Should I be worried about repeat vandalism after one incident?
February 20, 2012 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Should I be worried about repeat vandalism after one incident?

About a week and a half ago, I was sitting in my living room at night playing Minecraft when my front window exploded inwards, followed by the sound of a car peeling out. An empty beer bottle had been thrown from the car (or from just outside of the car) and demolished the window. I've pretty much been a paranoid mess since then.

I called the cops, the officer showed up and alleviated my fears that it was in any way an attempted break-in, but every night since I'm getting up and peeking out the window at the sound of any car driving past.

I know, logically, that it was likely just random drunken teenagers or kids from the nearby college doing random drunken things. The officer said as much, I guess this kind of crime is more common in middle class neighborhoods like this than in any other part of town, because kids get bored. There's nobody with motive to target me, and my house was a good target for an opportunistic vandal - my porch light had burned out a week or so before and I didn't replace it in time, I'm on a dark, short street just off of a highly-trafficked street, my few neighbors don't tend to keep porch lights on, and my parking space is in the back, so my car can't be seen from the street. I also have room darkening curtains, so I'm sure even with the lights on inside the house looked empty.

The landlord, neighbor and police all say that this hasn't happened here before. All signs point to a simple crime of opportunity. Still, I can't shake the paranoia.

I'm taking steps to deter this stuff in the future - motion sensor lights are being put in this week, and I've added some solar garden lights to the yard to brighten it up a bit more. Still, that doesn't do much to stop someone throwing another bottle from the street, out of range of the motion sensor.

Should I be worried about this happening again? It's been over a week, I think if it was going to recur it would have by now, but I just can't shake it.
posted by jason_steakums to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
Not trying to add to your panic, but you may want to talk about this possibility with the cops: Where I live, meth is a real problem and break-ins are on the rise, mostly junkies trying to feed their habit. A very common tactic is for them to break a window or a door and immediately leave; they'll then check back on the house a day or two later. If the damage is still there, chances are the tenants are away or the house is unoccupied. They'll come back that night with help and clean the place out.

It was probably just random stupid teenager crap, but in any case, make sure you get the damage repaired ASAP, even if it's just fixing a sheet of plywood over the window until it can be properly replaced, and replace any bad or missing exterior lights. The point is, make it clear that the house is lived-in and someone is aware of and responding to the damage.
posted by xedrik at 5:36 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It is not likely to happen again, however if it does you will want to record it with a motion sensitive infrared camera that automatically snaps photos whenever there is motion in its field of view. This will give you peace of mind. Otherwise, you will be even more paranoid should it occur again.
posted by Land Ho at 5:40 PM on February 20, 2012

If it makes you feel any better, the same thing happened to us about ten years ago. It never happened again. 1 vote for random drunken kids.
posted by BlahLaLa at 5:45 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Drunken college students threw an ORANGE -- the fruit -- through my window in grad school and broke a pane. Never happened again.

Don't worry.
posted by jayder at 5:50 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The window was fixed the next morning, my landlord was really good about getting that fixed ASAP. I'm also getting a wireless security system put in - this whole thing made me reassess my home's security - so hopefully between the added lights and security system stickers/signs, a burglar would pick an easier target.

I'm leaning away from the idea that it was testing a house for burglary, mostly because of the loud, neighbor-alerting peel out they did when they left. I'm pretty sure they got panicked when the bottle moved the room darkening curtain and light came through. I've made sure to keep the curtains open a bit since then, so the light hitting the blinds gives a sign that someone's home.

I've already got a motion activated, night vision IP camera priced out just in case it happens again and needs to go in. My big fear right now isn't the actual act having the window smashed, it's that once someone thinks they can get away with repeat victimization, it's not the easiest thing to stop.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:52 PM on February 20, 2012

Best answer: I feel your paranoia. This summer & fall we had a string of minor thefts from our bikes: bike lights, at first, working their way up to the theft of a bike seat. Such thefts are atypical in our location. For some reason, the bike seat theft crossed some kind of psychic line for me (even though, objectively, it's nowhere near front-window-explosion level). One of my friends 'helpfully' suggested that perhaps someone was deliberately messing with us. My brain immediately came up with a bunch of reasons we might be targets, each creepier than the last, and several pertaining to our large plate-glass windows. We took some precautionary measures re bike theft, but couldn't really do much about the other stuff. Our locale felt very unpleasant for a week or two. Months later, there have been NO further incidents, and I'd totally forgotten about the paranoia.

Speaking as an ex-vandal, it is quite likely the perpetrator couldn't find your house again if they tried, AND would be far too embarrassed to try. This wasn't anything personal. They weren't thinking about you as a victim, or about you at all.

Your precautionary measures sound really good -- I envy you your motion sensors. No, you shouldn't worry about this happening again. If the adrenalin starts pumping anyhow, do some chin-ups, or whatever your favorite stress-reduction technique.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:58 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: several pertaining to our large plate-glass windows

This is the one that really gets to me, I can see how our house was such an attractive target for exactly this kind of vandalism because of our large windows and short front yard.

Speaking as an ex-vandal, it is quite likely the perpetrator couldn't find your house again if they tried, AND would be far too embarrassed to try. This wasn't anything personal. They weren't thinking about you as a victim, or about you at all.

This actually helps ease my mind a lot - the bottle that they threw was that nasty high alcohol Bud Light Platinum, so I can certainly see these kids not even remembering where they were that night.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:08 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thinking too hard about that kind of thing will drive you mad. Unknown beings slashed my tires, both at work and in my driveway, 7 times between 1996-98. Then it started again in 2004, after I moved to a different state. Random? Related? I'll never know.

In the 90's, my sister had people repeatedly chainsaw entry holes through the walls of her house. They were all caught. Different people every time.

It's easy to turn those types of events into persecution narratives. Don't shell out for the safe room, and do not start thinking of yourself as a frightened victim.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:36 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

True peace of mind will not come from alarms, police or locks - you need to protect yourself by being individually armed. You will be amazed at how much "control" you will feel over your own safety.

I am not jumping to the top and saying you must get a gun - several options are available you.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:42 PM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: I can't do the gun thing - if I want it quickly accessible, it's not going to be locked up safely enough, and if I lock it up it won't do me much good in a pinch. And honestly, I'd be afraid of making a serious lapse of judgement with a deadly weapon in a frightening situation. It happens a lot in home defense situations, and I am a dude with anxiety issues. So for the moment, the Gordon Freeman School of Home Defense (read: crowbar within reach of bed) will have to do.

Plus, actual home invasion-style violent crime is really not even on my anxiety radar. It's just a ridiculously rare thing in this area, the violent crimes that happen around here are either downtown outside the bars or due to horrible domestic situations. It's property crime and burglary of unoccupied homes that are the main things to worry about.

In the 90's, my sister had people repeatedly chainsaw entry holes through the walls of her house. They were all caught. Different people every time.

What the? I can't even imagine how such a weirdly specific (and noisy!) crime happens repeatedly, that's messed up!
posted by jason_steakums at 7:18 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a group of friends in high school who would occassionally get into this sort of behaviour. Orange cannons, stealing signs, breaking things, etc. It was never directed at a particular person or target, and always just juvenile fun.

I'm not saying that automatically applies to your situation, but it's entirely possible that this was nothing more than a random event. Do you work in a school, or have regular contact with any groups of teenagers? That might change things a little, but is still far from a guarantee that this will be repeated.
posted by twirlypen at 7:56 PM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: Do you work in a school, or have regular contact with any groups of teenagers?

Nope! I work in local news, but in a capacity where nobody outside the station would actually know that. My girlfriend teaches Sunday school while she's working up towards getting back into the workforce after some temporary disability, but none of the kids there know where she lives and she's never had trouble with any of them. We've lived in this house since November, and nothing that would cause anyone to develop a personal interest in antagonizing us has happened since then. We pretty much keep to ourselves and our group of friends (and we haven't been friends with anyone who starts trouble or causes drama for years).

Now, apparently the former tenants in this house were all sorts of trouble. I don't know the specifics, but the landlord and neighbors have never had anything nice to say about them. What little I've picked up on points to loud, obnoxious parties and things like that, not actual criminal trouble. But neither the landlord nor the cops think they'd have waited months and months to do something like this when they could just as easily have done even more damage to this place while it was sitting empty between tenants. They didn't damage property while they were here, either.

Every logical bone in my body is saying "this was random and you know it," but when my particular anxiety issues kick in they don't let me trust what I can't prove, which isn't a lot of fun in a situation where proving it's random means "wait an indefinite amount of time, and if it never happens again then you're good."
posted by jason_steakums at 8:21 PM on February 20, 2012

Talk to your neighbors. You will feel better if you know you are surrounded by friends who are looking out for you, instead of random strangers.
posted by myselfasme at 9:15 PM on February 20, 2012

Did the police take the bottle as evidence? Fingerprints/DNA of the perp should be on it.
posted by brujita at 9:55 PM on February 20, 2012

Response by poster: They took photos of all of the damage, and took some of the larger pieces of the bottle, but noted that it's unlikely in this part of town that someone with a record is doing this. It sounds like if it happened again, or if someone else in the area had a similar bit of vandalism happen to them, they would be able to use the evidence to pursue who did it, but unless it's shown that it's more than a one-off bit of random vandalism they really don't have the resources to investigate thoroughly. I'm in a midwestern city of just over 80k people that's always going through a budget crunch of some sort, so we don't have the largest or most well-funded police force.

They have made a point of patrolling the area more when they can, but that's pretty sporadic. Last week they happened upon some kids smoking pot in a car with the lights off on our block, and basically just warned them to stay away from the neighborhood - kids haven't been seen since. I strongly doubt they were the ones who threw the bottle, because that's causing an awful lot of racket and attention on the nice, quiet, out-of-the-way street they were getting high on.

Partially because I'm anxious, partially because the cop suggested it, I've been watching the street more. There definitely haven't been any suspicious cars other than that, nobody other than the people who live here, really.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:25 PM on February 20, 2012

Best answer: After this happened I spent a couple months getting out of bed and going on patrol every time I heard any noise whatsoever, so it sounds like you're having a pretty normal response to stupid, insane crap happening. A very low dose of Xanax on and off for a couple months got me over things.

Yeah, you know it's not happening again, but that's not how your brain is wired. The foolish ways we respond to rare occurrences is a major theme on Bruce Schneier's security blog.

If you're worried but don't want a loose gun floating around the house (which is probably wise) consider getting a can of the industrial strength pepper spray. It's even less lethal than a blow from a crowbar but, according to my State Cop friend, can pacify an entire room.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:58 AM on February 21, 2012

It could be acquaintances of the rowdy former tenants who are unaware that they've moved.
posted by gentian at 7:24 AM on February 21, 2012

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