Last month, for the second time in less than a year, somebody broke into my car. It happened either late at night or early in the morning, sometime between "Seinfeld" and Garth Kemp's weather report.
They jimmied open the driver's side door (breaking the lock in the process), gaining access to a trove of city council staff reports and fast food wrappers. Not surprisingly, nothing was taken, as far as I can tell.
Even though nothing was stolen, I did what you're supposed to do and reported the break-in to police. They took a report, even dusted for prints, and that was basically that.
Once the police left, I posted about my bad luck in a Facebook group titled "Crime Watch of Downey."
Oy vey. I almost instantly regretted it.
My intention was to alert other residents of my bad luck, just as you might do with your neighbors. Instead, the conversation deteriorated into inane banter about why Downey is somehow becoming the worst place on earth.
"I guess I'm safer over in Compton," zinged one woman. (I couldn't tell if she was being sarcastic.)
"May sound like a crazy idea, but what if every resident in Downey stayed outside at night on a specific date and (kept) watch and (got) to know who the neighbors are at the same time?" wrote another group member. "Let them fools know that we don't take crap!"
Same thing happens when I post the Crime Report to the Downey Patriot's Facebook page. Inevitably there is a comment lamenting how Downey "isn't the city it used to be." Apparently crime is a relatively new phenomenon to Downey, only arriving within the last 20-30 years.
Today, in fact, after posting the Downey Police Department's latest Crime Report, one of the first comments was "Downey isn't the city it once was."
For all its usefulness and convenience as a communication tool, social media has also turned some of us into paranoid lemmings.
Couple of police cars on a traffic stop down the street? Better post it on Facebook.
Suspicious car parked at the curb? Gotta alert Facebook.
Teenagers knocking over trashcans? Post it on Facebook.
To an outsider judging Downey purely on Facebook comments, Downey appears to be a pretty terrible place.
The truth, of course, is that Downey is a fine city, made up of about 110,000 people and growing. Crime is inevitable. Social media, however, makes the dissemination of information (and misinformation) incredibly fast and easy, resulting in posts that, while rooted in good intentions, are published prematurely and without context.
"Downey's no unsafer than any other city," Saundra Parker-Martinez recently wrote on the Patriot's Facebook page. "But now with social media and people being able to get police calls on their cell phones, we all know more what's going on around us."
"Crime just seems to be up because of the way social media amplifies and distributes the news," added Barney Santos. "Although statistics show the rate going down and that's a great thing for the city!"
Santos is right -- according to a recent press release from the Downey Police Department, crime in Downey is down 29% since 2010, which is pretty remarkable considering the onslaught of criminals prematurely released from prison and jail due to AB 109 and Prop. 47.
Being in the newspaper business, obviously I'm a firm believer in the benefits of an informed and engaged public. But it's important to keep things in perspective and to accept that we don't live in a magic bubble that makes us immune from crime.
The best thing about Crime Watch of Downey? The page is populated with residents who genuinely care about their city, and who are committed to living in a community that is free of crime (as much as possible, anyway). That's always been what sets Downey apart: citizens that truly care about one another.
Is Downey less safe than it was 50 or even 30 years ago? I don't know, I wasn't here then. But statistics tell us two things: one, that Downey remains a relatively safe city in comparison to surrounding areas, and two, crime has always been a way of life in Downey. It would be naive to think otherwise.
Experience tells me the best way to avoid becoming a crime victim is to join or create a neighborhood watch group, follow common sense advice such as not leaving valuables in your cars, and immediately report suspicious activity.
Just make sure you report that suspicious activity to police before you post on Facebook.