Sunday, November 27, 2005

Crime Costs: Tales from the Front

Living in rural America conjures images of an idyllic existence, with white fences, friendly neighbors, and space to insulate one from the grimy side of urban life. I can attest to the truth of most of these features. I have great neighbors who live across the road from me, and our families have lived in harmony for the better part of a century now. My neighbors up and down the road are good people, and some of them are my uncles and cousins. We watch out for each other. We all work hard and try to keep our farms and homes in good shape. In fact, this past year we built white fences around part of our place, and they look really nice.

But the idea of being insulated from the grimy side of urban life because of a few miles of open country (getting fewer every year, as urban sprawl comes our way) is no longer true. We also experience the reality of crime. Like the meth lab found on my cousin's farm, or the car stolen by a fugitive from my driveway a few years back. Or the vandals who gain pleasure from wrecking our mailboxes.

More recently, theft has become a serious problem. Last week someone broke into my father's shop. If they knew how dear and gentle my parents are, and how they have gone about doing good to so many people all of their 80 plus years, they would not have thought to disrupt their lives in this way. They did not enter their home, but they still disrupted their sanctuary and their peace for the sake of tools and equipment.

Today, it was my turn. While we were away at church some folks decided to steal from our farm shop. They seemed to pick and choose those high-value things that could easily be pawned. Our local sheriff came by and took inventory with us. He told me that this kind of thing was so common that during this week, they have extra staff on duty to try and stop them. He said that criminals want Christmas presents for their criminal friends, and tools and equipment are the items of choice these days. Or they want cash, which they get from pawn shops, who may have insiders who take their goods off their hands for them without asking questions. One wonders about these establishments -- which have seemed to proliferate in recent years. (They seemed to grow about the time we got casinos ... hmm....)

It will take me quite a while to earn enough money to replace the goods that were taken. What feels even worse is the sense of being violated by these people, who would apparently rather watch me work and take away the things I work for. (And they are watching -- I'm told by the deputy that they do their research to strike when people are not likely to be at home.)

Your shop or home is just like a pantry to them, which they think they can raid at will. And sadly, there is very little you can do about it. As the deputy said today, "Locks just keep out the honest people. If these people want in, they will get in." I refuse to live under siege, though I am thinking about some video surveillance and other technology to help catch these scoundrels.

It could have been worse. My family could have been harmed. My dog (whom I like better than most people) could have been harmed, but this morning I kept him in the house instead of letting him outside to guard the place because it was raining, and I didn't want him to be uncomfortable. There was not extensive damage, as is common in some events like this. So we can count our blessings in this sense.

But it still reminds me that the world is not a safe place, and we do not have security here as we should. We should also not be surprised that there are people about who would rather not work, but who would prefer to take advantage of those who do. That is a fact of life. The sooner people experience this truth for themselves, the quicker we will be able to stop a lot of nonsense in this world -- including nonsense that happens in the world of politics. (Sadly, forced exactions from productive people who work hard for the benefit of others who want to spend it wastefully or give it away is not limited to the world of crime.)


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