My Two Cents: How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Joseph HawkinsLast week, BethesdaNow ran a piece about the Montgomery County Police Bethesda District cracking down on drivers using cell phones while driving (a great idea). 

That piece linked to a safety update written by Capt. David Falcinelli, commander of the 2nd District that is based in downtown Bethesda.

This sentence, referring to the criminals involved in a number of recent high profile cases, caught my attention: “All of these suspects live outside of Montgomery County but chose to commit their crimes here.

I’m against crime. I don’t want my home broken in to and I’m certainly not interested in getting carjacked. But if any of those bad things happen, I think I will care very little about where the criminal resides.

Capt. Falcinelli believes neighbors are one line of defense in preventing crimes. I agree. Of course, this partly assumes we know our neigbhors.

My house is surrounded by the yards of six neighbors. I know these neighbors. Beyond them, I know a few others by sight. But if I walked beyond a two-block radius, I doubt I’d recognize anyone as a person who belonged (lived) in my Bethesda subdivision of Cohasset. And I doubt anyone would recognize me.

I would never hesitate calling the police if I thought something was out of sync. In fact, I have called the police. But making such a call always seems subjective.

Is the black guy selling magazines really casing my home to steal stuff from inside it?

Is the Hispanic landscaper sticking a flyer in my mailbox a threat? Is he trying to figure out if I’m in or if the front door is unlocked?

Probably neither is a threat.

And yet if Capt. Falcinelli insists on making people think that criminal suspects are only outsiders, I think he runs the risk of doing more harm than good.

Out of curiosity, I emailed Capt. Falcinelli. He responded immediately. (Bravo for this public servant.) I asked him about the downside to profiling:

I was a little hesitant to push the outsider issue as I am fully aware of our home grown criminal variety. Many of our thefts from autos and drug offenses are from local residents. I do not keep official stats on criminal addresses, but I can tell you with certainty that a large percentage of our violent crime is committed by residents of DC and PG County.


So let’s be frank. When the police say the violent criminals are from D.C. and Prince George’s, most of us are left with an image that the criminals are men of color — either black or Hispanic. That is the image that jumps into my head

It’s a good thing that Capt. Falcinelli is looking out for us, but I hope he is not encouraging us to profile based on skin color.

I’m looking out for my own self interests here. Frequently, I walk the neighborhood. I’m probably the only black guy walking the neighborhood — and in the winter, my hoodie is up. I’m not interested in being profiled unfairly, nor am I interested in getting stopped by the police, which happened in the past and is not a pleasant experience.

Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.

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