don't make me get a stick with a nail in it.
August 17, 2005 2:41 AM   Subscribe

Roving Street Gangfilter. Actually, more of a roving teengangwannabefilter. (more inside)

So, we live in a not so nice neighborhood. Earlier this week, my spouse was sitting on the front steps and noticed a group of teenagers walking down out street trying car doors to see if they could find an unlocked one. She told them to stop (since vehicles already get broken into around these parts). They basically told her to bugger off and told her there was nothing she could do. Since then, our front yard and the front of our house has been the target of stray beer bottles and we've had garbage tossed at the front door. They also taken to stopping when she is out front to verbally abuse her and egg her on. Knowing that the police around here have actually shootings and such to deal with, any advice short of calling the police?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total)
Here in the UK, we have the ASBO (for Anti-Social Behaviour Order), that's intended for exactly this sort of thing. If you don't have that sort of protection, the best advice I can give is to tell your wife to back off. The problem with this sort of situation is that it brings out the worst in people, has the tendency to escalate, and has the potential to end in tragedy.

Just suck it up, stay out of their way, and hope that they get bored.
posted by veedubya at 3:30 AM on August 17, 2005

I would call the police and make sure each incident is logged. If the situation does escalate in some way, you've got all the history on record.

I would also wait and see if it goes away for a while, because it's hard to fight a bunch of kids that know where you live. But if it carries on you have the right to defend yourself against them.
posted by lunkfish at 3:39 AM on August 17, 2005

Get a camera, catch the little devils.
posted by Goofyy at 4:24 AM on August 17, 2005

you or someone big and menacing beat the piss out of one of the buggers, they will never bother you again.

Sometimes you have to meet ruffians with ruffian-like force.

posted by phredhead at 4:43 AM on August 17, 2005

My reaction used to be "let it go, it's not my problem". Since I've become responsible for a family my response has been far more aggressive and confrontational - this kind of petty crime can really affect people's quality of life, and I don't see why they should be allowed to get away with it. But from your question you're in the US, and although I'm willing to go up against a bunch of UK yobs, I don't think I'd risk the same thing in the US.

So I would say that practically, your choices are to ignore it and hope it dies out, or to phone every incident through to the police.

I'd contact the police every time rather than keeping an incident log (which the police may recommend if you talk to them) because then each incident will have a seperate entry in their statistics, and a big peak in complaints might get resources diverted your way. I'd also encourage neighbours to do the same so the complaints are coming from "the community" rather than from a lone voice (this advice is based on experience with the UK police force and its obsession with clear-up rates/statistics, and may be completely useless in your country).
posted by Leon at 4:46 AM on August 17, 2005

I agree with the "call the police each time" approach. Ignoring /avoiding the behavior is sanctioning it, that's how this kind of behavior got started to begin with.

Call the police, organize the neighborhood, stand up to them in an organized, unified manner, make a difference... But don't do anything foolish...
posted by HuronBob at 5:04 AM on August 17, 2005

I'm willing to go up against a bunch of UK yobs, I don't think I'd risk the same thing in the US.

Unless you're a real man of steel, you're nuts! UK yobs might be less likely to have guns, but, in my experience, UK "yobs" are far more violent than their American counterparts. In the US, the punishments for yobbery are harsh, and gangs are likely to be attacking each other, rather than the general populace.

In the UK, on the other hand, you get 11 year old kids going around slashing tires of people they don't know, putting crap through letterboxes, and terrorizing ordinary folk, and the police couldn't give a crap. My strategy (and advice) is not to live anywhere with that sort of trash around. This isn't pointless snobbery, but a real distaste of the chavvy animals which plague many areas of the UK these days.
posted by wackybrit at 5:55 AM on August 17, 2005

I'm willing to go up against a bunch of UK yobs

I wouldn't recommend it. For one thing a lot of them are carrying knives and guns now, and will use them as there's nothing to hold them back. The main point is that it's hard to fight a determined bunch of teenagers. You'll do time if you beat them up, and they can easily implement guerilla tactics against you and your house.
posted by lunkfish at 6:05 AM on August 17, 2005

You need to get your neighbors involved. The classic story of community policing around here is the early 90's cleanup of Boston's Bay Village neighborhood.

The area had gone from being 70's seedy to late 80's Gay Urban Professional, but the prostitutes wouldn't go away. A bad economic situation brought streetwalkers to the area, and habit kept them there when it was revitalized-- the hookers moved out, but they came back to ply their trade because that's where the johns knew to go to.

A few friends got sick of the situation and decided to do something about it. They told the hookers to move along when they saw activity, and they got threatened by pimps. The cops wouldn't do anything about it. So they started talking to neighbors (which is unusual here) and, sure enough, the neighbors were fed up, too. Soon, everyone was calling the mayor's office daily to complain and everyone walked their dogs with a notebook and pen to write down the plate numbers of folks who were cruising. They got the atttention of the paper, and the resulting coverage shamed the cops into activity.

Talk to your neighbors-- they don't like this any more than you do. And there's safety in numbers.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:22 AM on August 17, 2005

wackybrit: Hardly. Just pissed off. But the problem seems to have gone away this year, so I don't have to risk my luck any more. It was probably stretching a bit thin anyway.
posted by Leon at 7:38 AM on August 17, 2005

I'd recommend doing two things: first, call the cops when this stuff happens. Get folks around you to call the cops when they see this stuff going on.

Second, pick a means of self-defense acceptable to your ethical system, purchase necessary equipment, and study it. Get your wife to study it also. I'm not suggesting that you should go kick their asses, but I am suggesting that you should understand the very real possibility that once you start making trouble for them by calling the cops regularly, they may decide to start making trouble for you.

While I understand that many people have strong ethical objections to them, and I do not wish to offend, you might consider the purchase of a firearm for self-defense. It evens the odds a little bit.

Remember, though, that you'll need to study its use at least casually for it to be more benefit than liability.
posted by Netzapper at 7:43 AM on August 17, 2005

They're so looking for a fight. I'd be nervous if I were you, they're trying to find your breaking point. At least call the cops and tell them what's going on, and call the neighbors up too. You'd be surprised how many neighbors in a bad neighborhood are actually good. Even drug dealers hate stupid teens like this, it is bad for business. The only people who will possibly defend these teens are their parents.

And in my experience most cops realize that the shootings they deal with don't come from some upstanding citizen who one day thinks he can make a buck off hustling, it starts here with these minor anti-social behaviors. I'd be surprised with the evidence you've given us they won't do anything.

PS Why is this anonymous? Do teen gang bangers hang out in AskMetafilter now?
posted by geoff. at 7:45 AM on August 17, 2005

I'm only 24 but when I see these young kids and teenagers who are genuinely unafraid of adults and the police, I can't help but wonder why that is. When I was 15 or 16 there were a few kids you didn't want to mess with. But now it seems like there's a whole generation. Where did they all come from?

I talked about this with my flatmate (he's 29) the other day. We were watching an undercover investigation into school discipline filmed by a supply teacher. Maybe supply teachers or rather, the increasing number of supply teachers, is the cause? When I was in school we always had the same teachers (and we were disciplined). Whenever we had supply teachers we just messed about because they lacked the authority, presence/domineering personality and permanece to do anything about people messing around. Thoughts?
posted by xpermanentx at 7:50 AM on August 17, 2005

Police departments around the US hold Gulliani NYC as the example par excellance for cleaning up a city. That means getting rid of petty crime and thuggery is top o' the list and they will deal with this (how effective they are will, of course, vary). Log the incidents, call the cops each time. Do not confront the thugs anymore, they know you are watching now.
posted by jmgorman at 7:56 AM on August 17, 2005

you don't mention where you live, but here in Chicago, we have something called CAPS - which means something like Community Active Police Something.
Regardless, it's a system where neighbors meet once a month or so w/ reps from their local precincts and talk about public safety, crime, and that such thing. It's community organized, and something like that might help your situation.
To mirror what people are saying, I recommend getting neighbors involved. Sure, if you call the police every time there's an incident, it's logged - but if it's just one person from the neighborhood, you might be tagged as a crank. If the cops constantly get calls from people in the 'hood, they're more likely to see a reccuring problem.
Also, here are some tips:
- Ask your local government for more street lamps.
- Nighttime block parties. Gather your neighbors, have a cookout at night. Large groups of people keep the knobs away.
- More people ON the street - walking dogs, strolling, etc. Vandals and grime count on people not to be present to do their deeds.
- Photos! Criminals don't like their pictures taken. Maybe get a good lens and snap photos of these kids in the act. (Best if they don't know you're doing it....) Also, the more physical and photographic evidence you can mount against this rabble the better.

Good luck!
posted by itchi23 at 8:05 AM on August 17, 2005

itchi23, no offense but this isn't an 80s movie. I don't know of one bad neighborhood where organizing a friendly block party, and encouraging people to walk helped anything. Street lamps have been shown to help but require budgeting and other concerns that are far outside of anonymous' power. Your optimism is refreshing, but obviously you've never been in a neighborhood where you could walk to your crack dealer (those were the days!).
posted by geoff. at 8:14 AM on August 17, 2005

Get on their parents. If you get a look at who's doing it, and can ask around to find their folks, confront them. Point out that while their kids might not give a shit, once the cops do get involved there'll be serious consequences. And that means a lot of crap for the parents to deal with too. Usually that'll earn the kids a beating at home.
I have a hard time telling how bad your situation is. You call 'em wannabes, but a lot of posters seem to think that they're a real danger. I suppose it matters where you live too, as what freaks people out in the burbs or edges of a city isn't what freaks people out in the city center.
Like, where I live was a haven for drugs and violence in the '80s, but it's not like Detroit. Here, we did organize the neighborhood and got many of the people who were causing trouble kicked out. There, it's more of, shall we say, anarchic proportions and it's harder to get a level of civility.
But hey, I had a guy follow me home and threaten me because I honked at him while he sat through a green light. I told him to go ahead and hit me, because I'd have him in prison so fast his head would spin. Sometimes reminding people of the consequences of their actions can be enough to get them to back down.
Oh, and do call the police often about this stuff. You don't necessarily need to call 911, but you can call their regular office number and file complaints.
(Or you can camp out on top of your building with a paintball gun and rain down righteous pain upon them...)
posted by klangklangston at 8:42 AM on August 17, 2005

geoff - In defense of itchi23, CAPS has worked wonders for precisely the type of issues that "Anonymous" is facing, 80s or not. If the poster lives in a major city, such a program would be of great benefit. It saved our area which was declining and being taken over by Latin Kings. And if you've been to Chicago, your last sentence would be uneccesary.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:42 AM on August 17, 2005

Complete agreement with Major Curley. You need your neighbourhood in on this.

The reason is what many other people have stated here: you, your family, and your belongings are a wide-open target if you take this on alone.

geoff. -- the bad 80's movie is the suggestion to get "equipment" to "fight" these kids. My dad (ex-RCMP) heads up the neighbourhood watch in his area and I can say from having watched the effects that community involvement is the way to go.
posted by dreamsign at 9:50 AM on August 17, 2005

I live in a gentrifying neighborhood in Chicago. We have a lot of gang problems and I am very involved with the CAPS group that itchi23 mentions.

There have been a lot of strides in the area over the past five years. What I keep hearing from the folks who have been building the neighborhood back up is that you can't let the gangbangers think you're afraid of them.

If your city has a community partnership program with the police, start participating in it and encourage your neighbors to do the same. Contact your elected officials and let them know your concerns.

More importantly, call the police each and every single time you see these idiots up to something, even if it's just loitering on someone's property. You have to get the message through to them that they can't get away with anything on your block. Make sure to "sign" your complaints, too,so if they're loitering on your property they can actually be arrested.

If you don't know your neighbors well, work at that. At the very least, get a phone tree for your street to notify each other if something happens. Make sure others are calling 911 when they see something too.

Do you have floodlights on your property? Exterior lights? Turn them on when you see these guys out there and ask your neighbors to do the same.

Look, this may all seem like paranoid yuppie BS but it's what you have to do. When I moved into my neighborhood a year ago, I resisted calling the police when I saw stuff going on, trying instead to be the good neighbor.

Well, there was an ugly cat fight outside my house one night that went on for about an hour. The next day my next-door neighbor, who is a bit of a tough guy, bawled me out for not calling the cops. He told me to call every time something happened. It's what he was doing.

Don't call non-emergency numbers when you see this stuff going down, either. It's the police department's job to prioritize their calls. Get over that fear that you're taking them away from something more important.

For example, last week I was coming home from dinner when I saw two guys breaking into my neighbor's garage. I called the police; they were there in about a minute. Later that evening, two carloads of teenagers pulled up outside my house at about 2 a.m. and had a little impromptu party with drugs, booze and a booming bass line. I called the police again but by the time they came out (about a half hour later) the kids were gone. So let the police decide which calls need immediate action and which can wait.
posted by Sully6 at 9:57 AM on August 17, 2005

Do you think sticking an old non-functional videocamera in the window where it's visible would be a deterrant or escalate things? You could likely pick up some broken POS on ebay or at a yard sale. A bluff, but a cheap one.
posted by phearlez at 10:47 AM on August 17, 2005

Third or fourth the neighborhood meeting. It seems to be the only thing with plenty of empirical evidence showing that it works. This is about community standards. The hoods can threaten one household, but if they get hassled by everyone on your block, they're going to find somewhere less alert to hang out.
posted by Miko at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2005

"Don't call non-emergency numbers when you see this stuff going down, either. It's the police department's job to prioritize their calls."

I second that. I'm on the board of my (Twin Cities) neighborhood association. Last meeting, we had folks from both the city attorney's office and our city councilman's office urging us to call 911 for anything we felt needed reporting. We asked them to clarify, and they reiterated -- even if it's just that the neighbor's not mowing their lawn, call 911. The reason is that the 911 calls get logged into a more comprehensive system than a non-emergency number at the precinct office. That creates traceable records, so it's easier to look for histories, which gives police and city officials more to move on. Call the cops, every time.
posted by nickmark at 2:12 PM on August 17, 2005

The community approach is absolutely the way to go. An interesting long-term study of Chicago neighborhoods by Robert J. Sampson has turned up a relatively new concept called collective efficacy. See also Robert Earls. The study involves such things as multi-year interviews and annual photography of each block in the study, from which they glean such things as the amount of trash lying around and the number of buildings in disrepair. They have found that black or white, rich or poor have almost nothing to do with the amount of crime in a neighborhood; instead it's the measure of how much "neighborliness" there is that correlates negatively with crime. If you know your neighbors, you'll call the cops when you see someone skulking on their property; you'll call when you hear a scream. If you interact with them regularly, you get mutual information about what else is going on -- the grocery at the corner was robbed, somebody's cousin got into a fight with some kids, that sort of thing.

Neighborhood watch efforts are one thing -- they're often touted by police, for instance. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, they seem like busywork. But a visible neighborhood watch -- say, a patrol wearing fluorescent jackets -- can be a deterrent. One person writing down license plate numbers is harassment, and an inducement to tire-slashing or whatnot. Two is a neighborhood watch. Get as many eyes on the job as you can, and the kids will very quckly learn that they can't spit in the gutter without a cop asking them about it.

In my small city in S Wisconsin, we have had a persistent issue with summer "visits" by kids from Chicago. Their parents understandably think they're doing the right thing by sending them out here. But here, the kid who's a wannabe can actually be a hotshot, and two summers ago we had a serious problem with roving gangs of 12+ youngsters of all ages (this is nothing I experienced as a kid, it seems alien to me) taking over an entire street as they walk, bike, and sometimes play-fight their way aimlessly through the "hood". The city dealt with this (and other issues) by implementing a curfew, which eliminated 80% of the problem immediately. Closer attention to incidents, including a community liaison officer who pretty much knows all of the "iffy" kids in the area by first name, have done wonders.

We also eliminated a number of drug houses by getting the landlords involved (very often they are absentee or retiree landlords who feel helpless). That's another amazing thing that social science has turned up: they found in Milwaukee that if you evict a drug dealer, a year later only about 1 in 5 of them are still involved. They move to a different environment and can't sustain it. The statistics for incarceration are pretty much reversed, a year after release.

Let me directly address the last question. Do not feel bad about calling the police. They love the idea of "broken windows" as a concept nowadays, even though collective efficacy somewhat supersedes or disproves it. They feel that by getting involved in a criminal's life sooner, they can have greater effect. If they have a rap sheet for a kid because of goof-off behavior, they might have more leverage or narrower discretion when they catch him with some pot. In any case, the police are paid to be your service in these cases. It will be much easier to tell a politician like your city councilman that you did call the police and it had X effect than to say you never called them because you predicted it would be of no value. Additionally, establishing a paper trail with regard to a problem property is an excellent first step to dealing with it.
posted by dhartung at 11:42 PM on August 18, 2005

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