How concerned should we be?
July 23, 2013 7:04 AM   Subscribe

The other day we found a gun holster in our front yard by the street. This alone would not normally concern us, but in context of other activity that is going on, we are pretty freaked out.

We suspect our neighbors are dealing something out of their house. This is a small middle class suburban neighborhood, so the only traffic on our street is the folks that live here and the frequent traffic going to neighbors house. We have watched transactions happen. Car pulls up, someone comes out with cash in hand, leans in to drivers side window, puts cash hand in car below window level, withdraws hand and quickly stuffs something in pocket, goes back inside and car drives off. Then the traffic picks up, cars only staying long enough to run inside and then leave. Lately they have had a couple of 20 year olds riding their bike back and forth in front of the house, never going inside or around the block. There is also someone on a scooter coming and going multiple times. There was another person on foot coming and going multiple times over the course of a few hours and then getting picked up by one of the cars known for the 'transactions'. This all ebbs and flows.

The other morning as we were leaving for work we saw something in the yard by the street. We went to go pick it up thinking it was trash, only to discover it was a gun holster. It was not there the night before. As I said, alone I would not think too much of it, but given the context of what has been happening next door, we were freaked out. I took it to the police station and filed a report and spoke with them about what we have been witnessing. Who knows if they will do anything. We have spoken to other neighbors, who all see what has been going on and are trying to get licence plates. We did not tell them we have already spoken to the police and gave them licence plates. We said only that we all need to work together if we want this to stop.

How concerned should we be, how can we best protect ourselves, and is there anything else we can do? Please don't say move, because that is not an option.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
I took it to the police station and filed a report and spoke with them about what we have been witnessing. Who knows if they will do anything.

Have the other concerned neighbors all go and file their own reports. That might get the polices' attention. One person can be dismissed as just overreacting or imagining something, but half a dozen, maybe not.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:08 AM on July 23, 2013 [7 favorites]

Seconding have other neighbors file a report about it. If they are watching the house, they may not be able to tell you (or the desk sergeant may not know). We had that, reported it, a few months later there was a bust.
posted by tilde at 7:11 AM on July 23, 2013

Yeah, you filed your police report, encourage neighbors to do the same. Otherwise: mind your own business. If you want to feel safer, install a house alarm, motion sensitive lighting, or consider a big dog.
posted by gnutron at 7:13 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hey, OP, memail me.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:16 AM on July 23, 2013

Do you guys have a neighborhood watch group set up? We set one up on our block largely in response to a very similar situation. Once organized, the PD sent somebody to our first block watch meeting to discuss our options. Long story short we did eventually rid ourselves of the nuisance. And now we have a mailing list and semi-regular get togethers with our neighbors as a result, which is nice in and of itself. Probably best to memail me with specific questions.
posted by rouftop at 7:21 AM on July 23, 2013

Is the house owned or is it rented? If it's rented, find the landlord and send a letter informing them of the illegal activity.

If it's a grow house or a meth lab, it could totally trash the house.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:54 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

My answer from a previous drug house askme:

Get a notebook.

Surreptitiously keep a log of arrival and departure times of vehicles. Take down lic plates, vehicle descriptions, number of occupants, occupant descriptions, etc. Note when you find things like a gun holster, then turn those items into the police, avoid touching things with your bare hands.

A notebook like this helps create STELLAR probable cause and will stand up well in court.

Do take care that you're not obvious and visible when you're doing this, though.
posted by kavasa at 8:00 AM on July 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

kavasa has it: a detailed notebook of everything you can see, with times and dates. Please note that not only do you need to worry if they're selling drugs, but also if they manufacture them --- depending on how it's wired, a grow house could be an electrical fire waiting to happen; but because of the chemicals involved in cooking it, meth houses are hazardous materials nightmares.
posted by easily confused at 8:27 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had a similar situation, of someone dealing out of a house on our block. At our neighborhood watch meeting, the police officer who was the guest speaker advised us to keep calling in license plate numbers of the customers; eventually, he said, there would be a patrol car close enough to pull someone over, and likely someone caught with the drugs would roll over on their source.

I don't know if it worked, but eventually the occupants of the house were arrested and the house itself seized.
posted by Gelatin at 9:29 AM on July 23, 2013

If it's a grow house or a meth lab, it could totally trash the house.

Depending on the local laws, it could also get the house seized. That happened in the case of the house on our block, which was kind of a shame, as it actually belonged to the parents of one of the occupants, and I am pretty sure they had no idea that person was involved with a dealer.
posted by Gelatin at 9:34 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, my concern wouldn't be so much the gun holster as from collateral damage from dealing. Document and call.
posted by corb at 12:42 PM on July 23, 2013

You're right to be concerned. You did the right thing by filing the police report. The next step is to talk to your neighbors, and if possible get at least an ad-hoc neighborhood watch set up as other posters indicated. (Funny thing: I can't form a neighborhood watch here unless we form an HOA as well. I don't want an HOA and moved to a place without one on purpose. So what we're stuck with is an informal organization that has the support of many police officers, but doesn't have the formal city support that a neighborhood watch gets.) The other next step is kvasa's notebook. While the satisfaction of these things is delayed for quite a while, the notebook especially is the thing that is going to cause the people who took part in anything bad to go to jail for a long, long time.

Please do follow up with the police department. You were probably given a report number or case number. Call the desk and ask if a detective or officer has been assigned to the case. If they have, please ask to speak with them. They can give you more details about the proper reporting methods and how to keep logs and get them to the police department. If there hasn't been an officer assigned, ask the person working the desk if you could please speak to a patrol supervisor or someone in investigations. Ask them to please assign someone to the case so that it can move forward, and ask them to have that person please give you a call. Ask them to please conduct additional patrols in your neighborhood and specifically on your street. The round object making the loud, high pitched noise does indeed get doused in petroleum byproduct, after all.

Calling in as you see a car that engaged in specific suspicious activity is another thing that you can do that feels most proactive. I'd really only do this if they haven't assigned someone to your case or if they have asked you to, honestly. Otherwise it gets annoying and they usually HAVE TO respond to the call in some way, even if it's just to post a "Be On LookOut" for the vehicle you describe to the data terminals in the car. Tell the 9-1-1 operator that you need police, that you just witnessed what you suspect is a drug deal, and give the license plate and a description of the vehicle and the driver. But really -- please make sure that you aren't spotted. It would really be bad if the drug dealers started to feel like they were being watched. If you go this route, the best advice I have is to use a spotting scope or binoculars on a tripod that is set up well back from a window. If you're close to the window, they can spot you, but if you're well back from the window and there are no lights on in the room you are pretty much invisible during the night or day. You don't want to use a telescope -- good spotting scopes and binoculars (I'd suggest one with image stabilization, and possibly a digital camera integrated) will allow you to see what's going on and pick out details like the driver's ethnicity and features without showing yourself. Report these things to the 9-1-1 operator. Provide a case or report number if asked. If you're really trying to be annoying, tell them that you would appreciate a call back with the results of your report. I would personally try to work every other angle before I became that annoying.

Let me emphasize that again: You do NOT want to get caught conducting surveillance on the house you suspect is a drug house. You do NOT want to potentially expose yourself. Do NOT take risks in order to get that one photo or that additional bit of information. There will be another chance if the activity is as common as you are reporting. This is also why I PERSONALLY wouldn't buy a surveillance camera. One that's high enough resolution to do any good will be super expensive, only marginally effective, and probably useless to actually convict the bad guys. It'd also tip them off that they were being watched if the house next door suddenly sprouts four cameras all pointed at them. Why would tipping them off be bad? Well, houses that were used for drugs (making, buying, or selling) have a way of burning down or needing to be condemned after they're no longer being used for drugs.

There is a decent chance that the police already know about the house and are simply waiting until they have enough information to be sure they're not going to be the next police agency whose photograph is plastered on the front of CNN with the headline "militarized police officer shoots loving family dog!" -- that's the ultimate nightmare of every single police officer I know.

The problem is, they can't tell you that there's an investigation or where they are in it, because what if you're working with the drug dealers? They don't know you or anything about you. You could blow the whole case for them if they let you in on what they're doing. And if the data you collect isn't airtight, a good defense attorney could keep their clients on the street. Remember, you aren't trained in any aspect of this, no matter what you've seen on Law & Order or Cops or whatever.

You'll have results that will vary based on where you are and what your local police department is like. I don't know these things. I know that in my small town you'd be near the top of the priority list, but where I lived in Houston, you'd go in the pile with the rest of the "round tuits" that eventually get emptied into the round file.
posted by SpecialK at 3:54 PM on July 23, 2013

Car pulls up, someone comes out with cash in hand, leans in to drivers side window, puts cash hand in car below window level, withdraws hand and quickly stuffs something in pocket, goes back inside and car drives off. Then the traffic picks up, cars only staying long enough to run inside and then leave.

This kinda points away from grow or meth-making house because you are saying someone is coming out of the house and buying something from someone out front inside a car? Then "traffic picks up" which I assume is other cars bringing other clients in to make purchases off the initial transaction that you saw? Is that what I'm understanding?
posted by telstar at 12:08 AM on July 24, 2013

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