Cause for Alarm

The all-too-common e-mails have become the calling cards of a smash-and-grab version of automobile Russian roulette.

"Who drives a silver Honda ... and parks in the USA lot on 14th?"
Everyone in our office knows what it means: another broken window, something else stolen from someone's car.

This time the thief got away with a built-in CD player and the Coldplay disc inside - in the middle of the afternoon, with people around. Two guys gave chase, but they were too late.
The crooks aren't very discriminating, so the thieves ? likely addicts, according to Theater District security ? have snatched radar detectors, loose change or anything else in plain sight they can turn into cash for drugs immediately. They moved around downtown to stay ahead of the police, we've been told, and it was "just our turn."

Cleveland police used to patrol the area more consistently, but funding cuts now make that impossible, according to the Third District.

Maybe the rash of break-ins is spread throughout downtown, but the unattended surface lots near East 14th Street from Carnegie to Prospect ? where many of our company's employees park ? seem to be a prime trolling ground.

In fact, it's hard to get a clear picture on these thefts, because so many go unreported. Filing a police report takes time and repair costs usually fall below an insurance premium's deductible.
In our office of about 70 people, there have been at least 10 break-ins during the past several months.
That may not seem like a lot, but the emotional toll of such crimes can't be measured in insurance deductibles and repair costs.
On a recent Saturday, as I was pulling into work at 14th and Prospect, a man wearing tan winter construction coveralls and a reflective vest flagged me down. He'd been trying to get someone to stop for about 20 minutes, he told me, but no one had even rolled down their window. As he explained, he'd been working nearby and backed his work truck over some rebar, which punctured the gas tank. He needed $20 to buy a repair kit to patch the hole or it was going to cost him $200 he didn't have to get it towed.

Maybe it was a scam. But I wanted to help and would have to walk to the ATM to take out the cash. As we walked to the corner, the man explained the job, who he worked with and why he was still clopping along in oversized black and yellow rubber boots. (He'd run out of plastic recycling bags used as a liner between the rubber boots and his work boots.)

Yet the e-mails weighed on me. I wondered, Should I really be doing this? What if this guy pulls out a gun and asks me to empty my bank account?

When we reached the corner, the man waited as I went to the ATM. I handed him the $20, he thanked me and we went our separate ways.

I've been working downtown for seven years and never once felt like that before. I want to be the kind of person who is willing to help a person in need and not fear for my safety. My discomfort scares me.

And it should scare the hell out of anyone who cares about the city, not just those of us who work near Playhouse Square or come to the theaters or attend events at Jacobs Field and The Q.
Cleveland cannot allow such fears and insecurities to spread. People are going to stop coming downtown and companies won't want to stay. It's hard to think anything else, when the inevitability of becoming a victim has crept into people's psyche.

Luckily, in early April, two new groups ? Downtown Cleveland Improvement Corp. and Downtown Cleveland Alliance - will unveil private safety patrols, maintenance crews and a "safety ambassador" to assist visitors from West 10th to East 18th. The "clean and safe" program, which will assist police and spruce up the district by removing graffiti, picking up trash and creating an identifiable presence can't start soon enough.

Because even one more e-mail that begins, "whose drives a ..." is too many.

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