You see, my neighbourhood thief was knocking off pot plants and outdoor furniture. I saw him walking up the road several times with these items, but the guy looked like a 'roid rager so I wasn't about to start asking questions and figued he might be moving house locally.
But then he made the mistake of knocking off one of my plants, a delicate specimen I'd taken months to get going. And he was silly enough to put it in his window across the road.
I got some snaps of him, the plant, and dug through my photos to find one of the same plant in it's original location to show it was mine.
I took the lot down to the police station and handed it over. They couldn't believe it - and promptly drove straight around, knocked on the door and found an apartment full of stolen goods.
He was wanted for assault, had tipped a pool table onto someone in a drunken fight, was already on probation.
I had to go to court to give evidence and tell my story while this meathead stared at me. It was quite unnerving.
But he went away to jail and I've since moved, so now it's just a story to be told. The detective told me he wished all cases could be that easy.
Believe it or not but plant theft is a problem. Easy to sell at a market, no markings, no trace, and people aren't suspicious.
With the suspect's photo in the McDonald's, the police might have been able to find him, and convict him for possession of stolen property, especially with his criminal history. But the author wasn't done! She turned his email address into his complete online identity. This provided an extra link to the crime, the stolen GPS, and some extra supporting information, like the comment on MySpace about hitting the lottery. She made life easy for the police by finding the suspect's name. She stopped the case from falling through the cracks, and gave the police enough leverage to get a guilty plea.
This is why I don't believe (very strongly) in luck. Many facets of the case were fortunate: the Craigslist ad, the email reuse, the McDonalds surveillance picture, the MySpace profile, etc. But she was given multiple trails of breadcrumbs that she followed to their inevitable conclusion.
It doesn't seem as though the author had any prior experience tracking down a thief, or that she was executing a pre-existing plan when she eventually needed to.
Instead, she relied on her adaptability and her general base of knowledge to deal with a new contingency as it arose, without advance preparation.
If anything, the lesson here is to maintain your capacity to decide and act on the fly, and make use of whatever opportunities the situation affords, instead of trying to predict the unpredictable.
An amazing ending to an incredibly interesting and well-written piece. That's just how I think about the world - so much more good than bad. It's a shame most articles seem to focus only on the bad!
The movies would have you believe that detectives work around the clock and would do anything and everything to catch a crook. Rude awakening.
Seems like a lot of crimes must go unsolved because of this - time just seems like such a critical aspect of a lot of cases.
Well, to be fair, movies tend to deal with international espionage, zillions of dollars of diamonds/gold/cash/whatever, heinous murders, nuclear weapons, and things of that ilk, rather than stolen GPS devices.
Petty theft is typically (AIUI) dealt with by giving the victim a copy of a police report for use with the insurance company, and then dropping the original into a file cabinet.
Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I've found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn't deserve space in my head.
Ignoring injuries is a great practice, if the injury is not likely to be inflicted, again and again, on others.
The long term results of action vs. inaction will always have an impact on society as a whole and on one's personal quality of life; it just might not immediately noticeable.
If however, one is driven solely by revenge then it might cause one to expend way too many resources or cause one to take things too far but, still, intention has little effect on the external impact of an action.
Otherwise, you wouldn't mind if I stole your car.
The wallet itself I kind of get, but the rest is just data. With a ScanSnap and an iDrive account, the stuff that matters becomes so many electrons in the grid. Send the bits of dead tree off to Iron Mountain, insure your gadgets and stop worrying.
I think it's a sort of zen exercise, separating sentiment from utility. If suffering really is caused by attachment to transient things, then it seems to me that we have a truly unique opportunity to break attachments wholesale, at little or no cost. Keep your bits in the cloud and treat your atoms as if they're borrowed (which ultimately they are).
If we really want to reduce crime, locking people up isn't going to help - we have decades of recidivism as proof. There's no such thing as deterrent, not for people with chaotic childhoods who never developed self control or long-term thinking. If I'm robbed from, it's my fault, because I haven't done enough for the people in society with lives so crappy that petty theft seems like an attractive career.
Here in the UK, the average prison inmate is functionally illiterate, mentally ill and addicted to drink or drugs. One in ten is psychotic and one in five has attempted suicide. I imagine the numbers are much the same in the US. I see a lot of comments in this thread about preventing crime, about punishment and deterrent. If it worked, why is recidivism so high? Is the best we can do just locking people up?
Regarding the comment, the problem is that the "data" is more than the actual pixels on the scraps of paper. The data includes the knowledge that the scraps were actually held by the giver. The data includes a part of the relationship that is embodied by the the scraps of paper. A digital version would never replace that.
If you are robbed, it is not your fault. While I agree that our current efforts aren't working and really need to be re-evaluated (unfortunately, that always falls on idiotic, extremist "hang them all" or "give them a kiss and tell them it's all right" politics), when you are robbed, it is always somebody else's fault, even if you left the garage open and the car unlocked.
Excusing others' illegal actions will never make the problem go away, and there will always be sociopaths who believe they deserve what they take. They will never have permission to take from me.
that person would probably prefer you just dump it all in the trash. Because finding fragments of your private life on people's yards and scattered on the street, in the shrubs and gutters, is a unique kind of psychological torment. Suddenly a routine violation starts to feel really personal.
She wasn't upset about the stuff being stolen, she was upset about the stuff lying all over the neighborhood for the world to see. She felt violated and exposed.
The proper digital analogy is having your "bits in the cloud" hacked and posted on a public website for all the world to see.
So, you mean Facebook.
No wonder some people find we hacker/geek types so unlikeable.
If every person who commited a violent crime went to jail for life, would that reduce violent crime? I feel like it would, although I have no evidence of it.
OK, maybe a few things to add. Snarks would point out that this was overkill, that insurance would have covered most of it (most of it was recovered anyway) and self-sleuthing can lead to dangerous situations. But as someone who's had their house robbed several times, a modern tale of vengeance well-told is much appreciated.
Possibly true. But nothing is as cathartic as personally tracking down the person that wronged you.
Its just stuff. You never know what the motivations they had for doing it. It could have done all sorts of good, at a cost of some personal sacrifice. Is it wrong? Society says so. But personal "justice" is just as extreme.
And yes, I have had things stolen from me.
Its almost like you didn't read the story or something.
Or the person could be serial thief relying on the stolen goods to avoid work and with an aptitude to participate in other criminal activities. Just like he was.
The current common sentence lengths don't seem that useful to me, though. Sentences like 6-36 months are just about the worst I can think of, keeping someone in jail just long enough to inculcate all the negative effects, while not actually keeping them off the streets that long. It creates this odd revolving-door mentality, where in some communities it's completely common to be in and out of prison, and everyone's got a bunch of criminals in their social circle. Now we could just lock all those same people up for 20+ years and not let them back out of prison to reoffend, but that seems like a problematic solution as well, given the current numbers (you'd have to be prepared to permanently lock up a large proportion of the population).
One start might be to start basing policy on empirical data. Can we find patterns in which kinds of policies have deterrent or anti-deterrent effects on which kinds of people? My impression is that laws and sentencing are not very strong based on empirical research currently. It does occasionally get brought up in debates, but the stuff written into the laws seems mostly pulled out of a hat.
If thieves could count on having to do real work to repay debt that would both reduce the incentive to steal and possibly reduce sentence lengths for some cases. Spend several months working off a debt for a petty theft and room and board at the prison and that job at McDonalds starts looking a little better. Maybe even that GED.
The goal should be lower incentives for theft, raise incentives for real work and a clear demonstration to the thieves that their sentence is tied to the value of the stolen item.
This obviously doesn't apply in cases of physical violence or murder but for the cases you seem to be focusing on in your discussion I think it's superior to straight time based term.
The insurance company paid up, both for the household items taken, and the car insurance for the stolen stereo and damaged interior. In fact, with the new-for-old policy, I got replacements on some old stuff with nice new items.
The takeaway is : check your policy. You want to insure against loss and stupidity.
Sometimes it's not always cheaper to live in bad areas, when you add up the total cost of living.
So maybe the criminals often don't even realize that what they do is actual work?
late at night I found a wallet on the pavement and decided to deliver it myself the following day since the address on the driver's license was very close to my place.
Next day I discover the guy moved. But with some of his info, I found the Google cache of an old Craigslist ad he had posted, that gave me his phone number. He was pretty happy.
Can anyone enlighten me on what she means?
http://www.spokeo.com is one of many and might be the one used in the article, though Spokeo gives you 3 months for your $15.
Those APIs expose people's email addresses?
Sorry for the line of questions, this is sortof a jolt to my view of reality.
Where's he going to get the money? That GPS he stole didn't resell for much...
This guy has already been in prison; he got caught stealing and was sent back to finish his first sentence. Not everyone is the mafia don that you see on Law & Order. This guy probably has no connections and no money. Which means he has to do his dirty work himself.
And after two years in prison, I doubt a direct ticket back is his first priority.
Of course, the article doesn't elaborate on what his previous sentence was, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised if it was theft, fencing, scams or fraud etc. and not violence.
Of course, she could be the lottery winner, finding the guy who was looking for a reason to become the next serial killer, but that is unlikely.
In fact, it is highly unlikely the guy will ever come across this article. He doesn't seem the type to google his own name.
I'm extremely surprised that the police paid any attention to this: Keeping valuables -- well, not really valuables -- in an unlocked car...that just doesn't fit the bill of the sort of crime that the police will even show up to your place for a statement. That the officer(s) actually put in legwork, and the justice system carried out a sentence, makes it almost hard to believe.
The guy stole a backpack from an unlocked car with visual valuables. Police in my area once tried to make it a crime to have visible valuables inside of a vehicle, locked or not, because it encouraged crimes of opportunity by casual criminals. It essentially wasted their time.
This guy wasn't going to pass the car by and then decide to murder an old lady.
Just like the one before her I guess - he was already on probation.
Yet now the justice system is going to spend tens of thousands of dollars+ incarcerating him, and the net result will be that his options after being released will lean even more heavily towards criminality.
I found the post on Craigslist the next day and contacted the person with a fictitious email and name. He emailed me back asking for my phone number to set up a meeting.
At that point I had three options:
a) File a police report/contact the insurance company and have my insurance rate hiked up (for a < $100 GPS)
b) Meet the thief in-person and pull a Chuck Norris on him
c) Let it go and pick another GPS up / Fix my car door
I chose C as I didn't like the outcome of A, nor the possibility of him and his hooligans retaliating against my family if I went with B.
I and many of my friends have been burglarized and then tried to track down the perpetrator. Also I am very active in my neighborhood block watch so I get involved in the details of many personal property crimes. Even with the most well meaning law enforcement officials and other institutions who might have information you need to solve your personal crime, the kind of cooperation this lady received is unheard of. In fact, I would be a little upset all these institutions spent this much time on a crime that is partly her fault. The rest of her details don't add up in my head.
Mark my words: This story will turn out to be more vigilante porn than the truth.
For the typical Salon reader, if a homeless member of a minority group smashed their window and grabbed their stuff, they would feel resignment. They wouldn't want to throw the book at someone who had suffered so much. In fact, they would actually get more angry at a writer who pushed for harsh penalties and jail time. Contrast to their reaction to this criminal.
From a purely utilitarian perspective, if you are victimized, it is better if your attacker is from a group that has no sympathetic constituency, deserved or not.
I checked the T-Mobile website and saw that there had been two calls to Central America. So I got on Skype and called both numbers. After a lot of rings one of the numbers picked up. The person spoke English. I said, "I'm calling to ask if someone called you from the United States yesterday. My phone was stolen and I think he or she might know something about the theft". The person claimed not to have been called the day before. After a few more minutes he admitted that he did receive a call. I asked if he knew someone in San Francisco and he said he had a friend who was a student who would never be involved in a crime.
I could hear the profound disappointment in his voice. I have no idea if the person who called him was the person who stole the phone, or if he may have bought the phone from someone else. But the general evasiveness of the voice at the other end made me suspect that perhaps his friend was the thief.
I don't begrudge someone a bit of petty theft if they are broke, but it does seem callous to do $3500 worth of property damage in order to steal property that you could sell for (at best) $80.
I also found it heartbreaking to think that this thief had let down someone back home who cared about him. I mean, I'd teach that guy to write code or something. Heck I'd teach anyone.
Also, I seem to recall this turns out to be incredibly cheap for the amount of reduction in recidivism it causes.
I'm rather tired of reading about these career criminals on parole victimizing hardworking citizens, while others who haven't harmed anyone or stolen anything sit in prison.
The story is entertaining but the guy lost a lot more than her and it seems pretty foolish to tell the world it was because of her. If the guy uses craigslist, myspace, dating sites, and facebook, how many degrees of separation can there really be? I hope a lot.
Not to mention she does take a few jabs at the guy and his potential girlfriend, saying they look sleazy/neo-nazi/etc.
Not saying what she did is wrong, just saying that clearly identifying herself as the one responsible for his punishment (clearly identifying him too) isn't the smartest move for her safety.
Reading how one can exploit tech to accomplish something gives way to entrepreneurial ideas.
Its a shame that many get away with so much.
He taunted me over the phone when I called and asked to have it back. I updated my Facebook to relate that my phone was stolen; he logged in via iPhone and updated "nvm got my phone back." A real class act.
I remembered his name was "Chase" and he was into music, so I looked through MySpace for all the guys named Chase in Chicago. Through that, I found his Twitter account and sent him an @reply indicating that I filed a police report and would have him arrested at his next gig. A few minutes later he started the trip back to Hyde Park and returned the phone to me.
So it reads more like Credit card statement -> McDonald's photo -> arrest. With all her extraneous snooping around that?
I don't want to make assumptions, but I bet there was one annoyed police officer in California.
Bragging about sending a young man to prison over her blackberry?
I'm not sure what the correct response is, but the article conveyed an attitude that this was a clear cut narrative on the triumph of good over evil, casting herself as the heroine.
Another perspective is that a common thief, desperate to make ends meet, becomes the victim of a vindictive blogger. Guess I'm alone on this one :).
As it stands, this guy had time and money for leisure activities like social networks, and his own friends were surprised he didn't have a legitimate job. That doesn't strike me as something you can say about someone forced into poverty by their circumstances.
How do you know this?
if one is that desperate to make ends meet, and i've seen such people, they'd be busting their asses and not lazying around in the parks or malls with girlfriends
Compare with this story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=8916475...
thanks for the reply -- great article.