Wellfleet and the idea of safety

At Wellfleet’s recent town meeting we voted to hire another police officer. The logic of that seemed pretty obvious: another officer would make us safer.

But that town meeting vote failed to get the required override ratification a few days later. Apparently, a lot of us are not worried about our safety.

It does raise the question: how safe are we?

I don’t know of any poll on the subject, but it’s my impression that a substantial percentage of Wellfleet residents think that our town is a very safe place. So safe you don’t have to lock your door and can even leave your keys in the car.

Not that nobody ever gets broken into, but stories of the occasional breakin at a business or empty summer residence seem mostly exceptions-that -prove-the-rule and don’t keep a lot of people I know from being comfortable leaving their houses unlocked.

There was, some years back, the Truro murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington, a story covered in national news. You’d think that would have scared us all into more safety-conscious behavior. But—again, just an impression— it doesn’t seem to have.

In my 20s, living in a California suburb, I didn’t lock my house or car and would even, for convenience’ sake, leave my wallet in the car. But at that stage of life I didn’t have much to lose. When I moved to a small New England city I was told on arrival: you have to lock your doors, and keep them locked at all times. If you are sitting on the front porch, you better lock the back door.

When we moved 30 years ago to Wellfleet and were told that you didn’t have to lock, it seemed completely convincing. Rural and remote, far from cities and suburbs, Wellfleet certainly seemed safe. It was nice not to have the bother of locking and carrying keys. But more than that, we liked the idea of living in an oasis of security in this dangerous world.

To some extent, for those who choose not to lock it’s an image thing. We like thinking of our town that way. Whatever the facts of the matter, we like the idea that our town is a safe place.

But not everyone feels this way. In a gathering of friends in a local restaurant the subject arose and the group was very much divided. One longterm resident, to my surprise, said that he has always locked his house. But otherwise I got the impression from that small sampling that it was mostly more recent retiree washashores who lock, perhaps continuing a lifelong habit from the suburbs.

On a recent “Lowdown,” Ira Wood’s WOMR radio talk show, the guests were Wellfleet and Truro police chiefs. When asked whether people should lock their houses both said, Oh definitely.

But what else would the police give out as the official recommendation?

The question is: is the no-lock practice based on wishful thinking? Perhaps it was OK 20-30 years ago but is it now outmoded—dangerously outmoded– thinking? Or are those who lock being unnecessarily uptight, out of alignment with reality?

You’d think that some statistical evidence could be adduced to answer the question. The police must keep track of this sort of thing.

What’s the statistical reality underlying Wellfleet’s image as a safe little town?

Is Wellfleet, as farther from big city evil, significantly safer than upCape towns? Than a typical Boston suburb? Does the Outerness of the Outer Cape convey that advantage? Or not? What is the ratio of lockers to non-lockers in other towns?

And: is Wellfleet as safe now as it was 30 years ago, or is it being contaminated by the outer world and no longer the secure bubble some of us like to think it?

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