Friday, October 9, 2009

Being a bad neighbor, versus being a shoplifter

If you've ever had to call the police due to a neighbor's noise, harassment, vandalism, etc., you know how low a priority we of the Good Neighbor Underclass are given by police dispatchers. If the neighbor isn't holding a knife against your throat and isn't armed, the call is deemed an interpersonal conflict. A nuisance call.

So, what warrants top priority in a small town where gang violence, belligerent homeless people and machine gun rampages aren't taking place?

Get ready to invest in CVS, Walgreens and all the chain drug stores.

Swipe a pack of gum and run out of one of those stores, here in the New Jersey region just across the river from Philadelphia, and an APB goes out for you. Police patrol cars rush in from surrounding districts. I've seen parades of police vehicles zip the wrong way down my one-way street, all in pursuit of a shoplifter who wasn't armed and didn't hurt anyone.

This isn't to say it's okay to steal. But if it's a pack of gum or cigarettes, a bottle of medicine or booze, police need to tell these pharmacies and other stores to hire security guards to protect their merchandise. Taxpayers already pay high prices at these stores for such overhead, and would like for the local cops to reevaluate their priorities.

Make shoplifting calls the nuisance. Make quality-of-life calls the ones that warrant such a show of force.


  1. My view is that police should respond to criminal calls and code enforcement officers should respond to the (un)civil calls. When both types of calls go through the same police dispatch center, however, triage demands that the criminal calls take priority. Most municipalities are badly pressed for money for police - and make only a pretense toward municipal code enforcement. Sadly, good neighbors are S.O.L.

  2. Agreed. In the interest of making a quick point, I did oversimplify. I'm often an apologist for and supporter of the police, even though I see so many officers in so many districts mistreating good neighbors who make legitimate complaints about their bad ones.

    Now, noise calls refer to a crime in some cases and areas, and a code violation in others. I find code enforcers much more responsive than police to such issues, and more willing to be disliked by offending parties and willing to write tickets than police. But as long as there are these jurisdictional differences as to how such complaints are handled, it's hard to come up with across-the-board answers.

    I maintain favoring having police show up when called about neighbor noise and harassment (so many never get to the call) over responding to an automated alarm set off by a cashier because some kid stole some gum. And again, I would like for such crimes to be stopped and the offenders straightened out, but I'd like for the corporate store owners to either pay for security guards or pay for the police overtime involved in pursuing shoplifters.