There goes the neighborhood

“Dave, you need to look at this.”

Those aren’t my favorite words to hear first thing Monday morning. I went outside to see, and there, I found a lot of debris scattered on the ground. At first, it looked like some animal had torn open a garbage bag. But then I got closer and saw it wasn’t garbage and trash. I saw coupons, credit cards, some change, and other personal effects.

Around that time, one of our next-door neighbors came out to let her dogs do their morning ritual. She and my wife waited while I went inside to call the police.

The neighbor told us that someone down the street has a habit of renting rooms out to questionable people. That explained something we saw earlier this month. There was a strange truck parked in front of that house. It had a flat tire, so it probably wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. The police posted a warning on it, and it still sat there for more than a week in spite of the warning. Then one day the truck was gone. The neighbor had told the police, and anyone else who asked about it, that the guy who owned the truck probably was in jail, so it didn’t matter if they towed it.

We got a name off one of the credit cards. So while I waited, I looked up what I could. There was a woman by that name on a nearby street. Incidentally, if one continued walking in a straight line from where that street ends, you’d end up in or near my yard. I jotted down her name, address, and phone number on an index card.

It took about 10 minutes for a police officer to arrive on my front porch. “Who’s the knucklehead down the street?” he asked as I opened the door, before I could even introduce myself.

I said I’d just learned this morning that the neighbor down the street rents rooms out to people we’d rather not have as neighbors. I took him over to see the debris field and answered his questions as he examined it. He picked up items, one by one, and placed them in a bag.

“Probably an old lady who left her purse in the car, and maybe didn’t lock it,” he guessed. Sure enough, underneath some other items, he found the driver’s license of an elderly woman. Along with the driver’s license we found store credit cards, change, her checkbook, her cell phone back, battery, and the rest of the phone.

“Not a very sophisticated crook,” I said. “He obviously wasn’t out to steal her identity.”

“A kid who just wanted the cash,” he said.

“So why dump the rest here?” I asked.

“Knucklehead goes and steals her purse out of her car, and this is on the way home,” he said. “There’s someone with a history of giving that address. We’ve brought him in a few times.”

I answered a few more questions about who I am, and how we found the stolen items, which he wrote down in his notebook.

“I’ll go talk to Knucklehead,” he said. “I don’t mind bothering people who have a history of causing problems. Then I’ll go by this woman’s address and see if anything else was stolen.”

He thanked me, then went back to his car. I gathered my things to go to work. About 45 minutes had passed since I planned to leave, but that was OK. I watched him drive slowly down the street. I guess he lingered there for a while, because he was pulling away as I started for work. It didn’t look like anyone was home. I followed him down the street. He and I turned the same direction. He turned off in the direction of the robbery victim’s house, and I continued straight, on my way to work.

I may or may not ever know the outcome. But I suspect some other neighbors will be interested in talking to me in the days to come. And maybe I need to upgrade some of my outdoor lighting. Costco has an LED outdoor light that automatically turns itself on at dusk and shuts itself off at dawn, and I don’t think it’s all that expensive. Fleeing crooks hate light.

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