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Be your neighbor’s keeper

POSTED January 27, 2012 9:02 p.m.

I grew up in a small town. Now, I know native Turlockers like to think this is a small town, but they’re wrong. The population of my hometown was around 3,000 when I was living there; it’s over 4,600 today. Turlock boasts a population of over 68,000. Enough said.

The best part of living in a truly small town is the security. I never locked the door to my house — or car, which, if you did this in Turlock would be like putting a large sign on the car that reads “STEAL ME.” In fact, many times I left the keys in my car so they would be easier to find.

As a teenager, I often snuck out of the house after midnight and walked around town with my friends. It was the cool thing to do, walking the streets while everyone was asleep. The best part was hiding behind bushes whenever the lone city police car drove by. (I’m pretty sure we weren’t fooling Officer Hildebrandt one little bit. He probably didn’t think it was worth getting out of the car to yell at us.)

During these nightly walks, not once did anyone try to sell me or my friends drugs. No one was afraid that we would accidentally stumble upon a robbery in progress or get gunned down in a gang-related drive-by.  Even the random mean dog could usually be assuaged by calling his name — as we knew the name of every dog (and most cats) in town.

Teenagers wandering the streets of Turlock after midnight, however, would be foolish to say the least. The Journal regularly publishes a condensed version of the police department’s call log. We usually include only the “interesting” calls like robbery, auto theft, burglary, aggravated assaults and the occasional shooting. Just the few calls we do print paint quite a different picture than the Mayberry-esque town I grew up in.

Then there are the crime stories. Shootings, home-invasion robberies and drug busts are common themes to crime articles in the Journal. While higher crime rates are expected in larger communities — especially ones conveniently located on a major north-south thoroughfare popular with those in the drug business — one recent story had me rethinking my decision to live in Turlock.

A 55-year-old woman was carjacked at gunpoint last Monday — at 11:30 in the morning, just two blocks from the university and an elementary school! This woman was driving down Del’s Lane when she was hit from behind by another vehicle. A man then held a handgun to her head and ordered her out of the car. I was shocked that such a blatantly violent crime happened in Turlock in the middle of the day. This is the type of crime I picture happening in Detroit or Compton — not Turlock.

Thank God, the woman was not injured and one of the men responsible was arrested after police saw the car a few hours later and chased it down. And while these types of violent crimes are rare — in fact, Turlock has seen a 20 percent reduction in major crimes from 2008 to 2010 — they are unacceptable.

I don’t have the answer to preventing violent crime. The only thing I know to do is be a better neighbor. Turlock could truly be the small town many residents already think it is if everyone cared a little more about the welfare of the people living around them.

Would that guy have pulled a gun if the people driving by and those living nearby came to see if anyone needed help after watching a car accident? I don’t know, but most criminals don’t like working in the spotlight.

Getting involved won’t stop the bad apples from going rotten, but it could mitigate the harm caused to others.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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