Would You Tattle on a Neighbor?

If you caught your neighbor breaking the law, would you tell?

Oct. 16, 2007 — -- Imagine this: You catch your neighbor breaking the law, something minor, like watering the lawn when there's a water restriction or speeding in your neighborhood. Should you report your neighbor?

A new law in California threatens a $100 penalty for parents caught smoking in the presence of their underage child. It's the third state to try to reach into the private realm and protect children from secondhand smoke.

It's legislation that many are calling "nanny government," and it's provoking extreme reactions.

"I think they should fine people that smoke and have kids," said one man who agrees with the new law.

But many smokers find it invasive.

"I am not a Nazi, just because I'm a smoker," another man snarled.

For the most part, a nanny state is no good without snitches -- citizen cops who help to enforce the law.

At one Washington, D.C., school, everyone liked the idea of the smoking law, but tattle-taling was another issue altogether.

"I would definitely consider turning them in, because I'm not a smoker. ... I think smoking is very bad for you," one parent said.

Ratting on lawbreakers, who could be your neighbors, is never an easy call.

While some parents worry about telling on smokers, others tackle the issue head on.

After parents of students at Jim Plain Elementary in Austin, Texas, said they failed to receive the assistance from authorities to crack down on speeders, they took matters into their own hands -- video taping speeders around the school.

The moms in Washington, D.C., said they would not have been quite so bold.

"I wouldn't video tape the speeders, although I have to admit I have wagged my fingers at a few speeders on my own street," one mom said.

Others added that policing speeders is a job for trained law enforcement.

And when resources are scarce -- for example in the drought zone -- the more neighborly method of finger pointing can get out of hand. In Georgia, citations are delivered daily, as a result of neighbors telling on neighbors

One man who got caught by a tattler explained, "We hadn't turned off the irrigation system, so it was a warning notice."

The jury is still out on whether or not water hogs should be hung out to dry.

One panel member said he wouldn't be the "water police," but others said they would not hesitate to call authorities.

Others said they were raised not to tell and would keep to themselves.

"I'm not a snitch, honey. I see nothing, I hear nothing," said one man.