Thursday, January 03, 2008

Greetings, Trash-Pickers

Happy new year. I'm going to try once again to keep this going with some frequency. I have the time now, with a large part of my industry paralyzed by the writers' strike. There's a lot to write about in the Village; when I'm walking the encinodogger or cooling down after a long cycle trip I see people and things that bear, uh, blogging.

Here's the thought for the day: The trash pickers are back in force, and they're working smarter, not harder - they've figured out that we're looking for them on trash day, so they're coming into the neighborhood the night before trash day. How do I know? I saw a woman picking through a recycling can on Hatteras last night (Wednesday night; the trash pickup is delayed one day this week for the holiday, but still...), but I was on my way out for the evening and couldn't really stop to deal with it. This morning, I noticed that the newspapers, and I have a lot of newspapers by the end of the week, were totally cleaned out of my blue trash bin.

So here's the thing about this: as officer Trulick has mentioned, in most cases these are not individuals down on their luck looking for subsistence pickings. For the most part, they're organized and methodical in their treasure hunting. They know what they're looking for, and they know how to make a quick score and get out.
If that was all there was to it, I'd almost leave it to them. There's a big temptation to cut these guys a break - let them have the papers, even take the newspapers out to them when they're in the neighborhood, especially if they have kids with them, as they often do. If you really want to help people, there are lot of organizations set up to do this in an efficient and sensitive way

The dark side of this is there's a complicated formula determining how much the city clears from recycling our trash. If a representative load of recycling is worth a certain amount, that value is used as a determinant for the entire neighborhood, or street, or region, or whatever. It's something like that, if not exactly that, but the point is that we all lose if the load from the truck is light at the dump. Ultimately, the money cleared from recycling helps keep other fees down, not to mention that recycling is just the right thing to do on so many levels. (If you don't agree with that concept, you probably stopped reading this several paragraphs ago.) On the level that this is happening, it's big-time crime, not petty theft. These guys and girls can make several thousand dollars a week stealing our recycling.

Side issue #1: once they are in your bin, no rule says that they have to stop at your newspapers. They may have your financial records, your mail, your discarded blog print-outs. There is a market for this kind of information. Side issue #2: crimes of opportunity present themselves. Your car is parked in your driveway, next to your trash cans. Your iPod (laptop, Prada pumps, 1955 Stratocaster; whatever) is on the seat. Maybe your car window is open or your door visibly unlocked. You can fill in the blanks. If one aspect of the neighborhood shows vulnerability, we can't really control what follows. Why start?

We can all help out with this. If you see someone going through your trash, or your neighbor's trash, call the police. It's not petty crime, it's big-time larceny. (The cops may not roll out immediately on this. It's not murder, after all, and we have to have some perspective on this. Not enough police; too much mischief. Do the math.) But here's the thing: if we harden the target - if we show self-respect on a Village-wide basis, if we present that we have a sense of place and that we look out for each other, the bad guys will go where the pickings are easier, and we'll all be safer.