Quite a few years ago, I bought my first house in a pretty nice Dallas neighborhood. I knew the people who lived around me enough to say hi, but that was about it. Even though we weren’t friends, I figured my “neighbors” would watch out for me.

Then I went away for a week and forgot to suspend my daily newspaper subscription. When I returned home, there they were — seven still-bagged newspapers lying in a six-foot-or-so circle in my front yard near the street, serving as a pointed reminder that my newspaper carrier had an accurate arm and that my “neighbors” weren’t working up much of a sweat looking out for me.

Now, it’s true I should have called the newspaper before I left. And it’s true I hadn’t asked any “neighbor” to pick up my newspapers.

But all in all, I was pretty disappointed. If watching out for the people next door isn’t what being a “neighbor” is all about, what is?

I thought about this the other day while reading about the latest Dallas crime statistics. According to a Morning News article, overall crime in Dallas fell last year by about 4 percent, even as homicides rose 9.4 percent and residential burglaries rose 5.7 percent. Unfortunately, the overall statistics make us one of the worst cities in America, crime-wise.

The story noted that new police chief David Kunkle believes we’re making progress and says his goal for 2005 is to reduce serious crime by 10 percent and homicides by 20 percent. And he has some sensible ideas about what the police can do to make that happen: Put more officers on duty weekend nights, use civilian officers to handle simple 311 calls rather than dilute sworn officers’ time, and park police cars in front of known drug houses, making the bad guys a little more uncomfortable than they are now.

But that’s really all the police can do: make the bad guys feel uncomfortable. We’re pretty much responsible for the rest. We have to watch out for each other, starting with the simple things, because our eyes fill in the gaps the police can’t.

I’ve long-since moved to another house in a pretty nice neighborhood. The people who live near me don’t wait for me to tell them I’m leaving town; many mornings, I’ll find my newspaper sitting on the porch right outside my front door, carefully placed there by someone who rises earlier than I do.

Regardless of the crime statistics and city politics, just knowing my “neighbors” have my back makes me feel safer — even in a city with a relatively high crime rate.

I didn’t ask them to help me out. I’m sure it’s an inconvenience. But that’s how a group of homes becomes a neighborhood.

And isn’t that what being a “neighbor” is all about?