspicious activity. I've sought to know the awful underside of society, like the old television cop Joe Friday. But this is the best I can do.
September, 1993. I was working the Neighborhood Watch, and neighbors and I watched suspicious activity inside cars parked in front of several vacant lots. The cars would be parked for long periods of time. The windows would be fogged up. We had watched "Cops," and we know prostitution when we saw it. I wrote to the captain of the police Devonshire Division explaining the situation. The police made extra patrols through the area for a month. Investigation revealed no prostitutes. Inside the parked cars were married couples , evidently trying to add excitement to their love lives. What ever happened to the drive-in?
Jan. 14, 1994. I finished two days' surveillance of a neighbor's home. Cars would pull up, and people would get out of the cars and go into the house. After 10 minutes they would come out carrying brown bags. They would be smiling. The people were all dressed similarly. Men had bandannas hanging from their pockets or around their necks--gang colors? I spoke with the property owner's next-door neighbor, whom I knew. Suspicions were unfounded. It turned out the couple sells square dance music to callers and dancers. Call off the K-9 unit.
March 9, 1994. Graffiti had been appearing regularly on a wall in the neighborhood, a sign of gang activity. My wife suggested that we move. She said, "Next thing you know, some gang's name will get crossed out, and then there will be a shooting." A neighbor had been painting it over. When he was unable to do it one weekend, I took over for him, and I couldn't believe what I read. "Romeo luvs Teresa" . . . "Bobby U R stupd" . . . "Carmen has dog breath" . . . "Scool Sucks." We didn't need the SWAT team. We needed a spelling teacher.
April, 1994. My next-door neighbor and his wife had always seemed too quiet. They would keep to themselves. They waved whenever we made eye contact, but mostly they appeared to avoid it. I'd seen those news broadcasts--the dead bodies always turn up in the quiet people's home. The earthquake damaged a wall that we shared, and we had to talk to one another. It turned out that they were . . . very nice, actually . . . just quiet. Cancel that call to "Hard Copy."
April 27, 1994. Burglar alarm! It was a live "burglar alarm" in my back yard--my dog, earning its keep at last. We'd had the dog since 1990, when we got him and a bunch of deadbolts to secure our premises. He had proved to be an excellent deterrent. He stayed in the back yard with a sign that said, "Le Chien Mechant." In French that means Mean Dog. Now he was barking his head off, as if someone was in the back yard who had no business there. My wife and I investigated. She led, carrying the flashlight, and I kept one hand on my portable phone. Investigation revealed that a neighbor had bought four chickens that were walking around in his yard. Police chopper not needed.
I could tell you about the time my wife whacked a possum on the head because he got too close to the dog, but I have to save something for "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol."
If you watch hard enough, everyone becomes a suspect. A woman across the street rides her bike for an hour every afternoon, up and down the neighborhood. Just up and down the block, smiling and waving. She says she's exercising.
Just be careful, ma'am. Your neighbors are on watch.