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Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.

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Nosy Neighbors

On Sunday of this past weekend my husband and I witnessed a crime in our neighborhood.  As crimes go, it was a very minor thing.  But the incident is a good illustration of how to be a good witness and help the police in discouraging criminal activity.

Situational Awareness

My husband and I are relative newcomers to living in Fredericksburg, having moved from our farm in Orange County to our home in the city about 18 months ago. The transition for us was pretty shocking, since the view from the windows of our Orange house consists primarily of cows and corn.

Nearly every day, Mark and I walk our dog “Hank” all around the streets in our neighborhood of College Heights. Because of this routine, we have come to recognize most of our immediate neighbors (at least by sight), the cars they drive, their kids, and of course their dogs. We know that one neighbor prefers to sleep in and keeps later hours at night, and we know that another neighbor has an adult daughter who comes home on the weekends.

We’re not simply being nosy. These are just various details about our neighbors that we have absorbed without much thought. What makes these details important is that they allow us to notice when things are out of the ordinary.

The Crime

On Sunday morning shortly before 9am, Mark and Hank walked out to the street so Mark could retrieve something out of his car. Mark came back inside but Hank preferred to spend some time on the front lawn squirrel watching, a favorite activity.

Hank keeps the neighborhood safe from squirrels

We were standing just inside the glass of our storm door, watching Hank watching squirrels, when a maroon Saturn appeared from down the street and rather abruptly parked in front of the house directly across from ours. Neither of us recognized the car, and because of this we took notice.

As we watched, a teenaged girl shot out of the passenger side of the Saturn, jogged into our neighbor’s front yard and grabbed the two newspapers lying there, then turned to trot back to the car.

Mark burst through our front door and strode into the street, challenging the young woman: “Ma’am is that your newspaper?!!” 

The girl dove into the Saturn’s front seat, the driver of the Saturn shouted something about the neighbors being on vacation (we knew that wasn’t true), and the car sped off.  Mark stood in the middle of the street and memorized the license plate number of the car, repeating it to himself as he walked back into the house.  I wrote down the tag number.  Mark paced the floor in our kitchen, mad as a hornet.  Hank continued watching squirrels. 

We debated whether or not to call it in to the station.  As I mentioned, it was a petty crime.  But it was also so blatant, and downright rude.  We considered how disgruntled we would feel if we woke up and found our newspaper missing. We briefly discussed how our sense of ownership and responsibility extended beyond the walls of our own castle and now included our neighbors as well.

Mark called in to the non-emergency number of the police department and gave the dispatcher what information we had.

Details, Details

What did we know? We knew the car was a maroon Saturn sedan and (very important!) we had the license plate number. We knew the theft had been committed by an apparent teenaged girl who was wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants. We knew the driver of the Saturn was another female who was an adult, possibly the mother of the girl, given the age and general appearance of the two.

We knew our neighbors were most likely not on vacation, since we had seen them the evening before and all of their cars were in the drive. We knew that someone had just swiped the Sunday editions of the Free Lance-Star and the New York Times from their front yard.

Did any of this information make a difference? Yes.

The police officer who responded discovered that even though the license plate number of the Saturn was registered to an address outside of Fredericksburg, the name on the registration was contained in the Records Management System (RMS) of the police department.  We maintain name files in RMS for anyone who has been a victim, a witness, a suspect, or an “involved party” to a crime.  The owner of the Saturn was in RMS with an associated City address.

The officer responded to that address and found the Saturn’s driver.  The details of that exchange are not particularly important to this story, but a short time after we witnessed the newspaper heist, the papers were returned to our neighbor by the apologetic offenders. 

I think the neighbors were a little surprised that we had called the police – they didn’t even know about the unfolding drama until the police officer knocked on their door – but I hope they weren’t offended by our interest and concern. Here’s a message to our neighbors if they care to return the favor:

If you know we’re out of town and you see a party going on at our house, please do call the police.  Hank’s not allowed to have friends over when we’re not home.

Hank would miss the Sunday paper.

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/citypolice/2011/06/08/nosy-neighbors/

  • Laura Moyer

    Great post, Natatia! Fie on newspaper thieves. And Hank looks like a very well-read dog.
    Laura

  • ed newell

    thanks you’d be surprised how often it happens and you saved the carrier from being charged by the fls for that missed delivery. 3 bucks for a sunday paper 1 buck for daily

  • Trisha Byrd

    Great story Natatia!! We have great neighbors like you too :) It’s always great to know we have folks looking out over our place when we’re not home. Love Hank’s pics :)

  • Sarah

    Fantastic! Your neighbors are lucky! And I love how you included Hank. Too funny!

  • Spotsy Resident

    GREAT story!! I wouldn’t mind Hank and his parents as neighbors!!

  • Cindy Langley

    Great article! We have great neighbors too and I appreciate them noticing when things are out of the ordinary. Love the pics of Hank :) They really caught my eye as we have a German Short-Haired pointer too!
    Keep up the good work.

  • R Maelstrom

    Ive read the paper alot over the last 40 years. only responded twice to the editor. but this article has something! its informational, intuitive, and well written, and just plain dead on!

    it shows a side that all of us should possess. can you remember when the last time was you could leave your home unlocked? or your car? how about leaving your kids in the car while you shopped (windows down!)?

    so those days are gone, but does that mean we cant still behave that way towards ourselves, AND our neighbors? while the author is thinking the neighbors are thinking they’re nosey, if it were me id be knocking on your front door to shake your hand, and ofcourse pet Hank. Back in the day, these kind of visits were usually accompanied by apple pie.

    a few things to add to the article…. even though new to the hood, its not a bad idea to exchange cell numbers incase of a more serius emergency. while it is a private matter to some, for the ederly, its beneficial as a neighbor to kinda keep up with the older folks in the hood. they need help with everyday things. not to mention they arent as vigilant as us younger folk can be. its nice to keep a watchful eye on their castles too.

    again, bravo on an article which, in my opinion, should be common knowledge for all of us. not a bad idea to not only store 911 on your phone but your local sheriffs non emergency number too.

    remember, its not being nosey, if you take what you know and do good with it! as this article showed. PEACE to you all!

  • Rufus`

    What a waste of taxpayers’ money to call the cops. The neighbor could easily stop the thefts by going out and taking a non-candid picture of the person stealing the papers.

  • Reason

    I would never condone theft of any kind, and always try and watch out for my friends and neighbors. This hardly seems to be a police matter. I would have definitely acted if this happened again in the neighborhood. This mother and child have learned an important and embarrassing lesson. Don’t mess with people who are nosy and don’t have anything better to do.
    I wonder why the perps needed this paper SO badly. Shouldn’t we consider this, before overreacting and calling the police?

  • Richard Wicker

    Great story with an important underlying theme – get involved in your neighborhood. Two 75 cent papers isn’t much but what else is going on? Complacency leads to more serious crime and vandalism. When I walk my dog I have my cell phone and do not hesitate to report suspicious or illegal activity late at night. Zero tolerance

  • David Zacchetti

    I applaud your actions. Steal some newspapers, steal something else more valuable. The only difference is the opportunity.

  • Donna

    Several years ago a townhouse I lived across from was vacant. I was on the phone looking out the window one day and noticed people in the house. There wasn’t a car in front of the house, and the screen door hadn’t been touched because there was a flyer still wedged in it. I called it in to the sherriff’s office and they tried blowing me off saying it must be a realtor but I told them that there was no car and about the flyer in the screen door. They sent deputies out eventually but nothing was found. It happened again, I called, still nothing. I started to feel like a nuisance. About a month later I came home and saw all the lights on in the house and two deputy cars parked in front.. Someone had left the water running in the upstairs bathroom and caused the dining room ceiling to collapse. Drug paraphenelia was found as well as some stolen items from the townhouse next door. I didn’t feel like a nuisance after that and I am no longer embarassed to be the nosy neighbor.

  • Lori

    Great article! I wish someone would have seen and reported who throw a rock in my window a few months ago. While these incidents may seem small to some, just remember small incidents can turn into larger ones very quickly if people think no one is watching and they can get away with it. Sending out a message that the neighbors are “watching out for one another” is nothing but a positive thing in my book.

  • http://www.facebook.com/k8rid Katie

    They probably stole the papers for the coupons. I hate couponers.

    I have a similar story. This past Friday, my friend and I were headed out to the nail salon for a friend date. We were leaving my neighborhood when this car ran a stop sign and sped through the intersection. We had the right of way and almost hit them with less than a foot between both cars. The speeding car never slowed down. Once we realized everything was ok, we followed that car to the 7-11 just down the street. I got the license number, make, and model of the car. I proceeded to call the police and report the incident. I had friends tell me I was over reacting because no one was hurt. I don’t think I over reacted at all. I genuinely feared for my life due to the terrible and wreckless driving of this careless person. I don’t regret reporting it. Good for you, Natatia!