I did some amateur sleuthing as well, but unfortunately the most high tech thing I used was a zoom lens on a digital camera.
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.
An architect/sculptor friend in Mexico was burglarized once, and when he came home ran gleefully from room to room to find out which sculpture the thieves had preferred. When he found out they’d only taken a couple radios and a TV, he was crestfallen.
This highlights the value of contingency planning and tenacity.
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.
> The movies would have you believe that detectives work around the clock and would do anything and everything to catch a crook.
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.
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.
I think the motivation is important. In this case, there was the desire to stop the perpetrator from hurting others, so taking some time to pursue the case was driven (in part) by compassion, and not merely revenge.
Ignoring injuries is a great practice, if the injury is not likely to be inflicted, again and again, on others.
That is the short sighted view though. If everyone always turns the other cheek then there is little consequence to hurting or screwing others, which then reinforces the wrong-doers behaviors and perhaps even encourages others to join in. Within reason, one should always make it clear that certain actions are simply not acceptable and that there are clear consequences for those actions. If not for your self, it may save someone else from that same injustice.
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.
You'd need clarification from pg himself, but I always took that more metaphorically and in a business/startup sense. I think there is a certain amount of personal strength to be gained from going vigilante on a small time crook and turning them over to the cops. We feel best when we feel the most control over our personal circumstances.
Yeah, especially in context (discussing Newton getting sucked into the age-of-letters equivalent of flamewars), it seems to refer more to turning the other cheek when people attack your work, post unpleasant replies on an email thread, maybe even copy your startup ideas, etc., rather than turning the other cheek when someone burglarizes your house.
Tucked into this tale is also a cautionary warning: be careful about what you post online. In this particular case I applaud the victim on her tenacity and the thief was a not-very-tech-savvy person. However if the roles were reversed and the offender was the tech savvy one, imagine the havoc that could be wrought on someones life.
It strikes me that people who are bothered by theft in the modern age just haven't got the whole digital revolution on quite a profound level. She lists the things that bothered her as "the BlackBerry with contact information for dear old friends, the wedding anniversary wallet that her husband bought her when she finished chemo, stuffed with about two years' worth of love letters from her toddlers, hopeful doctors' notes, and other scraps of paper she couldn't bear to part with".
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?
I disagree with the parent, but I'm disappointed to see so many people voting their agreement with a comment, not with whether the comment is valuable or not. You guys can take that attitude back to reddit, please (yes, I've been hear more than a year...).
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.
You need to read the next rest of the sentence and the next:
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.
I agree... being robbed induces sharp feelings of rage and helplessness that don't fade for a long time. That said, I voted the grandparent up (from -1) because there are a couple good points in there.
It isn't actually clear that that reduces crime, though, if you're advocating it from a utilitarian perspective (as opposed to advocating longer prison sentences as morally justified punishment, which is a different argument). For example, doing the opposite, releasing people early under various kinds of early-release and parole programs, generally doesn't appear to increase either crime rates or recidivism rates, at least in any studies I can find. And increasing sentence length also rarely has a statistically significant effect on either crime rates or recidivism rates. One alternative that does seem to often have an effect is increasing policing, i.e. increase the probability of being caught rather than the severity of the punishment if caught. (Doubling the sentence length and doubling the being-caught probability each has the same effect on an "expected years of prison for committing this crime" computation, but they seem to have different deterrent effects.)
I just meant that if we keep people who have demonstrated they are violent in jail longer, that should keep them off of the streets. My assumption was that in jail they'd commit less crimes -- at least on people who weren't in jail.
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.
I know HN etiquette dictates that my comment should add something to the conversation, otherwise a simple upvote will suffice, but I have nothing to add: I just wanted to state that this story is awesome.
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.
What are you going to do? Kill them? Maim them? Bring it out in blood equity? Or some sort of "bringing them to justice?"
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.
So we should just let him romp around, stealing what he feels like? I'm all for improving jails (and not filling them with people busted for drugs), but this guy sounds like he ought to be spending some time in a facility where he is not at liberty to steal people's things, however it's run. Like others have noted, he was already on probation for some other crime, which is likely what got him locked up, not simply stealing the GPS.
Distinguishing those cases is the trick, I suppose. Especially for first-time offenders, there are people who might be deterred from future offenses by being put on probation, once they've realized that they got caught and had better knock it off, who would instead turn into more hardened criminals if they're put in jail (and, with the current state of U.S. jails, likely end up joining a prison gang). But there are other people who have to physically be restrained from committing more crimes.
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.
I've always thought that a policy of repayment would be both the fairest and most deterrent policy. Jail time should be dependent not on time spent but on time to repayment. Theft should be considered a debt. Repayment of that debt should be worked off.
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.
I do like the idea of repayment, but in practice, can most people in jails really earn any money with which to repay? Seems like there aren't that many unskilled jobs around anymore, especially ones that can take place inside of jail.
I'm not totally knowledgable about insurance, but I'm pretty sure if you leave the car door unlocked (or apartment door for that matter), insurance doesn't cover the theft. There needs to be some sort of forced entry, as far as I remember.
I left my car unlocked and accidentally left the garage door up. I lost the stereo from the car, and suffered a lot of console damage as well. I had two surfboards, some tools and a set of CD's stolen. It was all completely my fault for bumping the garage door remote (I now leave it in the car, always).
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.
If you lived in a bad enough neighborhood and had an insurance policy like that, "accidentally" leaving your doors unlocked would be a cheap and easy insurance fraud--which is why some insurers are reluctant to cover people in that situation.
I can't imagine anyone who lives in SF ever leaving anything visible in the car. Even leaving spare change or an old blanket in the back seat causes people to break in within hours (causing damage to the vehicle far in excess of any value of property stolen). One of the worst parts of SF. Contrasted with most Gulf Arab countries where I felt comfortable leaving $10k+ in equipment in unlocked vehicles parked for days.
So... isn't there something in user agreements that avoids this sort of thing? Maybe I should read it closer, but I would expect "will not sell my email address to third parties" would be a common clause. And if it wasn't, I'd expect some sort of consumer backlash.
Sorry for the line of questions, this is sortof a jolt to my view of reality.
What money? He could ask a favor from his buddies, provided of course he has the same revengeful mentality as the victim. This is quite unlikely but still works as a deterrent for many people that would otherwise take similar actions as the victim. A solution to this problem might help in the battle against crime. Just to give an idea, something like an e-testimony with a digital certification that can be connected to the person's identity details only from qualified public servants.
So his friend is going to risk 20 years in prison just to get revenge?
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.
I disagree, not with the stats, but with the idea that the stats imply in any way that she could be at additional risk. Conventional wisdom (I'm surprised by the lack of data around this topic) is that most people re-offend because they have no real connections with people anymore and can't find reasonable employment.
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.
A guy who is ripping off backpacks from unlocked cars isn't in the mafia or the Yakuza: He doesn't have a group of thugs to call upon. And I doubt he takes it terribly personally -- rip people off and you'll get burned eventually. Acting hurt and vindictive about it seems pretty foolish.
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.
I'm all for vengeance but it just seems ironic and unfortunate that Johnny Boi will almost inevitably get out of prison sometime in the next 2 years more hardened and better equipped to be a complete fuckup, undoubtedly progressing to even stupider but possibly more violent and disruptive crimes. Just saying.
Community service. Monitored parole. Work programs...
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.
There is a gradient of criminality, and committing a non-violent crime of opportunity (where he even discarded much of the proceeds) is pretty low on the scale.
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.
Good for her. I went through something similar a few months ago. I had my car parked in the driveway and similarly someone broke into it (it was locked, but didn't have an alarm) and they stole my GPS and chargers.
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.
Righteous vengeance. Fortunately for her, the demographics of the thief allow the audience to unhesitatingly endorse law enforcement action without blaming the victim. Many people who have been victimized in SF are not so lucky.
He looked like a neo-nazi. Most people who are convicted for robbery in SF do not.
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.
Interesting point. My car was broken into a few months ago. The thief stole a GPS unit from the glovebox and a $20 mobile phone. The damage to the car was $3500 plus the $150 in property stolen.
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.
Good thing it wasn't over state lines. I had done some sleuthing on a fellow that took 2.4K from me, had his name, bank info, dad's name, city - nearly the works. The local police wouldn't get involved since I was out of state, and the FBI wouldn't get involved because the crime totals of this individual wasn't over 10K. That was several years ago and I just moved on, but I remember feeling that justice was for the rich. At the time, 2.4K was a lot of money to me.
So, the lack of privacy of social media is not so 1-way after all (picture Zuckerberg searching your personal info from his Dr Evil control room with government henchmen in waiting ;-). It's 2-way: anyone can peer into anyone's life. Sometimes for a good cause, sometimes not...
I wouldn't have contributed to putting a guy who is engaged and about to have a child in jail for 2 years (which would probably piss a lot of people off) and then posted the whole story, in intimate detail, on a popular site, tied to my real identity.
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.
He committed the crimes; he is responsible for the consequences. He knew he had a pregnant girlfriend, and chose to not care. To let someone continue on a destructive path against the community around him isn't dong anyone any favors, not him, his girlfriend, or his child.
Doesn't mean its not going to piss him and his family off that this woman went to those lengths to make it happen. You can't deny that people have strong, sometimes irrational, emotions. Anonymizing the story wouldn't have made it any less interesting and protected her from any retaliation (from him or friends; even a brick through the window would be a pain to deal with).
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.
In April 2009, at a frat party, this guy asked to use my iPhone to make a call. I had seen him at a different party the previous summer, so I let him use it. He walked away with my phone.
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.
It's much more likely that the two year prison sentence was due to the young man's violation of his probation than for petty theft. Anyway, I didn't think the author was bragging about the prison sentence -- that was up to a judge to decide. Rather, the author was bragging about tracking the guy down. Surely you don't think the thief should have gotten away with his crime scot-free?
No, this article is about using publicly available information to send a guy to jail that committed multiple crimes. It's not just about her blackberry it's about taking stuff that belongs to somebody else.
He should have stolen the entire car before you would have him sent to prison? If someone were to pickpocket a single $1 bill from my pocket, I'd want him to be punished, to try and deter him from doing it again.
If he's actually poor and desperate, at least now he has a roof over his head and three meals a day.
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.
Well, I certainly don't agree with you being downvoted into oblivion. It's a valid opinion and one that I may subscribe to if I had any reason to believe that you were right about the personal situation off the thief. But without the personal history of this thief, I have no reason to suppose he differs from most criminals, who often haven't really tried to make a regular living.