Sunday, August 28, 2016

Be On Alert For Crime

A couple days ago, I received a call from Plainfield Police on my land line. The message was to lock my car doors and not to leave any valuables visible inside.

I haven't had a car since 2008, but when I did, it was in a locked garage at night. Only once did I have a break-in and that was due to my negligence in leaving the garage unlocked. Someone stole my camera, which set me off to local pawn shops with an image of it, but no one had it. My understanding at the time was that stolen goods tend to be moved out quickly through "fencing" operations.

I wanted the camera back mainly because it contained photos of my sunflowers, which were spectacular that year, The thieves disdained my L.L. Bean rain jacket with plaid lining, probably a slam on my taste in fashion, but I still wear it on stormy days.

The phone call made me wonder whether a certain area was being targeted or it was just a general warning. In West Seattle where my daughter lives, the local blog has a "Crime Watch" section which includes what they call out there "car prowls." My feeling about having a Police Blotter or Crime section in the newspaper was that it gave residents more of an advantage in knowing where and what kind of crime was prevalent, but it tended to be a thorny issue in Plainfield. Officials complained it made the city look bad.

When I was a reporter, one of my first assignments was to "pick up the blotter" at eleven police stations on Saturdays. It was quite a trek through three counties, The desk officer in the more rural towns usually just said, "Nothing to report" but in Plainfield, the only urban center on the route, there was a wire basket with copies of police reports. As a Plainfielder myself, I was interested to know when there was a rash of purse snatchings on Park Avenue or some other trend to watch out for.

The sensitivity over crime reports one year led to the banning of the word "Plainfield" in headlines, though of course it was in the dateline. No matter how many "good news" stories were published, reporters caught hell when bad news surfaced. Some politicians tried to strong-arm editors by demanding coverage on what they called "good news," even if it was just some puff piece publicity around election time.

Eventually the newspaper dropped "cop runs" altogether, so the only crime news that got published was what police departments faxed over. As news outlets reduced staff, crime coverage dropped even more. Nowadays, by the time a major crime story comes out in print, it has already appeared online and in social media. In Plainfield, neighborhood associations may warn online of crime trends and offer crime prevention tips. One such tip is not to leave purses visible through back door windows and of course, leaving valuables in an unlocked car is just an open invitation to thieves.

If you are not receiving police advisories by phone or email, you can sign up on the city web site for the Plainfield Mass Communication System.

As they say, forewarned is forearmed.


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