(VIDEO) Safety Dance: Can Decatur protect its values while protecting its children?

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt September 6, 2013

A hallway at Decatur High ends with a giant window overlooking the football field.

A hawk can snatch a mouse in mere seconds. A predator knows its prey.

Decatur presents a ripe target for predators. The prey, its residents, live in a dreamy world. We walk and bike everywhere. Neighbors get to know each other. We feel secure.

Recent robberies have interrupted that dream. Police and school officials gathered at Decatur High on Thursday to reassure parents.


When the predators target the most vulnerable among us, our students, it’s like waking up to a splash of cold water.

As I’ve discussed, violent crime in Decatur is drastically lower than it was two decades ago. But I know that perception is reality. When the victims are our children, the statistics don’t mean a damn thing. Solutions do.

The crucial issue facing our community at the moment is whether those solutions are going to mean changing the things that make our home unique.

The good news: we have highly educated residents, which means somewhere along the way we learned reason and logic.

The bad news: where children are concerned, reason and logic are easy prey for fear.

Decatur Police will, no doubt, step up their enforcement efforts at home football games. Decatur High Principal Lauri McKain said the school district is considering installing metal detectors at the entrance to the school’s football field.

McKain said the idea is, “Certainly not something we absolutely love.”

Sgt. Jennifer Ross, the media liaison, said that all residents should make more of an effort to be aware of their surroundings. It’s easy to forget sometimes, I realize. Decatur can lull you into an illusion of living inside an impenetrable bubble. Yes, Ross reminded us, crime can still find you here.


Ross said residents continue to ask her, “Why is this happening?”

“The answer is there’s just plenty of opportunity,” Ross told the audience. “There’s plenty of iPhones, and this is a community of helpful kids and helpful people. When somebody walks up and seemingly innocently says, ‘Hey can you tell me the time?’ they don’t give a second thought to pulling their phone out.”

McKain said she’s been lulled into a false sense of security, too.

“I have had more conversations with my child about making sure he uses crosswalks than I have about strangers,” McKain said at the meeting.

The predators know our reverie makes us easy prey.

The decision we face is one our country faces daily. Either we live in a near police state or we accept that living free carries inherent risks outweighed by the joy of freedom.

Metal detectors at football games sounds about as un-Decaturish as replacing Brick Store with a Taco Bell.

Perhaps we don’t have to go that far. We’re smarter than that.

Ross has said it before but it’s worth saying again: quit talking and texting on your damn cell phones everywhere you go. Decatur is a lovely place, anyway. Listen to the life going on around you. See the scenes that remind us why we endure soul-crushing commutes just to get back to this place every day.

Or, if you just can’t miss that text, be smarter with your smart phones.

Download the “find my phone” app from Apple, if you haven’t already. Think of it as insurance. (You should probably get real insurance, too. Never hurts.)

Also, I’d like to make a few of my own suggestions.

– Call boxes would help police get to the scene of a robbery quicker, increasing the odds of capturing suspects. I don’t know how expensive they are, but perhaps someone could sponsor it?

– Better lighting is essential, especially on the PATH trail near the high school.

– I think video cameras – as much as I hate to say it – would give police an advantage over our natural predators. It allows them to be in more places at once, something a uniformed police officer cannot do. Think about that. We had 15 police officers near Decatur High after the football game and the delays in communication, combined with the general commotion at these events, prevented any of them from seeing the robberies or putting eyes on the suspects. The only reason we have any solid idea of who the suspects are is a time stamp on a video of them leaving town. Also, it beats the hell out of metal detectors.

Based on what I heard Thursday, the people here aren’t sure how much they’re willing to give into fear when a little bit of common sense might work just as well.

I was particularly impressed with McKain’s candor and willingness to put principles first.

“We’re also talking about backpacks, about not allowing them into the game,” McKain said. “… It also is a place (where) we also know we’re vulnerable because we can’t see what’s being carried. We’re also not the airport. Somebody walking in with a little baby with a diaper bag is going to be different than somebody walking in with backpacks. We also don’t want to be profiling. We don’t want to say, ‘I don’t really know this kid so he can’t bring his backpack, but this kid can.'”

Even the parents of the band student who was robbed that night displayed a refreshing amount of perspective.

“I’m sorry that happened,” I told her father. “That’s a pain.”

“Hey, it’s just an iPhone,” he said.

The girl’s parents said they appreciated the thoughtfulness of the school system’s response. They’ve also been touched by the outpouring of support from their neighbors.

Fear can make people act mighty unfriendly.

When our school officials say “metal detectors,” I hear the sound of someone replacing a “Welcome” mat with one that says, “Do I know you?”

Once we go down that road, the things that make this place special will start to go with it.

Don’t let these people exploit our good nature. Be friendly, but don’t be naive. We welcome the outside world. We even hope some of our vibe will rub off. But the welcome mat isn’t an invitation to walk all over us, either.

Every welcome mat should be placed in front of a locked door.

We’re glad to see you, but don’t mistake our kindness for stupidity.

That’s the attitude what will help us ride out this so-called crime wave with our spirit intact.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

  • Deirdre

    Given the crime, what good would a metal detector have been? They need an a**hole detector, it sounds like … who robs high schoolers?

    • “a**hole detectors.” I’m glad we’re inspiring innovation around here. 🙂

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