This means you.
A bit more than a year ago, my wife, our little daughter and I had gone grocery shopping and swung by some restaurant up along Chapel Hill Road to pick up some dinner. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I’d left my debit card at the restaurant and we went back to retrieve it. As we left, Ashley’s cell phone rang with a number we didn’t recognize. She almost didn’t answer it.
When she did, we found it was Protection 1 – our home security monitoring service. Something had tripped the alarm at our house, and they were just making sure we were not the ones who had done it. Given that all three of us were in the car together a couple of miles away, we asked them to kindly send along the sheriff’s office, post haste.
I beat the cruisers to the house. I locked Ashley and Ellie in the car and raced around the house with my knives out. I really didn’t expect to find anything; this had happened before, and it turned out one of Ashley’s good-for-nothing-but-shedding-and-shitting cats had chewed through a wire to a sensor, leaving the sensor to assume it’d been cut and thereby triggering the alarm. So, I figured, the cats probably found something else to destroy.
Then I found the window to the basement. It had been cracked since we’d moved in, and our no-count builder had flown the country for England without fixing it (long story). But, it hadn’t seemed to bother anything; it was just the outer pane of the double-paned glass, so it’s not as if rain or bugs or anything could get in. It was purely cosmetic.
But what I saw as being an aesthetic problem was actually a chink in my armor, which some lowlife sought to exploit as a means of gaining entry into my abode.
The sheriff’s office came, checked the place out, and then dispatched a detective, who turned out to be an old school chum. He tried, in vain, to lift some prints from my filthy basement windows, and then sought to see how the alarm had been triggered. What we discovered was chilling.
Whomever it was who had trespassed into my home had broken a window and walked past all kinds of really good, pawnable shit. They’d passed an old computer, a nice electric keyboard, a box containing my brother-in-law’s old Xbox and stacks of games. They had to pass this, we realized, because the sensor that was tripped was the one that covered the stairs going up to the main level of the house – the level where we spend all our time.
The son of a bitch who broke in wasn’t just trying to rob us; he was trying to get at where we live, and on a Sunday afternoon when, ordinarily, we would have been home.
But, the deputies assured us, since they’d tripped the alarm and knew for sure that we had one, they probably would not return.
Ashley was still on nightshift at the time, and Monday night – the very next evening – she was at work. I was home alone with our toddler daughter. At about 1:30 a.m., I awoke to an awful noise, louder by far than my alarm clock, louder than the fire alarms. I didn’t get up; I rolled out of bed. I grabbed my 12-gauge shotgun from under the bed and a handful of shells. I jumped up and flipped on the light. I was given to sleeping with the curtains and blinds open, because I liked falling asleep to the moon and stars shining through the windows. I looked out as I shoved shells into the shotgun and slammed it shut with a “fwump,” and I saw a car parked along the road, in the grassy area between the trees that shielded my house from the road and the edge of my front lawn. I grabbed the cordless phone off its base and dialed 911, opening my bedroom door and training my shotgun on the stairs. If anything came up ‘em, I was ready to reduce them to a mash of blood and pulp.
911 sent me straight away to the sheriff’s office dispatcher. I gave them my address, and told them what was happening. They asked me where I was. I told them I was guarding the stairs with a 12-gauge. They told me that was good, and not to move; units were on their way.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. It was dispatch. The units had arrived, they said; please, sir, put down your gun and come out to meet the deputies. So, now I can say that, at least once in my life, the sheriff’s office has asked me to please put down the shotgun and come outside.
I did as I was instructed. The deputies swept through the house, checking every room to make sure that the intruder was not still there. They’d gained entry through the same window, tripped the same sensor – the one guarding the stairs – and had fled. I like to think that, as they ran, they looked back at the house and saw me, fat and hairy and wearing nothing but a pair of boxers, in the window, loading shells into my shotgun and slamming it shut, and throwing open the bedroom door to find and blast them to hell.
After that night, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office became a regular presence at our home. They installed security cameras and told us that, if we noticed anything unusual, to call them and they’d come out and review the footage. Unfortunately, all they probably caught was a lot of me forgetting the cameras were there while I took a pee in the yard and at least one great scene of me losing my mind because I got a spider on me, throwing down my Weedeater, stripping off my shirt and running away screaming.
It also became common to look out and see a cruiser sitting in our driveway, occupied by a deputy filling out paperwork. Ordinarily, having a police presence around my house like this would be a major distraction, but after two break-ins in as many days, I welcomed their presence. If the intruders happened back by, it was clear that this house was well-protected. We saw the sheriff’s office cruisers drive up and down our road with a greater frequency, slowing past our house. If it was dark, I’d often notice one of their spotlights cut on and scan the yard for any suspicious activity (which, admittedly, is kind of hard to define around my house).
That experience made me grateful for a number of things. One, that I watch a lot of reruns of “Cops” and have a good idea about how officers think, speak and react, and how I should always keep my hands where they can see them when I’m talking to them and not make any quick movements. And two, that I live in a county patrolled by a professional law enforcement organization with high standards and a dedication to serve the county’s residents.
It’s a far cry from what people in Fulton or Clayton counties can expect from their sheriffs’ offices.
Since then, we’ve invested heavily in upgrading our security system, with more monitors, more floodlights and a keener awareness of what we need to do to protect ourselves. You can’t so much as sneeze within 100 feet of my house without me knowing it. If you breech the perimeter, you’re probably going to get shot – and with a really big shell that’s going to leave a really, really big hole. If I catch you on my property, you will be arrested for criminal trespass and I will press charges and be on your ass throughout your engagement with the criminal justice system, making your life miserable.
I’ve also gained a greater appreciation for the notice that came in the mail a few weeks ago. It was my property tax assessment. See, a lot of folks don’t like paying taxes, especially on something as sacred as their home. As for me, I don’t mind so much. I realize that bill is what I have to pay in order to have an ambulance come when I call them, or a fire department that will come in and haul my ass out of a burning house. It’ll pay for my road so I can come and go, for the schools that help reduce the number of people I have to shoot for breaking into my house, and for those deputies who came out so quickly when we needed them and watched over myself, my wife and my little girl when it appeared someone wanted to do us harm.
Now, I could probably appeal my tax bill, and I’d probably get it reduced a bit. But I’m disinclined to try, even as I’m keenly aware that there are a great many others who are battling successfully to avoid paying their fair share.
Because when it’s dark, and you’re home alone with your little girl and a shotgun loaded for bear, and you’re waiting to either blow the hell out of a home invader or be rescued by a cadre of sheriff’s deputies, and the burglar alarm is bellowing in the night and the car out by the road is trying to make a three-point turn and escape, money seems like a very minor thing to come between yourself, your family, and their safety.
Be glad when you get that bill that you have the resources you have, and the peace of mind of knowing that you’re safer because of it. Do what you can to meet them half-way. Install the floodlights and keep them on. Activate the security system. And pay your taxes so they have the units to send when that alarm goes off.