Now that many of us are staying home to limit the spread of COVID-19 we have more time to be aware of the comings and goings in our neighbourhoods. In fact, because so few people are out and about, the people who do walk or cycle by our houses are more apparent than they would normally be.
In my area, we had become used to occasionally seeing young people, usually males, delivering drugs for local dealers. It is a part of gang behaviour and is a way for the bad guys to recruit teenagers into their illegal activities. Before the Coronavirus lockdown, we would see them in the streets and alleys quite often, but they never presented a problem to us personally.
Recently, however, we have become more aware of a different problem. We often see young men in their twenties and thirties walking or cycling in the back alleys, and usually wearing a backpack. During the day, they seem to be checking things out with a view to stealing at night. At least, that is the impression I get and so do some people who chat about this on the NextDoor app.
Often the lurkers are looking for bikes and/or unlocked sheds. There is an ongoing small industry run by people who take stolen bikes, break them down into their parts and then reassemble them so that they are unrecognizable. These are then sold online or at pawn shops. The thieves also target power tools which are resold in a similar fashion. Most people don’t keep track of the serial numbers on their bikes or tools, so they are almost impossible to find once they have been stolen.
Our house has a video security system that sends me a notification when someone is loitering on our property and it records when they linger for more than a couple of seconds. As a consequence, I have seen lots more of these characters than I would have without the cameras. So, security is a mixed blessing. I now know more than I would like to know, but the camera’s whistle has deterred several people who have wandered too close to home.
Once, our camera caught one of these blokes looking underneath my neighbour’s car. I suspect he was looking for a catalytic converter but when he became aware of the video security system, he ran off. Another time, when I was out for my daily walk, I found six children’s bikes dumped higgledy-piggledy in an alley. I reported both these incidents to the police but got a polite brush-off. There really wasn’t much they could do about the man who looked under the car, and I didn’t get the serial numbers of the bikes. When I went back to check a couple of days later, the bikes had gone.
In the process of reporting these events, I discovered that the police aren’t equipped to take unsolicited videotapes of suspicious activity. If there has been a crime committed, they might ask for it, but if not, they won’t. So blokes with backpacks on bikes can continue engaging in alley creeping right up until they actually commit a crime. In the meantime, I will continue to keep the recordings of any iffy behaviour that happens near my home, just in case the police ask for it someday.