It’s unfortunate that residents feel they have to resort to the neighborhood watch to feel secure. But we can certainly understand why they feel that way. The break-ins, the remoteness of the area, and the lack of regular police presence, leaves them little in the way of options. Do nothing, and hope the burglars find another area to vandalize, or band together and hope they can discourage the perpetrators or even help lead to an arrest.
In many ways, what the folks in Whitingham are doing is what people who live in rural communities have always done: look out for one another. That sort of neighbor-supporting-neighbor approach is something that harkens back centuries. In earlier times it may have been more to keep domesticated animals safe from wild ones or to keep the peace on the frontier. Whatever the reason, a neighborhood watch system in some ways is as old as civilization itself.
Rural Vermonters tend to be trusting and easy-going about their lifestyle. That certainly extends to household security. How many leave their homes unlocked day and night? How many don’t take the car key out of the ignition when they get home? How many don’t know where their front door key is?All of those are things many do without thinking, especially on roads less traveled like we have so many of here.
But as the events in Whitingham point out, our roads are traveled, and not necessarily by people who have good intentions. Whether caused by the need for drugs and the allure of a quick score, or just a need for money, few places, even in rural areas, are safe anymore.
There is no doubt increased police presence would help. But some towns are just not able to find the money for increased patrols. Many contract for police services. When budgets get tight, contracted police time is often one of the first things to go, replaced by the hope that police will still respond when needed. It’s a shame, but it happens and is a reality many local communities face. There is no doubt local sheriff’s departments or state police barracks would be amenable to increased hours under patrol contracts, but there are costs to that, which taxpayers are often reluctant to bear. That creates a conundrum, and results similar to what is happening in Whitingham are not uncommon. We hope taxpayers and town officials in Whitingham can agree on a plan that would include increased police presence, even if it means dipping into town coffers to assure that. Without that, police response can be measured in hours instead of minutes.
Of course there are steps homeowners can take. Common sense says that if you go away take some precautions, whether it is locking doors and windows, asking a neighbor to keep an eye out or leaving some lights on timers. But in reality, we’re all at risk to some degree or another. Despite the best intentions or precautions, if someone wants to break into a house they probably will find a way to do so. But by taking steps to make that more difficult, many might be discouraged.
Neighborhood watches can have the best of intentions and they can have many positive outcomes. People are more aware of their own security, spend more time talking to their neighbors, get to know one another a little better, and they can come to understand more about one another. Watches can also degrade into nothing more than vigilante groups acting outside the law. We certainly don’t expect that to happen here, but it merits saying nonetheless. Police officers at last week’s meeting in Whitingham implied as much as well.
But at their core, neighborhood watch groups are simply neighbors looking out for neighbors. That is something that is often lost in the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives. It’s unfortunate that it took events like a rash of home burglaries to prompt this sort of coming together.