I drove home a few weeks ago to find our quiet San Francisco street full of police cars. I pulled over to the wrong side of the street and hopped out to see what was going on. Neighbors were out on the sidewalk, including my roommate. "They caught some car thieves," she told me.
As she said that, the cops led a large man to the back of a police car in handcuffs. A man who lives four houses down walked over to us. "That's the one who ran down the street," he said. "I saw him take off running, and then suddenly, there were two police cars blocking the street to block him. Very exciting."
Crime has been a problem recently. One house has been broken into twice, its door kicked down during broad daylight on two separate occasions. Someone distributed a blurry photo of the suspected burglar, though only the back of his head was visible. Neighbors were on high alert, which might be why the police were called so quickly about these new criminals.
My roommate pointed out the two vehicles that were used in the commission of the crime. One car was a fake roadside assistance vehicle. It looked legitimate at a glance, but upon closer inspection you could see that the car's flasher was crudely taped to the roof, and the "Roadrunner Road Service" logo was just a magnetic decal. Two cops were searching the other, more ordinary vehicle. Another neighbor from up the street walked over and explained that the thieves tried to force open parked cars, using the second car as a decoy. "Or maybe a getaway vehicle," he speculated.
The general consensus among the looky-lou neighbors was that the auto thefts were not connected to the residential burglaries, but who could tell? The woman next door hypothesized that the source of the recent lawlessness was a "crack den" located on a nearby street. Everyone had their own eyewitness account of the arrest, and a theory of what sort of organization might be involved in the crime wave.
Four-Houses-Down man had his chance to shine as the police walked down the street, looking for clues or contraband. FHD had heard a noise when the last suspect made his break for it, and successfully directed the cops to a knife dropped by the suspect. "Maybe I should become a deputy," he laughed.
After twenty minutes, neighbors slowly began to return to their homes. But that didn't end the neighborhood's commitment to stopping crime. The crime watch is in full effect. Last Sunday, I came home from a run to find two worried neighbors standing on the sidewalk. They asked if I'd seen anyone "suspicious". I hadn't, but I also wasn't sure what "suspicious" means in the Castro. I had seen a guy in a skin-tight leather biker outfit, and another guy in assless blue jeans, but I was pretty sure those guys weren't who they meant.
"Did you see anyone in particular?" I asked. They explained that there had been someone knocking on doors, supposedly collecting money for his school. My neighbors didn't believe him, and threatened to call the cops. I asked what the guy looked like. They looked at each other, not a little guiltily, and said, "Um, he was, you know, black."
So, take heed, car thieves, home invaders, and African-American teenagers selling candy bars and/or casing the joints. We WILL jump to racist conclusions, we WILL call the cops, and we WILL exaggerate our own roles in stopping the hypothetical crimes.