Are debating whether to impose a...

CHARLES VILLAGERS

March 01, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

CHARLES VILLAGERS are debating whether to impose a neighborhood crime-fighting tax. Why not? Urban private security is the wave of the future.

Part of the reason is that the cops can't provide law and order anymore. People feel unsafe and are willing to pay for protection.

But another part of the reason is, as I began to explain in Part I of this column last Thursday, that if you don't provide protection, not only can you get hurt or killed, you can get sued. Crime-related "premises liability" lawsuits have doubled nationally in the last five years. I mentioned Thursday that not only businesses were being found liable for crime on or near their premises, but also rental apartments. The logical next step is individual homes.

Harry and Mary Homeowner invite John and Jane Doe over to their place in the heart of Charles Village for bridge. The Does are mugged on the sidewalk. Or robbed at the card table by armed intruders. Naturally the Does sue the Homeowners for not providing adequate protection.

And they win. The developing legal theory is that if such criminal activity is "foreseeable" the property owner is liable if "reasonable" protective measures are not taken.

Insurers are already telling businesses in neighborhoods where crime is foreseeable (which is every neighborhood where a significant amount of crime has occurred)(which is every neighborhood in cities such as Baltimore) to upgrade their security. Next it'll be homeowners. Someday, if you don't do that, you either won't get insurance, or it will be terribly expensive. The more verdicts like the one I mentioned Friday (waitress raped and robbed in restaurant parking lot got $600,000), the higher the premiums will go.

If I lived in Charles Village I would do whatever I had to do to get insurance and avoid liability. Perhaps even get a gun. Insurers may require that some day. Or at least make policies exorbitant otherwise. Just as only non-smokers will be able to afford life insurance some day, so only gunslingers will be able to afford homeowners and liability insurance.

Maybe what Charles Village ought to consider is an ordinance requiring residents to take that drastic self-protective step. A gun in every house is crazy, I know, but is it any crazier than urban life today?

It might even work.

In 1982 the City Council of Kennesaw, Ga., required "every head of household residing in the City Limits . . . to maintain a firearm." The number of business and residential burglaries was 55 in 1981; it was 40 in 1992. Meanwhile the city's population doubled.

Kennesaw is small (1990 pop. 8,936) and suburban. Its approach may not be right for a big city. But Charles Village might try it for a while as an experiment.

One objection I anticipate is that a gun today costs too much for some households. So give Charles Villagers an exemption to the law banning cheap Saturday Night Specials for the duration of the experiment.

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