Our View: Crime wave? Let’s keep perspective

By Triplicate Staff December 06, 2011 02:11 pm

When it comes to crime, Del Norte County has probably always had its share. As a rough and tumble fishing and logging town, Crescent City was no doubt a far-west embodiment of the Wild West in its early years. Even today, the populace is an eclectic mix, not just another one of those retirement communities that dot the Northwest coastline.

Throw in the fact that it’s near the juncture of two major highways with a steady stream of strangers passing through, and you’ve got a place that’s tough to police with the small-town resources afforded our local authorities.

So when those authorities warn of an increase in residential break-ins, it’s not surprising that the citizens take note. Lately they’ve done so in a big way. A couple of town hall meetings on crime prevention each brought out more than 100 people. At least one new Neighborhood Watch has been formed. The sheriff and police blotters sport far more than the usual number of calls regarding suspicious people or vehicles.

We’re collectively on the lookout, and that’s good. But maintaining a realistic perspective is also good. The Triplicate’s Saturday report on recent burglary statistics shows an increase, but not a dramatic one. Through the end of October, 279 cases had been reported countywide — the number for the same period last year was 254.

One issue with the statistics is that the term “burglary” covers more than just break-ins — it also includes forging checks, for instance.

The Police Department has not experienced an increase in break-in calls in its portion of the contiguous area known as Crescent City. And despite the recent heightened concerns, the Sheriff’s Office actually responded to more burglary calls earlier this year — 30 in May and 28 in January, compared to 20 in October and 16 apiece in September and August.

Still, Sheriff’s Office officials sounded the alarm because they detected not only an increase in break-ins but also an indication that crimes were being committed by experienced thieves who in some cases might be working together. Some recent arrests may be helping to stem the tide.

Citizens can take several steps to make life harder on burglars. They can make sure their homes and vehicles are always locked. They can inventory their valuables and record serial numbers. And they can watch out for their neighbors — Watch groups can be effective, but so can simply keeping an eye out for strange people and vehicles. At the very least, get to know the folks next door and across the street.

Proper vigilance is called for; panic is not. Some of the recent voices have been a bit shrill in implying that armed response by the citizenry is the best way to fight crime. While it’s possible such talk could make crooks think twice about breaking and entering, it also could create a climate where residents grow more inclined to shoot first and ask questions later.

At one of the town hall meetings, sheriff’s Commander Tim Athey sounded a reasonable note when he said that shooting an intruder — justified or not — could have devastating impacts.

“Don’t get hurt, but don’t jump the gun,” he advised.

Yes, we have the right to defend ourselves and our loved ones. And yes, we have the right to keep and bear arms in our homes. But we also have the responsibility to exercise good judgment.

— Del Norte Triplicate