Published April 25, 2017 in the Palencia Press:
Like many college students, during the spring of my senior year the realization hit me that I would soon need to have a job. My father was a police officer in Maryland and I guess there was some expectation that I might follow the same path as many sons have followed in their police officer father’s footsteps. Policing seemed to run in the family for many of my past colleagues. I did apply to the police department and was, I think, fortunate to be accepted, and soon started the training. I also soon realized that although I was 22 at the time, I looked 19. So there was only one thing to do… grow a mustache. It helped, and when fully formed it transformed me from a 22 year old who looked 19, to a 22 year old who looked 22. I kept the mustache for about five years until I knew what I was doing, had earned a few wrinkles under my eyes, and didn’t need it anymore. But as a young officer armed with my mustache and very little experience, I began to patrol the streets of Montgomery County, Maryland where I stayed for 21 years. As a young patrol officer I got many calls for burglaries in homes where people were away on vacation. One call stands out in my memory because of the excessive nature of the damage that was done to the home. The Montgomery Village neighborhood where the home was located was not too dissimilar from Palencia, beautiful homes, nice community, and great neighbors. The family had left on vacation to Europe and were gone for a month. They trusted their key with their neighbor and agreed that the neighbor would look after the house while they were away. The key was kept on a hook, on the refrigerator, in the neighbor’s kitchen. Visiting the kitchen often was the neighbor’s teenage son. The son was a good kid as I remember, but he had some friends who were less conscientious. At some point the son succumbed to the peer pressure and allowed his friends to take the key; even good kids make mistakes. That was the beginning of what turned out to be heartbreaking devastation for everyone involved. The house stayed unlocked for several days and the teenagers from the neighborhood came and went as they pleased through the back door. This went on for three or four days until it was noticed and the police were called. By the time the young police officer with the mustache arrived all the kids were gone. They had, however, left behind about $100,000 in damage. There were holes in the drywall in almost every room, light fixtures smashed, appliances broken and most of the carpet had to be replaced. But there was more to the story than a broken house, there was broken trust, broken friendship, and innocence lost. The son and many of his friends were soon arrested, charged and convicted. And the son’s parents we’re stuck with paying for the repairs to their neighbor’s home.
I suppose that most of you reading this here in Palencia are, like me, blessed with great neighbors. I wouldn’t think twice about leaving a key with my neighbors to check on my home if I were away for a few days. But if my home was going to be vacant for much longer than that, I think I would turn to a professional home watch company to take care of the house for me. These services are very popular in Florida with many of the snowbirds who spend their summers up north. They’re also useful for members of the military stationed overseas, large corporations that have corporate housing inventories, and for owners of vacant investment property. The best of these companies combine home inspection services with home watch, evaluating plumbing for leeks and electrical panels for overloaded circuits. They use advanced tools like infrared cameras and moisture meters. In this way they can identify a small problem that may only take a few dollars to fix before it becomes a big problem that may take a few thousand dollars to fix. Many of these companies also offer other services like hurricane home preparation, starting your car up every week to save the battery, ensuring your refrigerator is stocked with groceries when you return, and driving you to and from the airport.
I guess the bottom line for me is, although I have wonderful neighbors I don’t want to burden them with the responsibility and liability of watching over my house for anything more than a couple days. And I certainly can’t expect my neighbors to provide the level of service that a home watch and home inspection company will.
Throughout the remainder of my police career I responded to many other calls for service at vacant homes, although none were as severe as the home in Montgomery Village. Guaranteed, any police officer who’s been on the job for any length of time could tell similar stories, including those here in Florida. And I would wager that somewhere there’s a young St. John’s County deputy, maybe with a mustache, who will soon encounter his first.