The Cop Column
August, 2003
Sgt. Rick Hord

Is This a "Good" Neighborhood?

Inquiring house-hunters want to know: what kind of a neighborhood am I getting myself in to?

Many people look to law enforcement for an answer... but law enforcement statistics can be misleading in some cases.

For example, suppose you ask about a particular street, and our records show dozens of recent complaints about prowlers, trespassers, criminal mischief, theft, and suspicious activity. Bad news? Surprisingly, it may actually be good news. It may mean the residents of that street take an above-average interest in their neighborhood and report minor crimes and suspicious activity.

I've also known several instances of "crimes" and other activity numbers hugely and artificially inflated because of one individual whose perception of reality differs from the rest of us. A large number of "prowler" or "suspicious activity" calls may be the result of somebody demanding a Deputy take care of the Martians or other non-existent threats.

More common, however, are problems that are real, but temporary. A neighborhood might be "quiet" for years... until a local teenager goes on a wild streak. Eventually, the kid either goes to jail, moves away, or just grows up. At any given time, chances are excellent at least one neighborhood in our county is suffering through that stage.

Ironically, catching a criminal can inflate the crime stats. When miscreants are caught, they often "come clean," and fully confess. This means previously unknown crimes get reported. For example, two teenagers arrested by a Deputy for entering unlocked cars at night in a certain west-county neighborhood confessed in great detail to 23 such burglaries during the previous few weeks. Of the 23 burglaries, 20 had not been reported by the victims to law enforcement. If the culprits had not been caught, those 20 burglaries would have forever been invisible to anybody checking law enforcement reports.

On the other hand, a paucity of law enforcement activity does not automatically translate into a "safe" neighborhood. Maybe the people on that street don't like the cops and don't want us in their neighborhood, so they don't call us.

If law enforcement records can't answer that all-important question, what can? My recommendation is to trust your instincts. There's no substitute for the human element; for judgement and for what they used to call common sense. Visit the area more than once. Drive by many times... at different times of the day and night and different days of the week. Use your five senses. What do the houses look like? The yards? The cars? The people?

If you want a list of activity by the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office for a particular street over a given period of time, we'll gladly provide it. Just call me at

651-7420 or send me an e-mail at Despite its inherent and unavoidable shortcomings and imperfections, that information can be useful. Remember, however, law enforcement statistics should be carefully weighed against many other factors in deciding which neighborhood is right for you.