10 October 2009

The British "Neighborhood Watch"

Growing up, I always wondered where the "Neighborhood Watch" groups (You know, the ones that were advertised on the signs that told the criminals that this was not the right neighborhood for a poorly planned heist because they called the police--as if there were neighborhoods where people saw crime and just commented to their family about it.) met, who was a part of them, and what the members' responsibilities were. I don't know if it was wisdom or cynicism or some combination of the two that made me realize that the signs were a strategy--a bark with no real bite. And then I started to think that in many ways, those signs are kind of unjust (stay with me here), because if all the neighborhoods had them, they would cease to have even a minor deterrent effect--assuming that there is some small psychological effect--because robbers wouldn't just pack up and go home if those signs were posted everywhere. So, in order for them to work, only some of the neighborhoods could use them, in which case crime is not being stopped, it is just being redistributed to the neighborhoods that can't afford to hang the signs about calling the police. Let's summarize all of that to say that the system just seems stupid to me.

Well America, rest assured knowing that the Brits have an equally ridiculous crime prevention system.

Bike theft is a huge problem around here. There are these trucks that unload and sell used bikes in Oxford, and we are pretty suspicious that these bikes are stolen from students in Cambridge and that our bikes are jacked and then resold to them. Well, a system has been devised to curb this kind of crime; you must register your bike with the porter (security guard of your college) and with the police. What this registration entails is putting a hologram sticker on your bike (that is then your personal valuables identification number) so that if the police get really motivated when you report your stolen bike and stop the millions of bicyclists and check for your identification number, then they could correctly identify your green mens bike (just to throw out a random example) and return it to you. But I know that you, as a smart individual, have spotted the weakness in this plan. What if the theif removes the sticker from your bike, you ask? Have no fear, there is an answer for that. In addition to the sticker, you are also to write your security number in multiple secret (but clean) locations all over your bike as well as all of your valuables with a UV pen...you know the kind that only show up under a black light.

So, you take your invisible highlighter, write your name all over your valuables, and then all of your stuff gets stolen. Then what happens?

First, the police scours high and low looking for your stolen possesions--preferrable in Cambridge where they are likely being resold. They stop every student with a laptop, bike, and cell phone. (Which won't happen).

Second, they look for your sticker. (Which won't be there).

Then, they bring out their handy UV light, which is right next to their night stick and handcuffs, and scour every inch of your valuable to see if there is a number on it. (Which seems unrealistic to me).

So, this plan may be kind of like the neighborhood watch signs. After all, how are the criminals supposed to be dettered (as it is claimed) by an invisible marker?

BUT...if someone steals your bike, cell phone, lap top, and digital camera and takes them all to a rave, someone will TOTALLY catch them.

I sure feel safer.

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