Crime Comes Home

Crime rates out here in the country are so much lower than in the cities, we barely even worry about being victimized. Unlike some, we do lock our doors at night or when we’re going to be gone for a bit. We’ve generally done so more out of habit than out of fear.

That changed this weekend.

I’m not sure how I slept through it, but at about 4am on Sunday morning, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer was awakened by the sound of a helicopter circling the area. It was shining a spotlight, and it hovered for a pretty long time. When she told me about it after I got up, she said it sounded like a military helicopter. My first thought was that the National Guard must be doing some kind of nightime exercises.

A few minutes later, I was browsing Facebook, and noticed that several people had posted to our little town’s News page overnight. Everyone was wondering what the helicopter and commotion were about. Turns out, it was the police; they were chasing a fugitive. A couple of people who lived right near the incident posted that they’d seen it happen, and had spoken with the cops.

Piecing together their stories, and news accounts, I got a rough idea as to the situation. Early Sunday morning, a man with a long criminal record was caught after stealing something from a Sam’s Club lot in Jackson (about 20-25 minutes from us). He got into an altercation with the arresting officers, injured one of them, and fled the scene. Officers from many surrounding jurisdictions, including the Michigan State Police, joined the chase northbound. The surface street he chose is a good long one — but it terminates in a T at the road we live on, just a quarter mile from us.

Instead of turning onto our road, he kept right on going into the cornfield. He ditched the car, and disappeared into the tall corn. In addition to the helicopter, the police also combed the area with K9 units (maybe even the one that nearly outran our tandem earlier this summer). As of the time I was reading these reports, the police had left — but the suspect had not been caught.

Corn field.jpg

Doesn’t look like he even slowed down when he came to the cornfield at the end of the road.

My first thought was: could this guy have taken shelter in our barn? I hadn’t noticed anything when I’d gone out at 6:30am to do my chores, but maybe I’d overlooked something. Or maybe he even arrived at the barn after I finished feeding the sheep. My daughter was about to go milk the goats, and I knew one thing: I wasn’t taking any chances.

I have a Concealed Pistol License (CPL), and carry a handgun with me at virtually all times. It’s now such a regular part of getting dressed in the morning, I don’t feel “complete” without feeling its weight in the IWB holster against my hip. Sometimes I’ve questioned whether it’s really necessary to carry as I go about my routine on the farm. As of yesterday morning, I will never ask that question again. I shudder at the thought of what could’ve happened if the fugitive had been hiding in our barn — and I’d left my carry piece in the house.

Before allowing my daughter to milk the goats, I returned to the barn with my full-size Springfield XD Tactical .45 pistol — this time, unholstered and drawn. I carefully inspected every nook and cranny of the building. Once I was satisfied it was clear, I gave my daughter the green light to milk.

As an aside: Yes, I do use that huge pistol as my everyday carry (EDC) piece. I originally bought it, many years ago, for home defense and to dispatch predators; it has an accessory rail, to which a tactical light can be easily mounted. The long barrel and heavy weight made it a really nice shooter, and I liked the high-capacity magazines. We were in Illinois at the time, and concealed carry wasn’t even an option; it was the only state that didn’t issue permits at all. Once we moved to Michigan, and I got a CPL, I tried a series of small pistols for EDC. I didn’t like the way any of them shot. I hated practicing with them. Then I got a crazy idea: why not try carrying the XD? I discovered Crossbreed Holsters had some excellent IWB kydex options, so I ordered one. Their “Supertuck” model was so comfortable, and carried the big XD so nicely, I quickly forgot I was even wearing it. It now goes with me everywhere it’s legal to carry.

Back to our story. With the fugitive still on the loose, we were nervous about leaving home for church (and then visiting family for the afternoon). We locked one dog in my office, and left the other outside with the run of our fenced yard. We closed and locked all the windows, and put a car in a prominent place in the driveway. Should the criminal come by our place, I hoped this would convince him to keep moving.

All day long, I monitored the local news sites. Every updated report said the fugitive was still at large. Ugh.

When we arrived home, everything seemed fine. No doors or windows had been tampered with. However, not wanting to take any chances, I again unholstered the XD and did a thorough sweep of the barn. Satisfied it was clear, we did our chores and got the goats milked again.

Later that evening, we finally got a report that the fugitive had indeed been apprehended. Turns out, he was out on parole; that would explain why he went to such lengths to avoid capture this weekend for what was a relatively minor offense.

I slept well last night, knowing we didn’t have a fugitive at large in the woods behind our property.

One of the best parts about living in the country is we are seldom threatened by crime. (Note, when Mrs Yeoman Farmer mentioned the helicopter to me, “fugitive manhunt” didn’t even cross my mind.) However, the problem is, when we are indeed threatened by crime … the police are generally a long ways away. I guess I’ve always had a theoretical understanding that we’re “on our own” to protect ourselves out here. That theoretical understanding is now a much more practical reality. We really are on our own here, and threats really can come from anywhere.

As for me … I’ve renewed my resolve to always be ready, and to never leave my EDC piece behind.

Don’t Call the Cops

They won’t come. Not for a long time, anyway. Unless it’s a real emergency. And even then…who knows?

That’s essentially what’s happened here in our county. While most people are aware of the dramatic police and firefighter layoffs in big cities like Camden, NJ, there is a somewhat different — and more interesting — dynamic at work here in our little corner of Michigan.

Like most counties in our state, the territory is divided up into large townships of about 30-35 square miles. Within these, there are pockets of incorporated municipalities which are administratively separate from the surrounding township. Our particular rural township has about 2,400 rural residents, and there are about 2,300 people living in its one incorporated municipality.

Most of the incorporated municipalities, including the one we live just outside of, have a small police force. (They seem to spend much of their time camped out with a radar gun at the municipal line, where the speed limit suddenly drops from 45 to 25.) However, that police force will not respond to crimes on our property; their responsibility ends at the municipal border. We and all other rural residents are under the jurisdiction of the County Sheriff, whose services are paid for by our property taxes.

Last summer, the County announced that they would need to slash the Sheriff’s budget by $2.2 million for 2011, and that they would no longer have the resources (i.e. deputies) for routine patrols or response to non-emergency rural calls. If we wanted more police coverage than that, we would need to approve a special millage on the November ballot. The money raised would be used to contract with the county sheriff or a local municipality for police coverage, or to form a new rural police force.

The assessment would’ve been about $150 per residence and $250 per business. Of course, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I voted in favor. We tend to oppose most millage proposals, but police coverage should be a no-brainer. Public safety is one of the few truly essential and appropriate functions that government provides. I simply assumed it would pass, and didn’t even bother checking the election results for several weeks.

As it turns out, the millage in fact failed. Miserably. Each of the thirteen townships voted separately, and the measure only (barely) passed in one. It came close (49%) in one other township. Five other townships were in the low forties. None of the remaining seven townships, including ours, could muster a “Yes” vote in excess of 37%.

Interestingly, the one township which passed the millage has chosen not to contract with the County Sheriff for services. They are instead going to hire a local municipality’s police force to cover them.

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have been scratching our heads and trying to understand the election outcome. MYF’s working theory is it’s similar to the “boy who cried wolf” one too many times not getting taken seriously. She reasons that voters have gotten sick of being told the sky would fall down if they didn’t approve an additional property tax hike, and finally decided to stop listening. That’s a plausible explanation, especially given that our property taxes are supposed to be covering police protection in the first place — and that, according to some locals we’ve spoken to, the county commission has proven itself less than trustworthy on some occasions. No doubt, some voters thought the County was playing “chicken” with us, and would blink if we didn’t.

The County didn’t blink. The first week of January, they in fact cut the Sheriff Department’s staff from 223 to 187 employees. That leaves exactly two deputies on duty at any given time to respond to calls in the entire 440 square miles they are responsible for.

What does that mean, exactly? We’re starting to find out. Earlier this month, when a student took a loaded handgun into a rural middle school, it took deputies 20 minutes to get there.

Fortunately, our townships are not high crime areas. But many of us are concerned that could now change. If you’re a burglar, what better place to ply your trade than one where, even if you’re surprised by a homeowner, it takes the cops 20 minutes to show up?

Of course, burglars know that most of us here in the country are fairly well-armed. Few would be stupid enough to break in when a rural resident is at home. Our family is especially fortunate in this regard; because we homeschool, and because I work on the property, someone is nearly always here. We’re also on a fairly well-traveled blacktop road that’s not far from a municipality, so lots of eyes would be upon someone carting property out of our house. But that’s not true of most other rural homes; many sit empty all day, and are on isolated lanes. What better target than a house where it’ll take a deputy several days to come out and even file a police report of your burglary? Just imagine how contaminated the crime scene will be by then!

Already, there is talk of putting another police millage on a future ballot; it’ll be interesting to see if, as residents experience the reality of life with reduced sheriff coverage, support for a special assessment increases.

In the meantime, what’s especially heartening is the grassroots response in some townships. People aren’t just sitting back and waiting for the criminals to strike, or for government to act on our behalf. In the true American civic spirit, they’re forming voluntary associations to address the problem themselves. Residents of one township, for example, have been extremely aggressive in forming a neighborhood watch. Signs like these:

have popped up all over the rural roads. The churches, including the Catholic church in that township, have been especially active as centers of coordination. Down in the church basement, there’s a big stack of these signs that the Knights of Columbus and others have been working to distribute.

It reminds me a lot of something that happened when we lived in Illinois, and someone in our rural county began setting fire to barns on isolated properties. As the size of territory was too large for police to keep an eye on, a group of locals began organizing active patrols of roads with likely targets. I myself started taking a different route into town, just so I could drive past and keep an eye on more isolated structures. Anyway, after just a couple of weeks, one of the local patrols caught the arsonist fleeing the scene of a fire. They held him until the cops could arrive.

I’m sure hoping it doesn’t come to that here in Michigan. But we’re all ready to step up for our community if it does.

Different Kind of Crime

I was the victim of a crime yesterday, but of an odd sort. It wasn’t something I could report to the police, and I couldn’t identify a specific perpetrator. My losses could have been substantial, but I fortunately managed to avoid the worst outcome.

My computer was infected by a particularly nasty worm that masquerades as an anti-virus program. I have no idea how it managed to elude my real internet security software, but it got disabled during the attack. The rogue software appeared to be running a scan of my system, and it turned up 30+ “infected files” that had all kinds of scary-sounding things wrong with them. But here’s the scariest thing: the scan and its results looked exactly like the real Vista security center. It was even called “Vista Internet Security,” and indicated I had a trial subscription (which covered the initial scan), and said I needed to purchase a full subscription to clean up the infected files. Heck, computers come pre-loaded with so many pieces of trial software, this sounded entirely plausible. And, as I said, the scan results looked exactly like an actual Microsoft window.

The thing basically took over my internet connection. Every time I tried to launch a browser, the window filled with an official-looking warning that the browser was infected and that unless I took care of the infection my computer was vulnerable to attacks. In actuality, it turns out that the worm had simply changed/redirected my default home page in Internet Explorer. And my address window disappeared, so I couldn’t simply select another website. The only option I could select was to purchase a full subscription to “Vista Internet Security.” When I clicked thru to that site, it looked very much like an actual product, complete with magazine reviews and customer testimonials.

With my credit card in hand, and on the verge of paying sixty bucks for a year’s subscription, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to browse the web and get an independent review of this product. Fortunately, I could still access the web through the browser built into my AOL software. And, even more fortunately, when I searched on “Vista Internet Security” I immediately found a long list of sites warning that this is a nasty worm and a total scam.

But removing the rogue software from my computer was another challenge. From the other sites, I learned that there is a file called “av.exe” that’s responsible. I found it, and tried deleting it, but couldn’t do so because it was running. So I went to Task Manager, ended the process, and then deleted the av.exe file.

This was a huge mistake. I should’ve followed the instructions on some of these other sites, and tried to edit the Windows registry first. It turned out that the av.exe file had so embedded itself into my registry, it was like a brain tumor. When I knocked it out, it completely corrupted my registry. I couldn’t start any of my installed software! And I couldn’t even launch the system tools that enabled me to do a “system restore” back to a registry I knew to be good.

For over an hour, I was in a panic. I’d been finishing up a huge project for a client, and still had work to do last night. I was facing the prospect of having to somehow get the files off my desktop computer and onto a laptop, and finishing things up there — but who knows how long it would take to get my computer repaired at a shop.

I tried launching the computer in Safe Mode, but still could not access the system restore utility in the normal way. Finally, by launching with Safe Mode Command Prompt, and by studying the help menus on my laptop to get the name of the executable file for System Restore, I was able to get into the utility I needed. I went back to a registry from two days ago. Fifteen minutes later, my computer was functioning perfectly. My first move was to update all virus definitions and check all settings on my Norton software, then do a full scan for any traces of “av.exe”.

Why do I bring all this up? In part to give a warning to my readers: Do not fall for this scam! I consider myself to be fairly computer savvy, and this thing had me almost completely fooled.

But I also wanted to share a couple of quick reflections on crime. Yesterday, separating me from sixty bucks for a fake anti-virus subscription was probably the primary goal of whomever designed this worm. I didn’t pay it, but the attempt on money is really the least of the evil done to me yesterday. For an hour and a half, I was in a state of utter anxiety. I depend on this computer for my livelihood. It is my number one tool, and allows me to support my family. Yes, I have an old desktop computer, and a laptop, as backups in a pinch. And I have Carbonite and backups on an external hard drive to protect my files. But this computer I’m typing on now is the nerve center of my professional life. When this computer doesn’t work, I can’t think about anything else until it’s fixed. Dinner was late last night because of this issue. And I was still so upset by what I’d gone through, I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. The kids lost their opportunity to spend time with me after dinner. My client didn’t get the last of his project delivered until 10:30.

What I’m trying to say is that the smallest part of the criminal attack I suffered yesterday was the sixty bucks these guys were after. A criminal does far more damage in stealing a person’s life from him. And a person’s trust in others. And a person’s peace of mind about the world. This thing looked like a genuine anti-virus program, which is supposed to protect me. It turned out to be like a rogue gang that uses police lights to get motorists to pull over, so they can take advantage of people. These are among the very worst kinds of criminals, because they steal more than just money. They steal the trust that we ought to have in those who are trying to do good and keep order.

I worried enough about my computer before…now I’m going to be even more anxious. I was very nearly without my computer for the next few days, right at a time when I’m awash in requests from clients. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer had to hold down the fort yesterday evening, when she really needed a break. Homeschooled Farm Girl threw a pessimistic fit when she saw how upset I was at not being able to fix the problem. And none of the Yeoman Farm Children can have back the hour they didn’t get to spend with me last night.

This reminded me of the only other time we’ve been the victims of crime. Several years ago, a local farmer collected eggs and produce from several of us and took everything to a big farmers market in Chicago. We gave him a percentage of the sales for his trouble, and it was a nice arrangement for everyone. And it gave us a nice outlet for our eggs. Anyway, one week he was packing up…and turned around to discover someone had swiped the cash box. None of us got paid that week. Yes, I was upset about the money. But what made me even more angry was that the thief had taken our work from us. I’d carefully inspected and washed every egg, making sure everything was perfect for our customers. The other farmers had taken similar care in preparing their produce. The young man who manned the booth lost not only his produce and his money, but the whole day he’d spent going to and from the market. Not to get too philosophical, but in carrying out our work, we’d poured ourselves into what we’d sent to market. As John Paul II said, about the nature of work and its relation to the person who carries it out:

And so this “dominion” spoken of in the biblical text being meditated upon here refers not only to the objective dimension of work, but at the same time introduces us to an understanding of its subjective dimension. Understood as a process whereby man and the human race subdue the earth, work corresponds to this basic biblical concept only when throughout the process man manifests himself and confirms himself as the one who “dominates.” This dominion, in a certain sense, refers to the subjective dimension even more than to the objective one: This dimension conditions the very ethical nature of work. In fact there is no doubt that human work has an ethical value of its own, which clearly and directly remains linked to the fact that the one who carries it out is a person, a conscious and free subject, that is to say, a subject that decides about himself.

And some thief simply swiped it like it was nothing. It was a deep and troubling sense of betrayal, and greatly undermined my trust in others.

Anyway, speaking of work, I’d better get back to what I need to do and not let this criminal take any more of my time. Be on the lookout for this nasty scam! And if it does infect your computer, follow the right directions for removing it. (Use task manager to disable the av.exe process, and that should allow you to browse the web again so you can find a site with good instructions.) Things could have gone much worse for us last night than they did; hopefully the rest of you can be spared our experience entirely.