When we discuss the concept of keeping a watchful eye on illegal activity, most of us focus on potential criminal or misdemeanour activity by youths, loose gangs or minorities. It is a stereotype and response that need to be resisted, since much of the deviant behaviour around us occurs at the hands of other groups, as well: law enforcement personnel, corporations and everyday citizens who infringe on human rights.
An equally pervasive reaction to calls for citizens to prevent crime is to assume that this responsibility should fall to others, and that we will have little impact, individually. Both responses are detrimental to making our lives and our communities safer. The adage that “it takes a village” to rise a child is equally applicable to making your life more safe and crime-free. Where there are watchful eyes, crime of all type decreases. Concurrently, when we assume a little responsibility, we make it less burdensome on those empowered with authority.
Consider that if, in addition to your own home, you paid attention to situations amenable to crime (break-ins, vandalism, etc.) for each of your neighbours on the four sides of your own property, one pair of eyes could prevent such activities in five, instead of one residence. Now, imagine if only one other owner out of those four properties did the same, and that pattern continued throughout your city, 20% of the community could deter 100% of the problems in every home.
In rural and smaller communities, statistics reveal that property crimes and serious violence are significantly lower than in larger centres. Neighbours concerned about neighbours constitute almost all of the reasons for this disparity between large and small centres. While many people view the attitudes of country folk as intrusive, nosy or prying, the interest of neighbours and friends in one’s life offers real dividends! Watchful eyes do work.
Conversely, anonymity provide the cover for deviance. Again, watchful eyes offer the best chance to see decreases in crime, by spotlighting deviant behaviour. It is no surprise, then, that many of the meth labs and concentrated grow ops in North America are placed in big cities, where people do not involve themselves in their neighbours’ lives, and place the onus for safety and crime prevention solely on the shoulders of justice and law enforcement systems.
Relying on the principle of five – that is, assuming responsibility for watching out for your four neighbours can be extrapolated to the workplace, or to the environment around you. Five vehicles adjacent to you, five nearby businesses, or five nearby co-workers can both benefit from your concern for their wellbeing, and be deterred form potential criminal activity. Expand your boundaries and horizons systematically and you expand your zone of safety and security, as well as the zone for others.
As our communities expand, and we become less involved, we invite crime. Simultaneously, our attitudes toward crime become more blurred, and acceptance of so-called softer crimes becomes easier. Think of how we view shoplifting. The very name implies diminished seriousness. Vandals who deface property brand their activity as “tagging,” making it sound more like a game than a crime. One study found that 38% of taxpayers admit to cheating on their income tax, and over 60% feel that avoidance of tax is not a serious problem. Maybe, stacked against murders, fraud is “soft,” but a willingness to cheat your fellow taxpayer and citizen out of money (our government is not independent: it is us!) is a willingness to step across that line of morality that separates criminals from honest people.
The violence in the United Kingdom in August, 2011, or the violent protest in Greece (some of it occurring because people, many of whom do not pay their taxes, were upset that the decreased tax revenue available could no longer pay for their early retirement) largely was based on concern for self, rather than concern for those around us. That psychology needs to change, if we want a safe environment around us. We need to think of others first, and watch out for our neighbours, ahead of ourselves.
Having a watchful eye, though, and merely watching are two different processes entirely. For what are we watching? The entrenched habit is to concentrate on youth, minorities, people who differ from us in beliefs, people who differ from us in objectives and activities, and people whom we see as not conforming to our way of viewing the world. On the other hand, many of us implicitly trust our law enforcement, our religious leaders, our seniors, our friends, and those who provide us with the things we desire. That is both myopic and misdirected. However, it also contains a small part of the essence of what we should be observing: differences.
Unfortunately, we cue in on the wrong differences. One religion or another, or example, has no exclusive domain over morality. Neither does one race or another. Blind studies and objective observation have found that youth often have a moral sense equal to adults, and that seniors are no less subject to the temptation to deviate. Rather, the differences that set us apart from those that are deviating from acceptable behaviour are those of action.
Think of the person in the car next to you, who texts on his cell phone. Notice how furtive his glance is, or his downward gaze, when he should be watching the road. Notice the shoplifter, who looks around for people who may be observing, rather than at the merchandise. Notice the vendor who tries to steer you away from examining some aspect or feature of the item that you are considering for purchase. Note the collection of people, not in the front but in the back of a building. Note the after-hours visits to a location that may indicate that illegal activity is being concealed. Note the person whose behaviour with you is markedly different than his behaviour with someone else. It is the difference in action that set apart differences in intent.
In the next article, I will discuss the MOI Inventory. MOI is an evaluative technique employed, in one form or another, by police and investigators, and relies on understanding of the three ingredients of any crime: Motive, Opportunity and Indicators.
In subsequent articles, I will provide details on how to watch, how to record, how to report and respond, without putting yourself at risk.
However, the beginning of the process is to be vigilant, and to keep a watchful eye, since merely being noticed often is a strong deterrent for those engaged in inappropriate behaviour.
Robert (Bob) Lee is a former business developer and consultant to not-for-profit, community-based and rural development groups. He is also a former investigator who has encountered “the other side of life” through the criminal element, and has been able to observe the human element at its worst and best. His track record of success is significant, and his perspectives on business, government and people at large is unique. He has written numerous books, in genres ranging from business to fantasy, from non-fiction to fairy tales. Visit some of his blogs, beginning at http://accountableandresponsible.blogspot.com/or buy his most recent book, Wild People I Have Known at his website.