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Police Presence and Property Values

Ever wonder whether frequent cop helicopter buzzing affects the property values in your neighborhood?

About ten minutes ago one of the cop copters came blasting in, low enough to rattle the windows in the house, and started circling about three lots to the west of me. This is a not-infrequent occurrence here, because my part of the neighborhood forms a buffer between some very upscale, Old Phoenix streets to the east and a cluster of slummy tenements to the west. The residents of the people kennels get up to all sorts of mischief, from petty theft all the way to shooting and killing Phoenix’s Finest. So as you can imagine, the police are somewhat sensitized.

I used to live closer to the tenements. Since I moved about three blocks deeper into the neighborhood, the cop flyby’s haven’t been so noticeable, but in the old house, which stood near the intersection of two main drags just south of a war zone, I could set my clock by the 11:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday night flyovers. They literally would park right over my house while they ran spotlights around the area and hollered down at perps from their bullhorns.

Besides shattering the peace and quiet (well…there’s not that much quiet to be shattered when you’re right on top of two six-lane thoroughfares), these episodes are disturbing. I figure if I were a perp and the cops were on my heels, I would try to get inside someone’s house and hide. If I were armed, I’d be well equipped to intimidate the residents—or worse.

So every time the cops come flying over (again!), I get up and go close and lock the doors and windows. Annoying, especially when the weather’s nice and you’d like to have fresh air moving through the house. This evening when I got up to do that, I found I’d left the back door hanging wide open the last time I let the dog out. Reassuring…

If you were to look at the city crime reports for this neighborhood, you’d see that the crime rate in this area is relatively low. It’s much lower than it is where my son is living, just two or three miles to the south, and we have fewer sex offenders living nearby. So, in theory, if a buyer were sensitive to that issue, the ubiquitous cop helicopters wouldn’t make much difference to the sale of your house. How, anyway, would a person know that we live under a cop helicopter traffic lane without being here to observe it?

On the other hand, middle-class residents’ nervousness about crime, especially in the presence of nearby low-income housing, has its effect.

When SDXB got up in the middle of the night and found two dudes climbing in his front window (he chased them off with a pistol…far as we know, they’re still running), the first thing he did the next morning was alert all the neighbors. Literally. He went from door to door telling the neighbors that he’d caught a couple of cat burglars in the act, after they’d quietly lifted out one of the windowpanes.

Within days, his next-door neighbor put his house on the market and moved away. He underpriced the place so as to unload it quickly, because, being a middle-class homeowner, he could afford to do so. He bought a house in Sun City, where property values are surprisingly low, and pocketed 60 grand in the exchange.

The buyer? Mr. B***, a.k.a. the suspected vandal.

As soon as this guy moved in, he started buying up houses in the neighborhood, often from elderly original owners who had no idea what they were worth. Before long he owned seven houses in this six-block-square neighborhood, five of which he converted into rentals. He added a tumbledown summer kitchen to the house next-door to SDXB, illegally connecting to the city sewer line. He did all the repair and fix-up on the other houses, always without benefit of building permits—apparently in the Old Country building codes, if they exist at all, are most honored in the breach.

These activities served to push property values down, leading to conversion of still more homes into rental properties; hence Biker Boob and Bobbie McGee in the house across the street.

You could argue that it was the absence of police protection that led to this state of affairs. It was an hour before the cops showed up after SDXB called 911 and said he had a .45 trained on two men who were clambering in his front window. And he made a big point of complaining to the neighbors about that, too.

At least nowadays the cops do show up (if noisily) when you call. A 45-minute to an hour’s wait used to be SOP; if someone actually was breaking into your  house, the trick was to open a door on the other side of the building and start screaming FIRE!!! This would usually bring the neighbors, who’ll come out to watch your house burn down but will hide behind locked doors when they think a crime is under way.

Still. There’s no question that when people who can afford to move don’t feel safe in a neighborhood, they will move. One of our long-term neighbors just moved out, before her house even sold, saying she wished to live “closer to people like herself” (read more white folks, less brown folks).

I wonder if too much police protection, especially when it’s conspicuous, is bad for business. The real estate business, that is.

5 thoughts on “Police Presence and Property Values”

  1. I grew up in Californina, with immigration helicopters, and the same symptoms — the shiny light, the rattling windows. I think few people have enough urban experience to say, oh good, the police come to this neighborhood (compared to the ones they have given up on). After I moved to Vermont, it took me years to get over hypervigilance. I found it shocking, the notion you could just walk into the neighbor’s house, because their doors were unlocked, and in fact, there are no house keys. Never was. People leave their keys in the car. Now, I sort of get why people would want to flee a neighborhood where people were coming in the windows. Thanks for this very interesting post.

  2. @ Chance: I can only imagine how it would feel to live in a place where you feel safe leaving the doors and windows unlocked! And if you left your keys in the car around here, would you ever get in trouble with your insurance company!!! I wonder if they would even cover the theft?

  3. LOL! That reminds me of the time my neighbor got in his car to go to work and remembered he hadn’t brought his coffee. He hopped out to run back in the house and get it, leaving the car running. In the time it took him to walk into the kitchen and pick up his coffee cup, someone made off with the vehicle.

  4. I’ve wondered about this too. We share our home with “tenants” and although at the moment, things are calm, in the past we’ve had to deal with quite a variety of “drama”. Three years ago, we reshopped our property insurance and realized quite a savings. I am convinced that there IS a relationship between one’s address and one’s insurance rates.

  5. @ Terri: That is absolutely true. When SDXB moved to Sun City, where crime and accident rates are relatively low, his costs for insurance dropped to a third of what he was paying here. We know that car insurance rates vary by zip code; it stands to reason that homeowner’s insurance would, too.

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