I have a habit of reading the police blotter in suburban and small town newspapers. Unless there is an extremely interesting headline elsewhere, I usually flip to it first. It’s strange considering I’m the girl who tears up when subjected to the evening news. But police blotters have always seemed so innocent by comparison. In small town Ohio, where I attended college briefly, the local paper’s police blotter was innocent to the point of being totally bizarre. Once it made mention of “troublesome squirrels.” I kid you not. Squirrels can be real rabble-rousers.

When I was a teenager in Oak Park, some of the things my friends did wound up in the police blotter. I didn’t run with a really bad crowd, just bored kids who did stupid stuff like steal lawn ornaments or throw fruit at cars or shoplift. No one had guns. No one physically harmed anyone. It didn’t seem like a big deal. It was a big deal when a boy I went to school with was shot and killed senior year. Of course that happened while he was in Chicago. Bad things happen there that don’t usually happen here.

One of my regulars at the Beacon once asked me if I ever worried that being a female bartender who worked alone put me at risk. I shrugged him off. “You mean like handling bar fights? You guys would step up and help me.”

“No, I mean like getting robbed.”

I’d actually never thought about it. In the police blotter trouble at bars is usually limited to fights, tickets for after hours or underage drinking, and the occasional laugh-out-loud funny story about a drunk stumbling down the street in his underwear.

Don’t get me wrong, I lock my doors at night because I know Forest Park is not Mayberry. But when my car window was smashed in my brother’s dicey neighborhood in St. Louis, I wasn’t shocked. When my boyfriend’s car window was smashed behind our townhouse in Forest Park, I was. He’d left his MP3 player in the car, a mistake he’d never make in the city.

The incident really freaked me out. With Forest Park not seeming as safe, I actually asked my boyfriend, “Do you think we need a security system for the house?” Of course this quickly passed. I know the criminals were probably bored kids, just slightly more dangerous than my friends 12 years ago. I deduce this because the police told us there’d been a rash of similar break-ins. In one instance, a case of soda was stolen; in another, underwear. If I’d read that in the police blotter I probably would have giggled a little bit.

But now my idea of suburban police blotter innocence has been spoiled. This incident was a rite of passage of sorts. I will no longer brush off small-time crime as “kids acting out,” and I’ve been trying to think about what we can actually do about it without being unnecessarily reactionary. Thinking back on my teenage years, I came up with this:

Kids act out because A) they’re bored and B) no one is paying attention. It’s hard to solve Problem A. I thought everything was boring as a teen. What’s more important is how we handle Problem B. Watching teenagers distrustfully and blaming them for everything does not help. Getting to know the kids in your neighborhood and keeping an eye out to make sure they stay on the right track is far more productive.

I know it’s not much, but it’s a little bit more sage than: “Don’t leave your iPod in your car.”

  • Stephanie is the author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia. She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She works locally at the Beacon Pub and loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com.