Sunday, August 26, 2012

More perspective on picking: Part 1

A short time ago, I posted a provocative security camera image of pickers removing some items from our curb at midnight on a Friday night, in advance of our usual Saturday morning trash collection. 
Here it is again, in case you don't want to re-load the URL.
In that original post, I talked about the phenomenon of "picking" (Wikipedia claims that the term was coined by the TV show "American Pickers", but I doubt that - it's been around for some time) and noted that most pickers are honest.  They're making their money and having their fun by following a very precise set of rules established by mutual implied consent between picker and pickee.  They have to be very careful to abide by those rules; otherwise, they'll be confused with thieves. 

A Galveston County Daily News story published this morning emphasized their social code.  It told the story of a local picker who found accidentally-discarded military medals and returned them to their rightful owners.  Excerpt: Asked why [as a picker] he didn’t try to sell the medals, Packard had only one word — “honor.”
Of course, not all pickers are honest.  Not all financial controllers are honest.  Not all doctors are honest.  Not all Galveston County Clerks are honest.  You can't name a single group of people in our society and say that every last one of them is honest.  But in general, this is the way things tend to be with pickers.  It may be a bit unnerving to see people loading up their vehicle with your curb offerings, but you have to take that within the proper context.  On balance, I have yet to see any widespread evidence to suggest that pickers should be a high priority for our concern. 

For this reason, I am a little perplexed at the increasing emphasis that Centerpointe is placing on pickers.  Normally I don't re-broadcast material directly from our community newsletter, but with the establishment of the new website, the newsletters are now being loaded up onto the open internet, and anything freely accessible on the internet is fair game for blogging:
You can find them under this tab
 The section addressing pickers starts out with the following header:

My question is this:  Does anyone in Centerpointe have any actual evidence connecting these two phenomena - pickers and theft events?  Or is this just speculation?

I've been blogging about neighborhood crime for the better part of two years now.  In doing this, I've been parsing the best available statistical meta-site I've come across, which is the Crime Reports database.  Unfortunately, Crime Report only allows data roll-up for the most recent running six month period.  But let's start evaluating this question by examining what this most recent period looks like:
February 26, 2012 - August 26, 2012,
as reported by Crime Reports

There were two vehicle thefts (TV) - not surprisingly, both on Walnut Pointe.  Incidentally, after I published my observations on Walnut Pointe, I actually got contacted by a mainstream commercial news journalist who was interested in investigating the correlation between outdoor parked car congestion and crime rates.  Nothing has come of that inquiry yet, but it might eventually.  

But let me not digress.   The Walnut Pointe car burglaries both involved unlocked vehicles and they took place (or at least were reported) on a Monday night and a Saturday night respectively. 

Pickers come on Tuesday and Friday nights.

I suppose it's possible that a picker could cruise through on our biggest picking night, which is Friday (due to heavy trash being collected Saturday morning) and say to themselves, "Hmmm, here's some nice scrap metal and gee whiz, I wonder if I return to this same yard three days from now, will that vehicle be unlocked at that time, and if it does happen to be unlocked, will there be something in it for me to steal?"

It doesn't seem logical because of the gross inefficiencies involved; that kind of approach would be an exceedingly poor use of a criminal's time.  Anybody who goes around with that kind of crime mentality and modis operandi is not going to realize much success in their endeavors and will quickly be out of the crime game.

In sum, I don't think that focusing on pickers would do much to reduce our crime levels, for one very important reason: 
  • If you look at our published statistics, especially relative to surrounding areas, we hardly have any crime to start with.  There's not that much that could be reduced. 
  • The crime that does occur here appears for the most part to be spontaneous crimes of opportunity.  I would guess that these are largely individuals ranging widely (not just in Centerpointe) looking for quick and easy snatches of things to sell for drug money.  These people don't need to be introduced to Centerpointe via picking - our collective socioeconomic status is plainly visible for the entire world to see, and it's evident at quite a distance.  One can pretty much spot our McMansions all the way from Highway 3, for crying out loud.  And one can certainly spot them from IH-45.  They shine like "steal me" beacons for any criminal working north Galveston and south Harris Counties. 
Rather than focusing on pickers, I think we'd be better off admitting the *REAL* roots of most of our crime:
  • Residents being careless, leaving their vehicles and garage doors open.
  • Most crimes in this neighborhood are vehicle burglaries that happen because people leave their $20,000 - $60,000 easily-plundered assets outside in their driveways and on the streets instead of parking them in their garages where they belong.  Criminals look for the easiest scores, the paths of least resistance.  If you make stuff available to them, they're going to take it. 
These are my suspicions about this entire matter.  I've yet to investigate whether there are any back-stories unfolding of which I am as yet unaware, that might implicate pickers in specific instances.  I'll do that next, and I'll also follow up with a couple of additional posts on the following topics:
  • How to better secure your residence.  There are some simple things you can do to reduce your theft risk.
  • If people are still not comfortable with the picking status quo, there are a few material management steps that could easily be taken around here that would not necessitate a time-sink effort on the part of the POA and/or other neighborhood volunteer personnel.  The August newsletter talked about the potential for an in-neighborhood recycling effort.  In a perfect world, that might be a neat idea, but we all have careers and families and more important things to do with our time.  If people are willing to spend increased amounts of time on improving Centerpointe, I think that it would be better spent on other efforts, but I'll get to that in a subsequent post. 

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