One evening, Philip answered a knock on his front door. He opened to find DS Wilkes and a uniformed constable. “Mr Baker, may we come in?” the detective sergeant asked politely.
“Is it about the robbery?” Phil asked opening the door wider. Stopping suddenly, he pointed out to the officers, “I was there that night, nor did I make a report of the robbery, so why do you need to talk to me?”
“We just need to ask you a few questions,” came the reply.
Phil let the officers in. They followed him to the living room, pausing while he picked up his little boy. As they entered, the two officers greeted Carly, whose bump was now extended out, noticeably showing she was pregnant. Phil bade the officers to sit down while Carly made the offer of drinks, which the guests politely declined.
DS Wilkes began, “We caught the two men who committed the burglary your friends took pictures of.”
Phil felt the excitement beginning to build as the officer continued, “But we won’t be charging them.”
His excitement instantly deflated and all Phil could muster was a meek, “Why not?”
“This is why,” DS Wilkes stated as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper and handed it over to Phil. It was the leaflet he had made and distributed around the estates inviting people to join his neighbourhood watch.
“It was given to me by one of the defendant’s solicitors. A few weeks before the reported crime, you and your friends posted these leaflets all around the area. It seems that you have formed some sort of vigilante group around the neighbourhood. The solicitor told me that his client has seen groups of people walking around the area like vigilantes. The fact that you formed this so-called neighbourhood watch without police consent makes the pictures you took inadmissible in court. Therefore, we have to let them off.”
Phil couldn’t believe his ears. “Do you mean that because I, along with some concerned citizens, decided to protect our estates, you can’t charge a burglar who was caught and photographed in the act?”
“I’m afraid so. If this went to court, any defence barrister would rubbish this. They would paint an even darker picture of vigilantes roaming the streets frightening people. That’s why the prosecutor won’t even touch it.”
“We’re not vigilantes!” Phil protested. “We just wanted to keep our estates safe and everything we did was according to the law.”
“Maybe so, but you can’t go around the area acting like you’re the police. If you were that concerned for your community, you should have joined the police force.
“I tried to,” Phil explained, “But I never got past the application stage.”
DS Wilkes shrugged sympathetically, “Well that’s too bad, you might have made a good policeman. But that’s not the point. We can’t have gangs of citizens roaming the streets like vigilantes, no matter how well intentioned they are. I have been instructed by my superiors to tell you that you must disband your group. If you fail to comply, you could be charged with perverting the course of justice and taking the law into your own hands.”
Phillip fought back his inclination to say, “I wouldn’t have needed to form the neighbourhood watch if the police did their jobs properly,” but he knew that would only antagonize the situation more. Therefore, he muted agreed to comply with the police’s demand. However, the shock of the entire visit remained with him long after the two officers left.
Phil called an meeting of the neighbourhood watch a few days later and announced that the group was being disbanded. When asked why, he plainly told them about the visit he had from the police. The vast majority of the group were just as shocked as he had been.
“That’s typical!” Christian ranted. “We come up with a way to keep our estates safe and the cops say we can’t do it. I say we ignore them and carry on anyway.” There were several comments in agreement with him.
“That’s because if the police allow us to continue, then they’re admitting that they can’t do their jobs properly,” Martin pointed out.
“Well, they can’t,” Christian fumed. “We know that from what we saw and what happened to Gurpreet.
Christian’s rant revealed that Gurpreet was absent. No one could figure out why and it wasn’t like him. Nevertheless, the announcement was made, the meeting concluded and the group headed down to the bar for a farewell drink.
After an hour or more of drowning their sorrows, the flow of alcohol was numbing the sting of Phil’s announcement. It was then, their absent friend Gurpreet turned up.
Putting his arm around his mate, Troy slurred, “Come join us for a farewell drink.”
Seeing Gurpreet’s bewilderment, Troy further clarified, “The cops have said we have to break up our neighbourhood watch and they’ll arrest us if we don’t.”
Throwing up his hands in disgust, Gurpreet sarcastically chimed, “That makes sense. The reason why I’m late is because my uncle’s shop was broken into last night. Whoever did it cleaned out all the booze and cigarettes and left the place looking like a tip. My uncle called the police and like with me, they told my uncle he has to wait until tomorrow before they can send someone around, which means the shop will have to be closed until then,”
“That wouldn’t have happened if we had been out there,” Philip offered in sympathy.
Gurpreet smiled a weak smile, “No it wouldn’t.”