Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Tuesday night, Metro Police invited the public to its training facility in the northwest to be briefed on the latest crime problem: home foreclosures.
This was Metro’s message: We think of foreclosures as an economic problem, but like other economic problems they can lead to social problems. Like crime. As in, financial stress might lead to drug or alcohol abuse and domestic violence. As in, squatters and drug dealers move into abandoned homes. As in, a rundown neighborhood is a target for criminals.
Please have a sense of community and look out for your neighbors, urged Steve Fuquay, a crime prevention specialist.
“In the northwest area command, we have saying — a motto, really — that crime prevention is citizen attention,” he said, urging people to “act like your family, look out for your neighbors.”
It was almost un-Vegas-like to ask people to talk to their neighbors, to notice whether they’re putting out more empty booze bottles than usual and to ask them how they’re doing. And, well, in this awful year of 2009, maybe being neighborly is worth a shot. Pay attention if you hear shouting and fighting.
Fuquay was quick to say he wasn’t asking people to be social workers, to go where maybe they shouldn’t, just to pay attention. If it’s not your business but it sounds bad, maybe call the cops and let them see what’s going on.
Fuquay also made an appeal to self-interest in terms of maintaining the neighborhood: It might keep you safe.
Think about seeing a neighborhood with empty houses, dead lawns, open gates and trash.
“What do I think as a criminal? I’m going to think people in this neighborhood don’t care! Maybe there’s a door unlocked or a window unlocked. See how the criminal thinks?” Fuquay said, tapping his head.
He also said people have to remember that they are their own first lines of defense when it comes to their property and themselves. The police are only backup.
The audience applauded.
The meeting was organized by patrol Lt. Jack Owen. Late last year, he says, Metro was trying to figure out what problems the force might face in 2009. And though there were no numbers to support it, anecdotally it seemed like the pox of foreclosures was changing communities and challenging police forces. So even if it’s not conventional policing, why not try to do something about foreclosures? Hence the idea of public meetings. Tuesday night’s was the first. The night was divided into two parts — the first, criminal, and the second, financial.
It was the second part that really made the audience of 70 or so citizens sit up and take notice. Finally, bankers, attorneys, real estate agents and brokers would tell them how to save their houses from foreclosure, how to get lower mortgage payments.
The man leading this part of the presentation was a mortgage banker, Shane Watson, a vice president at Direct Access Lending (est. 1999). He told people they must learn to hope and to be strong. He offered the audience a Japanese phrase that he said meant “the preparation to fight.”
Watson gave out an assortment of phone numbers for banks and government agencies, plus foreclosure prevention Web sites such as makinghomeaffordable.gov. He led people through the definitions of short sales and different types of foreclosures. He warned people about the fraudulent types out there. He said banks have their own best interests at heart and urged the audience to always talk to the loan modification department, never the collection department, whose only job is to get money out of you.
Interspersed with this was a lot of talk that seemed oddly, appallingly familiar, as if you turned on the radio and the DJ was playing Hanson without a sense of irony.
Las Vegas is “an economic gold mine,” Watson said. Investors from around the world want to buy land here. Sure, times are tough, but we can’t be down on Las Vegas. We need to be its ambassadors, its salespeople.
“We should all be telling these Californians how great it is here so maybe instead of buying their $900,000, 1,500 square-foot house in Newport Beach, they’ll come here and buy properties, maybe including your short sale house,” Watson said.
He asked the audience to think about what’s going on right now that’s good news.
The audience laughed.
Later, Watson predicted that in 12 years, real estate prices would be back to 2006 levels — no, better than 2006.
The audience laughed derisively and scoffed unprintably.
Watson turned to his fellow panel members for support, saying surely none could disagree.
A foreclosure attorney did and raised her hand to say so. The Realtor next to her said he couldn’t say what he thought, even as he pantomimed putting a pistol to his head.