Genii Weblog

Things that go bump in the night

Fri 3 Apr 2009, 09:29 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
Our home in Shaker Heights, Ohio is not large, but it isn't small either, and it sits invitingly on a double lot.  Shaker Heights itself is a cozy, fairly prosperous bedroom community on the very edge of Cleveland.  Cleveland, while a wonderful city in many ways, is one of the poorest in the nation, and has been hurt badly by the sinking economy, a dwindling population, and housing values that have plummeted.

It is inevitable that the close proximity of these two different places would occasionally lead to problems.  We have had a couple of break-ins on our street, although nothing more than someone coming in and taking a purse on the side counter, or in one case a car which was driven just a few miles away and recovered the same day.  Not fun, but part of urban living.  It does put you a bit on edge though.

With this in mind, it was still very scary when our thirteen year old son came into our room two nights ago and said that somebody was trying to get into his room.  There is a flat roof with a railing outside his window, and a door which goes into his room which is always locked, but the storm door outside the regular door has been falling apart and doesn't latch well.  Our son reported that he had been awakened by a loud noise outside, and had heard what sounded like footsteps up in the attic, but had assumed it was just me getting up early and going upstairs for some reason.  Then his storm door opened and h thought he saw a shadow against the window pane.

He didn't stay around to find out what would happen next.  Smart kid.  After he woke us up, we turned on lights, called the police (who were there in about 30 seconds - the blessings of living in a place like Shaker Heights where people actually vote for tax increases), and looked around.

The police searched around the neighborhood, stomped through the house, and generally made their presence known.  Nobody was caught, and it is not entirely clear whether someone really tried to get in or not.  The police seemed a bit dubious, but encouraged us to call back in such circumstances in any case, because it was far better to be safe than sorry.  We didn't sleep anymore that night, but have all settled down since.

We'll probably never know for sure what happened.  It doesn't entirely matter, as we are replacing the storm door and already have motion sensitive lights and that sort of thing (part of the reason the police are dubious, as there are far easier targets on our street).  Just a reminder that even in modern times, it is hard not to worry about things that go bump in the night.

Copyright 2009 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

809.1. Jerry Carter
(04/03/2009 04:09 PM)

Ben, you're a thinking man, and I appreciate the potential danger posed to you and your family. So let me pose this question. Given the option of owning a gun to protect your house and waiting for the police, even 30 seconds, to show after your house has been invaded, which seems more effective to you? Granted, having a gun won't keep your home from being invaded, but a bullet is a might bit faster than a squad car.

Paying more taxes doesn't always equate to being any safer, nor does owning a gun, but it would seem the money would be better spent on every home being armed rather than paying full-time salaries for extra police officers to "respond". Your thoughts?

809.2. Ben Langhinrichs
(04/03/2009 05:25 PM)

Jerry - I am completely convinced, and every study I have seen bears out my belief, that I am in far more danger with a gun in the house than without one. The petty crime which goes on around here seldom involves guns, and even if it did, I can think of no more certain guarantee that they would be used than having one myself to start the shooting. I have never personally owned a gun, although my father owned one for a number of years for hunting purposes, and I hope never to have to. This incident in no way changed my mind about that.

809.3. Jackie
(04/03/2009 05:35 PM)

My parents live at the edge of an urban area near Miami. It's one of those neighborhoods that was straight middle-class when it was built 60 years ago then went through a decline in the 80s and 90s and is now seeing a rebirth with families coming in and ripping down old houses to build new, bigger ones. But it's still a bit mixed with run-down homes right next to beautifully kept, generous homes.

During the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma a couple of years ago, my parents suffered a home invasion during the blackout. Early in the day, a neighbor had seen them moving in a very high end generator (a loan from a friend of my dad's who used it in his business as a contractor). He had wandered over to see if he could help and subsequently noted out loud various things - my dad's watch (an heirloom from his dad), my mom's engagement ring, etc.

Later that night, shortly after dark and through the only window in the house that was accessible (the one that had the cord from the generator coming through it), three men came in and accosted my parents at gunpoint. Of course the alarm system was not functional since there was no power in the house. The very first things they demanded were my dad's watch and my mom's rings.

Thank G-d, they were not seriously injured, but it was very scary and rattled all of us. My parents slept at my house for 4 or 5 nights before they even felt comfortable going home. And then spent quite a few nights jarring awake at the slightest sound. My dad got a concealed weapons license and carries. Even now they are not completely recovered from it. They considered moving but have friends there and have poured a lot of work into their home.

They and a few other home invasion victims in the neighborhood (thought to be all victims of the same few guys) helped spur the neighborhood into hiring their own private patrol service. It appears to be helping in lowering the crime there.

809.4. Ben Langhinrichs
(04/03/2009 06:35 PM)

Jackie - That does sound scary. We are fortunate to live in a place where the whole town supports an active and attentive police force and don't have to start our own privae patrol, but good for your parents and their neighbors for taking charge of the situation. It is such a shame how just a few evil people can terrorize a neighborhood, and good when the neighborhood is willing to stand up and say "No!"

809.5. Rodney Scott
(04/04/2009 12:37 AM)

I am sorry to hear about your scary experience (as well as that of Jackie's parents). I have to point out, however, that California's recent budgeting has led to massive layoffs in our police force and, according to recent newspapers, crime is DOWN so far this year. Even the papers comment about how unexpected that was! I think the pressure for police to do their jobs in order to keep them might actually be encouraging police activity, as (I'm glad to report) I've certainly seen them around more!

809.6. Rodney Scott
(04/04/2009 01:25 AM)

Out of curiosity, what type of game did your father hunt, and did he ever take you along?

809.7. Ben Langhinrichs
(04/04/2009 02:12 AM)

@Rodney - I don't honestly remember. This was mostly when I was much younger, and the gun stayed in Nova Scotia where my parents had a place on a remote island, so I imagine he hunted for rabbits or other small game, as I doubt anything else was out there to be hunted. He stopped hunting at some early point. I also don't know whether he ever took me hunting.

As a point of interest, I have only shot a gun once (other than a BB gun), and that was in Venezuela when I was an exchange student and my exchange family took me hunting. One shot, and I killed the rabbit, which my exchange family then cooked in a stew for dinner. I think I was too disturbed by the experience to try any.

809.8. Andrew Pollack
(04/04/2009 03:09 AM)

@Ben - I completely agree with your statements about owning a handgun.

@Jerry, et. al. -- Don't assume that because I agree with Ben, that I'm anti-gun or that I'm not comfortable with them.

It is my own knowledge and skills which tell me that owning a handgun at home would be a mistake.

In high school, I was on a rifle team and held an NRA membership. I had several awards in that line and a couple with handguns. I also did some small amount of trap shooting.

Having fired all of these, I know how hard it is to hit a man sized target with a handgun at 50' even with a steady hand and time to place the shot. You can learn to do it, but it isn't exactly point and click (as it were). Add some fear, darkness, bleary eyes, and confusion to the mix and the likelihood of a straight shot down the hallway is pretty minimal.

Although you almost certainly won't hit an intruder, you could very well kill a neighbor. A powerful handgun will go through the walls in your house as if they were paper, maybe into your neighbors walls. You could kill members of your family or your friends.

If you do fear for your safety, a much more effective tool is a panic button for an alarm system by your bed and in the kitchen. A loud alarm will make all but the very most determined intruder turn tail and run -- and that's what you want.

If you do have enough personal fear as to think you need a gun, I recommend a pump action shotgun filled with the softest birdshot and lightest powder load you can get. The noise of jacking a round into the chamber will be extremely effective. You also don't aim a shotgun, you point it. Finally, a light load with light birdshot will not be as deadly if it even manages to penetrate one wall. You'll make a mess, but probably not accidentally kill your kids on the other side.