Mr. Stamps Was Apprehended

A while ago, we believed that solicitors could be caring folks.  They knocked on our doors, even without city permits, and we responded in a kindly manner.  Heck, we thought these solicitors were trying to support good causes.

Clue Board Game

Then our faith was shattered, as it became clear that a series of “bad actors” were appearing and trying to case our homes.  This week, another bad actor named Donald Stamps knocked on doors and attempted to sell magazines as a ruse.

Some alert Montclarions were a bit suspicious about Stamps.  As instructed by Oakland police, these residents posted information about the solicitor to the Montclair SIC message board.  A few called and reported his whereabouts to the police as well.

And it worked, this time!  “We arrested these guys including the one mentioned,” said Police Officer Maureen Vergara, who covers beat 13Z.  “Keep calling them into our dispatchers; there have been numerous calls, all with excellent descriptions and locations.”

This is all well and good, but I can’t help thinking that Mr. Stamps sounds like a character from the “Clue” board game.  Was Colonel Mustard or Mrs. White in the drawing room, with the victim, while Mr. Stamps left the premises?

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Save The Children Or Ourselves?

Something very disconcerting is happening around our faire village, where we fear solicitors and fundraisers who appear on our doorsteps.  They used to simply hassle us, but now we’re distrustful when anyone rings doorbells.  To me, this represents a loss of civility.

Over the past few days, students have been traipsing around Montclair neighborhoods and asking for donations to Save The Children.  This solicitation appears to be fully legitimate, except it hasn’t been registered with the Oakland Police.  If you want to ring doorbells and ask for money, then you’re supposed to get a permit first.  Some folks are concerned enough to call the cops…but why?

Save The Children

Let’s take this a step further.  When your neighborhood Girl Scout rings and asks you to buy cookies, she may be violating the law if her troop leader didn’t apply for a permit and give one to her.  This is nuts to call in the violation.  (Of course, if she just leaves you a note and you later make a visit to her home?  All is kosher.)

There’s some legitimate basis for concern when strangers wander around Montclair, though.  We experienced a crime wave this fall, with perps casing and later burglarizing homes.  Our cops asked us to call about strangers doing strange things, and this led to arrests.  To wit, October burglaries went down substantially after some of these thieves were spotted and picked up.  We’re still at risk and burglaries continue in the hills.

So how should we respond to solicitors at our doors?  Some Montclarions seem to be on high-alert, and feel we should report all unpermitted solicitors to the cops.  My reaction is far more muted, that you call the cops if someone strikes you as suspicious.  Otherwise all we have to fear is fear itself.

Susan Lockwood, who volunteers as a block captain, says we should address the matter with ill-informed solicitors – and even provides this informative script so they understand the reactions and rejections from Montclarions:

You seem legit to me; I know canvassing is tough work. But there is a law that says you need to carry a permit and I suggest you talk to your bosses about it right away.  There have been a lot of burglaries here in this neighborhood, some related to soliciting, and you will find that many of my neighbors are going to turn you away because of this.  Someone could even call the police if they really wanted to.  My own policy is simply to make no exceptions to my rule of not entertaining solicitors without permits.  Sorry.  Have a good night, and be sure to talk to your boss.

Regardless of permitting, it’s hard to be patient with solicitors.  My personal favorites are the magazine sellers who return annually, like the Capistrano swallows.  I’m irritated by these solicitors as much as the next person, and try to turn them away nicely rather than harshly.

But when it comes to legitimate causes that catch my attention?  I’m putty in the hands of the requesters, and even appreciate their effort and courage to ring doorbells.  A few years ago, I was solicited for environmental causes and helped out.  I would probably welcome a twenty-something’s pitch to save the children, and then decide whether to donate or gently reject them.

Maybe I have faith, but it’s unlikely that solicitors and fundraisers pose a safety threat.  While permits are a good thing, their absence doesn’t mean you are coming face-to-face with criminals.  Sometimes you have to go with your gut instinct and, as my Gen Y buddies would say, chill.