Do You Sell Bats Here? Or How I learned about Burglars and their SOP.

Me: Do you sell bats here?

Sports store clerk: Baseball, softball or cricket?

Me: Burglars…

She looked at me with concerned eyes.

Me: errr…protection against burglars!

I know what you’re thinking. Violence does not solve anything. Yes, I agree with you but forgive me – I was venting.

It’s been a few years since the incident happened. The burglar(s) had gotten in via the back door at the ground level, made way for the first floor which was totally and utterly ransacked. Doors were broken – our personal effects strewn about, computers missing, watches gone, and jewellery taken. Even my daughter’s schoolbag had not been spared. Oddly enough as well, my wife’s cosmetic products were also missing which raised my suspicion that at least one of them was a female …or feminine.

It had been a rainy night – ideal for house breaking it seemed – the storm conveniently masking any unwanted generated noises.

The worst part however was not the missing items, but the mess they had left behind – not that I expected the perpetrators to clean up after themselves. But hey, a little etiquette would probably have gone a long way in reducing my resentment towards them!

When the police came, they dusted for fingerprints. And wow, was it ever so difficult to clean that black powdery residue out from the furniture and wardrobe surfaces!

When the police in turn left, I went to work and after a period of scrubbing futilely with various detergents and cleaners, I finally discovered that Magic Erasers worked best. These were foams made up of formaldehyde – melamine – sodium bisulfite copolymer. They felt soft to the touch, but were hard on those black blemishes.

Formerly used as an insulation material for pipes and ductwork and also as a soundproofing material, the white sponges’ effective cleaning properties were just recently realised. So thankfully, with the Magic Erasers in hand, I proceeded to erase the black marks out of existence quickly from the affected areas.

What was harder to erase though was my regret for not installing the security system sooner at our home. I have had that nagging inner voice urging me to put the system in place for quite some time. Instinct or was it intuition had also told me that our home was being watched. But no, I had to procrastinate. Leaving the house and going abroad from Brunei without a security system in place had been a regretful mistake.

And it had been a very expensive mistake at that as well – we estimated that the total loss was around $20K.

My wife warily eyed the baseball bat that I had purchased from the sporting goods store.

“It’s just temporary”, I had told her, “the home security company will come in to install the system some time next week”

She hadn’t looked placated.

I had opted for some cctv cameras, motion sensors, door and window sensors, and a siren – all connected to a communication panel that would call our phones should an intruder be detected.

I also considered getting a German Shepherd – the dog, mind you and not a sheep herder from Berlin. The dog breed was expensive to get and maintain. My rather pitiful alternative had been to get a goose. Geese were noisy animals, I had surmised – effective deterrents against would be intruders. They were also known to be aggressive, as I recalled from my childhood when visiting a friend in the countryside. In the end however, I gave up on both animals. For simplicity’s sake, the security system would have to suffice.

Unfortunately and this was playing in mind : according to one study – burglars were likely to come back and target the same home again. Additionally, repeat burglaries often occur quickly after the first one – 25% within one week and 51% within one month.

Not very reassuring.

Perhaps I had understood these repeat tendencies even earlier when I had been a child. I had been staying with my uncle when his place was burgled, and his driver was confronted in the middle of the night. Luckily no one was injured. It had been a stand off before the driver wisely let the burglar go. Total loss had been a few hundred dollars of money belonging to the driver. In the aftermath of the burglary however, everyone in the household had been on edge. That included me and I had decided to arm myself with a rather dull axe which I had kept under the bed.

A rustle in the living room one night, and I was there in an instant brandishing the makeshift bludgeoner/decapitator … well more of a bludgeoner than a decapitator thanks to its rusted rather non existent sharp edges.

As my eyes acclimatised to the weak lights of the living room however, instead of an intruder, the tall stern form of my uncle met my gaze.

We looked at each other, before he looked down at me in my pyjamas – a smallish 13 year old in the dim light looking somewhat out of place with a questionable tree cutter implement in his hand.

“Hey”, he had said “Put that away before you hurt somebody!”

“Thanks for coming to the station, sir”, the policeman in front of me spoke “We’ve talked to the suspects.”

Back to the present – a few weeks later after our home had been broken into. Earlier, I had seen the result of the ongoing investigation on the tv news. The police had felt it was necessary to inform the public of their progress.

“No problem”, I answered to the sergeant. “So any leads from the perpetrators about my assets?”

The sergeant, probably in his late 40s answered “We found a team of 3 operators- 2 male and 1 female. They match your description of them.”

Weeks earlier, I had informed the police that I felt the burglars were at least composed of a couple : male and female – siblings or a husband and wife team. A third possible male could be acting as a lookout while the other two did the ransacking in our house. Call it an intuition.

“They’re a career housebreaking team. Been in the area for some time, and broke into several houses nearby”, the sergeant continued.

I nodded, engrossed.

“But”, said the sergeant “according to them, they didn’t do your house”

“Huh?!”, I began “And you believed them?”

The sergeant was quiet.

“OK”, I continued “Now, let’s see the perspective from their side. They’ve confessed and I’m assuming from the evidence that they broke into certain houses. Surely they are telling the truth when they said that they didn’t break into my house? Or did they?”

I paused letting the words sink in.

Then I continued, “Or they’re just being smart. I mean, come on – if they were to admit breaking into my house – wouldn’t that result in further criminal charges?”

The sergeant was deep in thought.

“Get back to me please”, I said finally. “You really have some trust issues to sort out”

And I left.

Not surprisingly, I never did recover the stolen assets.

The document – https://www.npcc.police.uk/documents/crime/2011/201109CBAInvBurGP.pdf provides a very good resource / guide on investigative options and good practice. It was published by the Association of Police Officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency of the UK.

In its preface the following paragraph got to me –

“Offenders try to exploit every weakness in investigative methods. They test the latest preventive measures and work tirelessly to undermine efforts to reduce domestic burglary. Many will learn from their mistakes, alter their tactics and use new ways to combat security devices. They will share their experience and work in partnership with other criminals and those who handle stolen goods.”

Being smart has its advantages, definitely.

Years later, a police officer friend told me of his experience dealing with white collar offenders.

“Their confidence,” he had told me “it’s always their confidence …. and I suppose their bravado and lack of guilt, and of not getting caught that encourage them further.”

“You need to nip it in the bud!”, he had continued.

For a moment there, I thought he had meant “butt” instead of “bud” and my imagination concocted images of my baseball bat connecting with the posterior region of a burglar.

Yeesh!

Still, in this age of Covid 19 uncertainties – the Central Statistics Office (CSO) of Ireland showed that the public health emergency had affected nearly every area of crime, with the number of robberies, thefts, extortion and hijacking offences all decreasing substantially – an outlook shared most likely by many countries.

According to their statistics – burglaries were down by 20.4%, thefts and related offences were down by 17.7% and robbery, extortion and hijacking offences were down by 12%.

Hmm… perhaps we do have a natural anti-theft system, after all.

Still, the trick is not to be complacent. Like anything in the world – it’s what you do with the knowledge that is important. Action speaks louder than words … or thoughts for that matter.

But then there’s this story by Allan and Janet Alhlberg that throws you off balance.

Burglar Bill lives alone with a house full of stolen property. Every night after supper he goes off to work, stealing things. Every dawn he comes home with his sack full of stolen goods and sits down to his breakfast of stolen toast and marmalade, and stolen coffee. Then he goes upstairs to go to sleep in his stolen bed.

One night, as he makes his usual round of break-ins, Burglar Bill sees a big brown box on the front step of a house he is about to burgle. Since his sack is already full of stolen things and it is almost dawn, he puts the box un­der one arm, swings his sack of stolen goods over his shoulder, and goes home for breakfast.

After Burglar Bill has had his stolen breakfast, something in the brown box begins to make a loud noise. Burglar Bill opens the box and discovers a baby inside. Thinking that he has picked up an abandoned child, Burglar Bill immediately begins tending to the needs of his new baby. Surprisingly, Burglar Bill shows himself to be a devoted and caring father.

All goes well until, having come home early one night to put his child to bed, Bill hears someone trying to burgle his own house. Putting on the light, he exposes the thief, who turns out to be a woman Bill recognizes from the Police Gazette as Burglar Betty. Bill introduces himself to Betty and the two burglars sit down to a snack of cocoa and ginger cookies.

Betty spots the baby clothing around Bill’s house and soon Bill tells her about finding the abandoned baby. As it turns out, it was Betty herself who had left the baby on the doorstep of a house she was in the process of burg­ling. Soon Betty is happily reunited with her baby and she and Bill are making plans to get married. Before they get married, however, they return all their stolen goods, one item at a time, and then they resolve to live an honest life together.

Such Fantasy. But yet such a humane treatment of burglars and robbers. In a world where thieves are seen as off-colour, the story forces us to consider that for any action, there are certainly underlying reasons for it. Behind the tapestry of their wrongdoings – burglars are husbands, fathers , wives, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters – with options for redemption.

Alright, I’m putting away the bat (unless it is for self-defense 😬) .

The security system is on.

But more importantly- let’s also see what else we can do for the community to make sure that the wayward amongst us get to go home.

Be Safe, Be Well, and Be Kind, People.

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