Wednesday, September 24, 2014

3 Simple Ways to Reduce Crime in Norristown

I sat down with Chief Talbot yesterday. My questions to him were, what should residents do to keep safe from crime, and what can we do to help reduce the amount of crime in town.

If you look on the Crime Map for Norristown in the past week, you'll see we had 69 crimes, including our first homicide of the year. A lot of you will take those stats and run with them, spreading the word about how horribly unsafe Norristown is, not even bother to read the rest of this article. But you have to know more about the crimes themselves. Eliminate the most non-violent, non-property-damaging crimes like disturbing the peace, DUI, and drug and alcohol violations, and you cut the number down to 45 crimes. Eliminate vandalism, which usually means graffiti, and you're down to 36. There were 3 motor vehicle thefts, 2 "theft from vehicle," and 4 other thefts that didn't involve breaking in.

Yeah, but what about that homicide? It was a domestic dispute--a stabbing. Most of our assaults (14 last week) were also domestic disputes--basically, something like spousal abuse, or 2 people who know each other coming to blows over something stupid. Both are usually helped along by drugs or alcohol. Most were simple assaults--meaning there was no intention to do physical harm, only to frighten or intimidate.

Black icon=Burglaries, Blue=Robberies
In all there were only 12 crimes of the type that people walking the street or in their homes would have cause to worry about--6 burglaries (2 of which had no forced entry--a door or window was left unlocked) and 6 robberies/muggings.

But even those statistics can be reduced if we come together as a community. Here are the 3 main ways Chief Talbot suggests to protect yourself, your family, your property and help your neighborhood, in reverse order of importance.

3 - Here's the one suggestion you'd expect: Make your house/car safer. Here are some tips.
    Lock your car doors, house doors and windows. (You'd be surprised how many people don't.)
    Don't leave your house dark when you're not home.
    Screw your air conditioners into their window frames.
    Houses with dogs don't get burglarized. (Doesn't have to be a big dog--just one that barks. Burglars aren't afraid of getting bitten--they're afraid of noise.)
    Outside sensor lights can help.

2- Pay attention. The one thing burglars hate are blocks where neighbors are obviously paying attention. If you hear unusual noises outside at night (or even during the day), you can do a few things. First, simply turn on your outside lights. It lets the bad guys know someone heard them. I do this even if I see headlights on in the alley for longer than a minute or 2. If it's only a neighbor unloading groceries, no harm done. If it's a drug deal, maybe it'll annoy them enough that they'll get off my block.

If you're a bit braver, turn on your light, then take something out to toss in your trash can, or get something out of your car. Or let your dog out in the yard. Do the same if you see strangers hanging around your block during the day. Take that moment to sweep off your porch. The more activity on a block, the better. With the colder months coming on, more people will be off the street and burglars/car thieves/muggers know that.

Paying attention means making an effort to get your head up out of your phone or computer or television or other electronic device, but it's important that you do. When you're walking the street, be alert to your surroundings and you won't get mugged.

The NUMBER ONE way to reduce crime in Norristown?

1 - Learn the first names of the neighbors on either side of you. When Chief Talbot said that, I admit, I did a mental check to make sure I did know their names, then thought about which other neighbors I know by name and which I don't. We're fairly friendly on our block in that many neighbors wave or say hi, but I don't think most of us know each others' names. What's the difference? According to Chief Talbot, if you know a person's name, you connect with that person more. Loose connections on a neighborhood block and crime is likely to go up. If you know your neighbors' names, you're likely to be more aware of their houses and cars, and you're more likely to speak up if you see someone breaking into their properties. I have to admit, of the houses across the alley from me, I do tend to think of them in terms of names--Jane's house, John's house--the rest are kind of lumped under "other" in my mind.

If everyone in town got to know the neighbors on either side by name, we'd create a whole web of residents across town keeping an eye on just 2 more houses besides their own. That's a powerful crime deterrent.

I'd love to say that it goes without saying that you need to speak up if you see a crime in progress, or if you realize the day after a crime that you saw something important. Unfortunately, people seem to need to be told this...and they STILL don't speak up. If you don't speak up--and if you don't do a few simple things to make yourself and your block safer, you have absolutely no right to get on your high horse and complain about crime in Norristown.

I'm going to end with a quote from Chief Talbot: "'Community' is more than just shared geography."  We need to start acting like a community instead of just a town.

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