Friday, January 15, 2010

Neighborhood Watch

It was kind of disturbing over the weekend to witness two events — one violent and one potentially so — at the coffee shop in the building next to mine. On Saturday evening, I saw a group of 4-5 men fighting in the coffee shop. Nobody did much about it, other than scamper to a spot of safety. A chair was thrown, and one glass of beer. One man was left bleeding, though apparently not seriously injured. (He cleaned up his bleeding nose and ear, and then sat back down to finish his beer.) Nothing much seemed to come of it, other than giving me a good story to share over dinner with friends later that night — a little excitement on an otherwise mundane day. Things like this, after all, don't happen very often in my neighborhood.

Funny, then, that the next day when I was having lunch with friends at the coffee shop on the other side of the road (ok, perhaps I do spend too much time there), we saw a police chase. A boy sped off on his motorcycle, riding on the pedestrian path. Fortunately no one was walking there, as I am very sure he would not have been able to stop, given the speed he was traveling. The police chased on the road, but because of the way the car park is constructed, the boy was able to get into the car park while the police car had to circle around. A couple of minutes later, the boy ran through the coffee shop and went to hide. No one did anything to impede his run through the coffee shop. When the police circled back, there wasn't anything anyone could really tell them. The boy had disappeared amongst the buildings that are pretty closely packed together there.

As soon as the police left, the boy reappeared, again riding his bike on the walking paths. Everyone in both coffee shops noticed him, and the two fellows serving as his lookouts. It appeared that there were several other men in the coffee shop working with them. I don't know for sure what their specific racket was, but I suspect drugs (though it could be stolen goods).

I have no idea how to go about reporting what happened after the police left the scene. As I said, things like this don't happen in this neighborhood very often, and we don't have a neighborhood watch system at all. But as I started thinking back on these two events that happened back to back, I remembered that I've seen a bit of an increase of such events over the past few years — a couple of fights, and a few times that there were obviously gangs hanging out at the coffee shops downstairs, perhaps using the facilities as a place to work from (like I do, though I do different work).

I guess that's the problem of living in a place known for its peace and safety. No one knows what to do when things do go in a less than peaceful, orderly manner. Unlike my neighborhood in Shanghai, where I've seen people help stop a thief, all of us just sat watching the police get foiled by their man, just like we sat watching as a brawl began to unfold the day before. Nobody wants to see the neighborhood become unsafe, but nobody wants to get involved either.

The motto you see in a lot of ads in Singapore says "Low crime doesn't mean no crime." It's meant to create a sense of vigilance. But we are sadly lacking in that area, and easily caught off guard.

It worries me. Because if we don't watch our neighborhoods, who will?

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Malcolm R. Campbell said...

One hopes that the people who own coffee shops will establish a relationship with the police and then make the calls when things happen rather than enabling the bad behavior by remaining silent or by covertly helping people escape.

Here when we see minor bad behavior, the police don't like to be called because by the time they arrive, those trespassing or riding on sidewalks have always disappeared.

Those who call the police are often going to be hassled more than the others. Even though the police can't see where the youths have gone, the young people watch from the woods and see whose house the police car stops at. Then they know who the tattletales are and are likely to return later and kick over garbage cans etc.

An official watch would sure help.


Shelly said...

I think it would too, Malcolm, but I don't think there is any such system in place in Singapore at all. There's never really been a need for one in the past. Things like this just don't happen in my neighborhood...

Over the past 2-3 years, though, I have seen more stuff like this going on, all around or inside that coffee shop. Come to think of it, seems it started about the time the present operator of the coffee shop took it over....

Jeremy said...

A neighborhood watch member got shot (paralyzed for life) while making the rounds as a volunteer vigilante a few months ago.

Shelly said...

Wow, that's pretty terrible, Jeremy. Certainly an overzealous idea of neighborhood watching.

It seems there should be a middle ground between vigilantism and a community so disengaged that it doesn't know how to respond when there's a small rash of potentially violent activity going on in the neighborhood. Nice if we could find it.