When The Thief Is Also Your Neighbor
On the HillEast listserv on Capitol Hill, there's a fascinating discussion taking place about how to handle that peculiar moment in contemporary life when you discover that the bad guy who is making your life miserable also happens to be the neighbor down the block. Here's the original story from the victim of a petty crime:
Last weekend, my boyfriend's bike was stolen out of our front yard, in the middle of the afternoon. He had only left it there for about 10 minutes, and a group of boys walking by decided to take it (and his bookbag, which was on it). It's a long story but we did find out who the culprits were -- they must have argued or something over the $20 in the bookbag or the bike itself -- and we have been to both their homes (neither of them lives more than a block away) They each accuse the other of having the bike.
I called the police to make a report, and after two days of us talking to the boys and their families, with
lots of promises but no results (ie bike not returned) we went again
to the substation and gave the names and addresses of these boys to
the police. They at first told me that nothing would happen -- no
visit to the boys to let them know that it is a serious thing to
steal, or anything else, because it was "only a bike" and not very
important. I went again the next day to speak to a supervisor, to
voice my concern that, with 11 year olds throwing rocks at windows,
and 14 year olds stealing bikes in broad daylight, the police are
apparently unable or uninterested in even speaking to these very
young people in an attempt to discourage them from committing more
serious crimes when they get older. Because they are surely getting
older right down the street from me, frankly, and I don't want to
think about what they'll be doing in a few years.
So anyway, the supervisor told me that they do follow up on every
case, and that someone would visit these boys and speak to them, but
I am not really sure if it will happen. Or if there is a better way
to address this since we do know who they are. The families were
very cooperative, and one of the boys has said he will pay us back
for the bike (but I'm not at all sure he will), but there is
obviously a bigger concern here, in that it happened at all. I don't
think these guys are drug addicts or horribly poor children who just
couldn't resist taking a bicycle to ride around on -- they were just
walking by and figured what the hell.
Does anyone have any suggestions?
The neighbors on the listserv most certainly did have some suggestions, and here's a digest of their responses:
Ideally, you wanted the bike returned. It wasn't. Hard lesson to learn that city living is tough and you always have to be aware and mindful of your possessions. You may want to speak to the families again and suggest that since the boys did not return the bike that they should BOTH do yard work for you and some of your neighbors as well as some sort of community service that is monitored and you get a report back. Maybe in the end it will show that people (neighbors and family) are paying attention to their actions and they need to be accountable. This could make the difference between helping them choose the right and wrong paths. Just a thought.
You may want to print out all these discussions about this situation and show it to the families. I imagine they'll be embarrassed that the community is paying such close attention. You could also have a petition signed by your neighbors that you'd like these two boys do yard work, or the like, for a certain amount of time. But if nothing is done, it will likely happen again.
These responses seem a bit too rational and reasonable to my taste. Do we really think the families of these kids, if they haven't followed up on the original conversation with the victim by now, are amenable to suggestions like these? I admire the victim for choosing to inform and confront those parents directly, but having seen that there was no effective response--no compensation, no apology--shouldn't this be turned over to the authorities for action?
Here's a view from a member of the local advisory neighborhood commission's public safety committee:
I am sorry, but I do not agree with having them do yard work. These kids, as well as their parents, need to be taught a lesson, and it's not found in raking leaves. If you know who stole the bike, and they have all but admitted it, then you need to press the police about dealing with them. A crime was committed, and the police have a judicial obligation to affect an arrest.
Here's a neighbor who came up with another way to force some recognition of responsibility on the part of the parents of the kids:
I would send registered letters to both set of parents & kids documenting what transpired, specifically request immediate return of the bike or pay me $XXX.XX for stealing it, give them a deadline for responding back or you will file a lawsuit in small claims court AND JUST DO IT! The boys would most likely lie about "doing it" during any police interview. It's a he said / she said situation that would not end up in charges be drawn up against the boys, so the police are avoiding doing it because the only "evidence" is what you & your BF are saying. That would not hold up in juvenile court. IMHO, suing them for their irresponsibility [would] certainly do more than hoping the Police take some kind of action.
That suggestion caused one of the earlier respondents to change tactics:
I previously suggested community service but Roger reinforces a VALID POINT. Since there has been an admission of guilt, I believe parents should take (some) responsibility for their children's actions. If they know their children did something wrong and don't do something to rectify the problem, ie., they pay you back themselves, then they too are not doing anything to change their children's behavior. The parents should pool together and pay you back, then have their children work to pay them back. That would be the RIGHT thing to do. Unfortunately, people have all sorts of ideas about what is RIGHT and what they should dismiss. It's up to you to be firm and ask the parents that the RIGHT thing to be done. It is shocking the parents didn't consider this themselves.
A couple more bits of advice on the jump....
Some more of the conversation among Capitol Hill neighbors about how to deal with the bad guys down the block:
Personally, I don't think the "crime emergency" that's been declared is going to change anything long term, and I doubt curfews or neighborhood cameras will either. They don't change behavior. But I'm sure most of us here have benefitted from somebody reaching out and keeping us in check at some point in life. The kids did steal, and apparently aren't denying it, so having the police drop by doesn't seem inappropriate. Maybe it won't change a thing, but at least it is a step.
Very simple answer: If you ride a bike in DC and you have to leave it unattended for more then 10 seconds, LOCK IT UP. That is just a basic rule of bike ownership in the city. The other details can be discussed forever, but the best practical resolution is to make sure it is locked. Also, all bikes in DC must be registered with the MPD. This helps identify the bike if it is recovered. I think it cost $1.00 and you do it at the 1st District Police Station.
Anything you'd like to add?
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