Home invasions instilling fear in area residents

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fear originates in four ways.

It can be the result of a bad experience, it can be learned by observation, it can be created by negative information, or it’s just natural.

And all four causes can be in play at the same time, said Thompson Davis III, an assistant professor of psychology at LSU who specializes in anxiety and phobias.

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In fact, it’s rare to have just one cause the problem, he said.

In Natchez right now, it’s easy to pinpoint the first three causes and not hard to imagine the fourth.

Five recent house break-ins that occurred while residents were in the house sleeping were intensified when suspicions of a burglar led to an accidental shooting death.

And though it’s now been 20 days since the burglars have struck a home in the Natchez area, the fear remains for some.

Only five households in Natchez have direct reason to be afraid according to reason No. 1 — bad experience.

Though some people may have experienced break-ins in the past, the most recent streak has only hit five people — that’s five houses out of a 30,000-plus population.

It’s reasons two and three that have led to anxiety among the rest of us.

Our 30,000-population community is a tight-knit one. Everyone knows everyone, and many either know the owners of one of the five houses that was hit, or they know someone who knows them.

Reason No. 2 — fear by observation — is in play here. We’ve seen what happened to our friends, and we worry it may happen to us as well.

Reason No. 3 — negative information — would include this very column. The media is the biggest provider of news, negative or positive, and recent news stories about the break-ins have brought them to the attention of most everyone in town. The more news coverage the crimes get, the more fear may be created, Davis said.

Reason 4 — technically called a “non-associated pathway” — has nothing to do with experience or learning to be afraid. It can be based on genetics or psychological makeup.

But none of those reasons matter much to you if you are one of the 57 percent of our online readers who said you are “on edge” over recent burglaries.

And it doesn’t mean much when you wake up at 3 a.m. to the thud in the night and a quickened pulse.

The only things that matter then are your safety.

And with that in mind, fear is good, Davis said.

“It keeps us out of trouble,” he said. “Usually there is a normal response and concern about what is going on. You take precautions.”

Taking steps to ease your fear, like locking doors or installing alarm systems, is the first step to overcoming fear, Davis said.

“Take safe practices and the immediate concern, the distress, will die down,” he said.

The timetable will differ from one person to the next.

For some, as soon as the news of break-ins stops, the fear will go away. For others, fear may linger for months.

“Generally over time they will fall back into routines,” Davis said.

Maybe that’s already begun to happen.

In the beginning, I couldn’t sleep through the night without waking up multiple times.

Then, I began to more-or-less booby trap my house. With the confidence that anyone who broke in was going to cause quite the clatter, my midnight wakeups were reduced.

Now, with 20 days since the last break-in and the statistics of only five break-ins in a county of 30,000 settling in, I’m pretty comfortable.

I know law enforcement is working the case, and whether there is an arrest tomorrow or in two years, letting fear win isn’t an option.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.finley@natchezdemocrat.com.