Guest Commentary

In a city rife with burglaries, residents shouldn't be careless

With more than 5,000 burglaries in Tucson in 2005, plus almost 20,000 additional larcenies and more than 6,500 motor vehicles stolen, you'd think we'd forgo the luxury of carelessness.

Maybe it takes either a criminal or a victim of crimes to note opportunities provided by half-open security doors and other vulnerabilities. My consciousness got raised on a dark night about a year ago.

The trail the burglar left was clear enough--shoeprints under our kitchen window, a screen bent and ripped off--but he balked at climbing through and moved to the front door. Our security door was unlocked and ajar. He battered the inner door with a tool we had left handy: a fanged and rusty rod for a water valve. Our brass lock set was shattered. The door was scarred but repairable. The splintered molding could not be matched anywhere in Tucson.

Home Depot doesn't provide 1947 styles.

We had made this burglar's job easy. I had seldom bothered to lock the security door, and the night before the heist, I had flicked off the sensor light, because it was shining in the face of a neighbor who was chatting with me. I had forgotten to turn the light back on.

I might as well have issued an invitation. We were in the guesthouse watching television, and when my wife headed back to the house for something, she spotted the burly intruder striding across the glassed-in porch. Jolted and frightened, she rushed back to tell me. We thought it might be a friend, for we have a friend of similar bulk and height who had moved out of town not long before. When we realized we were dealing with a burglary, there was no way to call the police. While I ran to a neighbor, the burglar continued his shopping expedition.

He chose well--he took my wife's only valuable jewelry. The intruder also took my laptop computer, which had a good deal of recent writing on it. Just as careless with my work as with the front door and sensor light, I seldom got around to backing up files. For a writer, you might as well inflict a serious stab wound as wipe out his unrecoverable work.

With a neighbor's cell phone at last in hand, I stood in the street's shadows behind a mysterious black car with no license plate. After dialing 911, I jabbered on about how the burglar was still in the house. He soon emerged, obviously in a panic as he ran across the yard toward me and the car. His crime had probably been interrupted by a call from an accomplice in the black car.

He ducked into the passenger's side, lugging a white swag bag, and the car roared away, taking a left turn at the corner. I stood describing all this as I imagined a helicopter in hot pursuit, backing up the squad cars, movie-style. But when an officer arrived, it was too late to do anything but chat and take a report about the crime. An officer told me they had been dispatched from several miles away.

Over and over one goes over such events. Why hadn't I done this? Why hadn't I done that? It took a friend to remind me: "He did it; you didn't!" Still, I went on thinking about what I might have done differently. My wife wondered why she hadn't let out a lightning-loud scream when she first saw him through the porch window. Maybe that would have scared him away. Most of all, not knowing if he was armed, we're thankful she barely missed encountering him.

I doubt we have more than 5,000 burglars in Tucson: Catch one, and you might eliminate 100 crimes. But the police refused to take fingerprints, even though some objects may have had some. And I'd think patrol cars might not be so spaced out as to leave entire neighborhoods vulnerable.

With foreordained futility, I dropped by pawnshops to look for our possessions. Should the burglar be among my readers, I'd like him to know we'd happily buy back the missing goods, no questions asked. I miss my laptop, and my wife misses her jewelry, especially her mother's wedding ring with its three small diamonds. And every time I take a siesta on the couch, I miss the comfy white shawl from Kashmir that was, one dark night, used as a swag bag.

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