Neighbors can be protectors

Published 9:55 am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

From the mid-‘70s through the early ‘80s, I was considered a latchkey kid. I was raised by my grandmother in a two-bedroom shotgun house.

Looking back, I think she did a better job at raising me by herself than most parents do as a duo. Being a single parent with little support is difficult, and I admire her for her courage to take me in.

Most of us are familiar with what a latchkey kid is. As a child, starting in first grade, I came to home to an empty house, with the house key around my neck on a string so I wouldn’t lose it at school.

My grandmother had to work and there was no one available that could babysit, or so I thought. As soon as I got home, I had to call my grandmother at work to let her know I was home. There on the counter would be a list of chores to do and a reminder to do my homework.

I was instructed to open the front door and the curtains on the front of the house and not to go anywhere. This is when I knew I wasn’t alone. I was being watched. My neighbors — Miss Sutton, Mrs. Burchfield, and Mrs. Maske — were watching every move I made.

These ladies had all the freedom to scold me, correct me and report me to my grandmother, with her blessing, and they often did. That was a different time and place. As a father, I couldn’t fathom my 7-year-old coming home to an empty house.

But what hasn’t changed is neighbors and friends watching, looking and holding each other accountable. When we are investigating crime, we often conduct a “neighborhood canvas” to see if neighbors witnessed anything unusual.

Often, one neighbor doesn’t know his neighbor’s name, what they drive or when they get home from work. That’s important information. This may seem a little intrusive to some, but it is the community keeping itself safe. No one knows your neighborhood better than the people that live there.

The point I’d like to make is that we are all latchkey kids that need others to help us look out for those that intend to do us harm, steal property or vandalize the neighborhood. Social networking, email and blogs are all great tools for communicating, but they don’t take the place of a face-to-face conversation with your neighbor at the mailbox, while cutting the grass or bringing in the garbage.

If you’re lucky, you may find that Miss Sutton lives next door and is watching out for you.

Capt. Chris George is a commander with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.