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Burglary in Southeast

Imagine coming home to your kicked-in back door.
Last week the Oregonian ran a cover story about the rash of burglaries plaguing SE Portland. At the time that the story ran, I noticed that the map of the city, which featured orange dots at the sites of recent burglaries, featured no dots within a five-block radius of my house. I had about one week's worth of gloating before, apparently, somebody else also noticed there were no dots in my 'hood, and decided to do something about it.

Yesterday noon, my partner and I stepped out for some errands. We returned about 45 minutes later and brought our groceries inside. A few minutes later I decided to put some items in the freezer in the garage. The doorknob was troublesome(?). I opened the door and noticed the back door open. Whoops, I thought, I left it open earlier. Then I noticed the splintered wood and the garage shelves emptied onto the floor. And the twisted doorknob on the outside of the house door. And the flashlight left on the floor. And my back gate swinging open in the breeze. "Sweetie, we've been robbed," I shouted, "Call the police."

It quickly became apparent to me that the burglar had only just left. Fortunately, it also became apparent that virtually nothing had been taken, most likely because the thief found very little of value in the garage, and spent 45 minutes trying to get into the house proper (where he would have found very little of value--why must the poor steal from the poor?). We counted ourselves lucky. It could have been a work day for us, giving the thief all day to break through the door from the garage into the house. Or worse, my partner may have come home from work by herself to discover an intruder.

We had no sense of loss as we showed a friendly police officer the damage, and later, when another officer arrived to look for fingerprints. We did, however, feel completely violated, and immediately suspicious of our nearby neighbors that we had not yet met. I do not think that it was coincidental that a thief chose our house at the exact same time that we decided to run errands. Instead, this bastard watched us leave and moved in immediately. Our swift return surprised him, and as we were walking in our front door, he was undoubtedly running out the back.

Our burglary had much in common with a burglary at my old address in the Brooklyn neighborhood, so it all synced up with the Oregonian's report: meth abuse is fueling an epidemic of property crimes.

The Brooklyn burglary was obviously perpetrated by a tweaker. Despite the fact that our house had three housemates' worth of electronics, rare collectibles, and even a couple of guns, the Brooklyn burglar only stole a couple of pillowcases (for carrying loot), the bowls of pocket change from our dressers, and all the CDs and DVDs he could carry. He left behind a 32 oz. soda and a mess of fingerprints.

The burglar from yesterday fit the same profile. He tossed all the shelves in the garage not to find valuable items, but to empty out a small suitcase to fill with our hard-earned stuff. While he could have been happy with a sweet Makita drill and a couple of easily portable tool cases left in the garage, his greed made him devote all of his thieving energy to defeating the inner door into the house. Had he gotten through, I'm sure we would have lost our paltry CD and DVD collections, maybe a camera. Or maybe he would have gone straight for the home office to scoop up some checkbooks and other documents.

We spent the day installing new locks on several doors, and the evening was spent rounding up any and all personal documents for inclusion in a new, safer hiding place. We both strongly recommend the same for everybody. Here are a couple of other points we recommend:

*Get to know your neighbors. We made a point of going around to all the neighbors to alert them that a burglar was around. In the process we got to meet several whom we had not yet met, which went a long way toward ameliorating our fears. When you introduce yourself, present them with a card or piece of paper with your name and tele #.

*Vary your routines. Some days, leave the car in the driveway and take the bus. If our truck had been parked in our driveway, this burglar never would have tried our house.

*Check your locks. Make a sweep of your home, checking doors and window locks. Make sure that locking bolts are reinforced in wood frame doors. If you have woodframe windows, check to make sure that the lock cannot be defeated by inserting a knife between the sections. If your locks do prove to be insufficient, try drilling a hole in one side of the frame (in the lifting window's channel) and inserting a stout peg or bolt.

*Security company window stickers or lawn signs work as a deterrent, whether you employ the company's services or not.

*Be conscious of what items in your home you may be "advertising". This includes expensive items visible through windows, the glare of a computer monitor shining in a dark room, or even the packaging of expensive items left out for recycling.

*Shred or burn all disposable personal documents. Don't be a packrat; if push comes to shove, either the billing companies or the government can track down their copies of invoices, receipts or personal papers.

*Store away very important personal documents in a safe, out of the way place, or get a safe deposit box.

*Remember that you cannot count on the police, except as official chroniclers of thievery. The Oregonian's article stated that there are four (4) officers assigned to burglary detail in SE Portland. That's just four individuals for an area five miles long by five miles wide. We knew there was little the officers we called could do, despite the fact that the thief was still in the immediate area when we called. But we still saw the necessity of filing an official report.

When it comes right down to it, nothing is going to stop a tweaker from trying to score something he can turn into more drugs. But individuals can go a long way to protect themselves. Be proactive; don't be a victim. It's no use closing up the barn if the horses have already gotten out.

Thanks for listening, and as always, Peace.
Cthulhu
Some Prime Targets in SE 14.Dec.2004 17:15

Blargh

Ever since we moved to the SE we've noticed alot of 'sitting ducks' as far as houses that would be easy pickings. People seem to leave their doors unlocked and windows open all hours of the days. In the summer having open front doors is pretty common as well. I think these thieves are aware of this by simply driving through the neighborhood and taking advantage of these such weaknesses. Portland is a great city but I think there's alot of people here who think they are immune to any crime or that such a thing just doesn't happen in their neighborhood.

Don't forget humans best friend.... 14.Dec.2004 21:13

Downtown Vancouver

If your living situation permits, it would also be good to get a dog as well. They are fairly effective at deterring intruders and provide better companionship than an alarm system. Though if you are not going to be there with them most of the time, I'd advise at least two dogs, they will keep each other company and be less inclined to eat your house. (Mine did that before I got him another dog.)

Living in Vancouvers tweeker central, I noticed that after getting a dog, I stopped finding discarded rigs and other paraphenilia in the alley behind my place.

I would advise making sure that the yard the dogs are kept in when you are not home is properly secured. Bothe to keep them from getting out, (hit by cars, in fights, or picked up) and to make it hard for someone to get in. One occasionally hears stories of tweekers stealing dogs to sell to animal research or for baiting in illegal dog fights. Make sure you protect them as well as your property.

I'd reccomend going to the humane society, those dogs need homes, and make good pets. They have a good idea what you rescued them from.

two houses hit in my neighborhood 14.Dec.2004 21:29

Jen and tonic

My neighbor said someone took a pipe wrench or similar tool to the doors of two houses near us last week. They both had dead bolts though so the thieves couldn't get in. This was south of SE 26th and Holgate area. Sounds like tweakers or other folks not in their right minds.

Try Next Door 15.Dec.2004 00:23

S&G

There is the adage that B&E perps look for the 'easy' target. The corollary being, that if your place looks more difficult or troublesome than most of the rest of 'hood, they will go next door and you will get passed by.

This can be achieved by things like subduing the vegetation around entrances, keeping entrances well lit and visible from the street, making doors, windows appear, if not actually, to be locked with complexity and robustness. Security signage has been mentioned. Reduce hiding places around your building(s). Keep things that can be used to get up near windows away from the outside walls. Use curtains that either obscure the lower parts of windows or at least diffuse what can be seen from outside, if there are things of interest that might be seen from outside. Leave some interior light(s) on. Leave some audio that can be heard from around the building/doors. If yours is the only one on the block with bars on the windows, it's pretty likely that itl be the last to be hit.

The object is to make it look like there are easier places to burgle around you (hopefully much farther away). Not a good community attitude, but it's what you can do for yourself.

And, this all implies that the miscreant who is casing the block isn't dominated by the need of a fix, which might diminish caution, tactical discretion and discrimination, making all bets off.

The real threat in SE is not crime 15.Dec.2004 01:09

George Bender

During the 90s I lived in SE Portland for several years in a low-rent apartment building. Every election I would get slick literature in the mail from city and county candidates with photos of the family, lists of their community experience and endorsements, and vague issues statements. They would always say what they were going to do about crime. That seemed to be their main issue.

And I wondered why, because crime was not much of a threat to me or people like me. Poor people. What threatened us was the lack of jobs in SE, frequent layoffs, low wages, etc. Economic issues. I wondered why the candidates didn't know that. Perhaps it was because they were middle-class and lived in a different world. Probably not SE.


Pillowcase, yeah 15.Dec.2004 01:12

Henry Akeley

Gotta tell this tale. Many years ago, was walking home from the laundromat feeling pretty good -- chore's done and the evening was fine. Was probably whistling a tune but can't quite remember. Not having a real laundry bag I just used a pillowcase. Did not have that many clothes to wash so that's what I used.

So here I am walking alone down some neighborhood street, head high, whistling a tune at night with a laundry bag stuffed pretty full slung over my shoulder. And then there comes a cop in a car who drives right past, stops, backs up, stops again and gets out and walks up to have a chat.

And that's about all it was, just a chat -- he never even asked for name or ID. We talked about the fine weather and the laundry and guess he was satisfied that I was not some crook, and then he told me why he stopped. He said, "You're probably going to think I'm crazy but I drove by and saw you walking along with your laundry and all, and all I could think about was a cartoon of a thief hauling away the loot stuffed into a pillowcase." I had to laugh because I certainly, "resembled that remark!"

Anyway, just a story. Doesn't have much to do with anything.

How can we solve these things without calling the police? 15.Dec.2004 06:10

Solutions?

I've had my car broken into repeatedly, and the first time it happened, I really felt violated. It wasn't that stuff was taken, it was that it freaked me out to think that someone had invaded my personal "space." It really made me angry.

So I can totally understand the impulse to call the cops. That's what we're taught in this culture, after all. Let the pros handle it. They have the resources to check prints and stuff...right? (Plus, shouldn't they actually have some use other than beating us up for freely assembling?)

But the thing is, I think we need to figure out a way to support and help each other in situations like this, without calling the cops. I'm not saying there aren't officers who are friendly and helpful, but the fact is, their role in society is quesitonable at best -- protecting the possessions of those who have from those who do not, and protecting the status quo. Also, they kill people. Oh, they don't always mean to or anything, but that's often their first solution. If they had found the person who broke into your house, a few blocks away with a pillow case over his/her shoulder, maybe they would have confronted the "perp," and maybe they would have shot him/her. Would it really have been worth that? Death penalty for desperation? Yeh, I mean the person was an ass for breaking into your place, but is stuff really worth a person's life?

Now, that's an extreme outcome to be sure. Maybe they would have just arrested the person. But you never really know. Especially if the thief was a person of color, it's a risky thing to call the cops on them.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I'm certainly in no position to judge the decision you made. I may even have made the same one. It's scary to have someone brazenly invade your home, and a concerns for your safety is understandable. But as a community, we won't really be free of the oppressive function of the police until we can learn to do without them entirely. It's through the few helpful moments that they justify the less helpful ones like we saw on A22 and M20.

(By the way, collecting fingerprints and all that? Just symbolic window dressing. They don't actually have the resources or the time, or even the ambition to do much with all that. The only way they're gonna catch this burglar is if s/he makes a mistake the next time and gets caught in the act.)

Finally, the Oregonian's "meth" connection? Please. Don't quote the oregonian. No offense, but they lie to suit their own agenda. Right now, the police state wants more cops, and the way they generally get them is by parading a lot of "meth labs" on the news. I think it's probably even the same equipment being trotted out of different abandoned houses. Not that there isn't a meth problem, but there's also a severe poverty problem, and there could be any number of other reasons someone might be breaking into houses. Always better to refrain from assuming anything matches up with what the oregonian says. Remember: The corporate media lies.

THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS 15.Dec.2004 10:54

All the Desparate are NOT meth heads

I'm also disgusted with this "meth hysteria" the Oregonian is stirring up. The govorner is cutting aid to the disabled, but we'll get slot machines to pay for MORE STATE COPS> Hay, maybe the burglers are gambling addicts, and not meth addicts. WHile, we're at it, does anyone know if meth manufacturers REALLY are going to be put out of business because they cant go to Freddys and buy a box of Sudafed. PULEEZE. And how about the lack liveable wages in PDX, could THAT be the cause of a breakin? Finally" THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND! THey dont give a shit about your cds and checkbook. YEar ago, the police came to our door for some stoopid reason, and we all wound up in jail because of some pot paraphanalia in the house. THe cops wont even bother to pursue your burglar, they're too busy hassling protesters. The bush admin is cutting back on aid to the poor and disabled also, and I may have to consider crime myself. But your house is safe, I'll make sure I only steal from corporations, ok?

This is a police state 15.Dec.2004 11:04

a.co

This last comment was really right on.
I totally support the rights of surivvors of crime, but this indymedia feature contributes to the culture of fear that the corporate media has created in this country. By making crime appear to be one of the biggest issues facing Americans, rather than poverty, unemployment or health insurance, we are made to turn against ourselves, and look to the governement for policing, rather than joining together and resisting government and corporate oppression.
The biggest problem in America, and in the world, is this culture of fear. The war on terrorism is simply an extension of the war on drugs. Our incarceration rates (especially of black men) have skyrocketed because everything we see around us tells us to fear each other. We become individualistic, and place our needs above everyone else's, losing our sense of community and solidarity. We are left divided and defeated. This is why resistance movements have been so unsuccessful. Even though we have done so much to change this culture of fear, there is still a cop in our heart. We still value our needs over the needs of others. We cannot do this any longer. We need to let go of our fear, and let go of ourselves. If we do that, this corporate police state doesn't stand a chance.

The Police State 15.Dec.2004 12:37

still looking for a solution

a.co said that the culture of fear engendered by constant crime reporting is a serious problem in our society. I agree. Not only does it give us a skewed perspective about the world, it also undermines our sense of solidarity with one another. When the corporate media reports crime stats, they always present the alleged criminal as "other." Then they go house to house until they can find one of their neighbors to talk about how weird they were, or how they didn't act like other people in the neighborhood, how they "always had people coming and going at all hours" or whatever. (Remember that guy who was initially accused of planting the bomb at the Atlanta olympics? He had neighbors like that too. ...But he was innocent.) That kind of example teaches us to rat each other out.

Going around the country looking for gory crimes to "report" also gives us a sense of fear that is out of proportion to the problems, not to mention taking up valuable airtime that could be used to tell a story of substance that has any relevance to us. Although that isn't what the poster of this story did (it's a local story that pertains to a local concern), I still question the need to feature it. It does feed into the crime fervor.

Just one more thought. "Crime" is an arbitrary category. For instance, one could look at it from the perspective that having more than you need when some people are hungry is a "crime," and taking from someone who has more than they need is simply a redistribution of resources. There are many instances where someone is convicted of a "crime" because someone with power and wealth dictated that their actions would be criminal. Forest defenders, for example: If Simpson Logging cuts down a public forest, murdering trees and destroying ecosystems, the law does not call it a crime. But if Jane Forest Defender lays down in front of a bull dozer or climbs a tree to stop it, she is charged with "interfering with an agricultural operation" -- a crime. Usually, when one reads about crime statistics, one does not get to learn these kinds of intricacies.

Great story Henry 15.Dec.2004 18:19

Life should be a cartoon

It made me smile. I'm glad the cop shared his thoughts with you.

burglars! my god! in MY neighborhood! the NERVE! 15.Dec.2004 20:09

maybe they'll TAKE your truck next time

America's "war on drugs" comes from the exact same philosophical roots (and dates back to the same time period) as the Nazis' racial blood purity campaigns. The Oregonian just wants you worrying about your neighbors' drug habits (meth bad! alcohol good! happy holidays! shop at macy's!) instead of about the out-of-control unemployment rate and "cost of living" and about who's cashing the checks while everybody else pays those costs.