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by Peter Moskos

May 26, 2016

Burgled in NOLA

We were burgled while out eating dinner in New Orleans.

Not that I knew it then, but right before we left the home, somebody in the St. Roch League of Non-Aligned Residents reported:
A 30ish black male about 5'6" wearing a blue t shirt and gold shorts on a light colored bike (off white, I think) was hopping fences on N. Villere and Elysian checking out people's back yards. I just saw him go down Marigny toward St. Claude. Thought I'd let y'all know.
(Our neighbor, who was home, told me about this later.)

Could be worse, thinking of all the things he didn't steal and the greater mess he could have made (like, he didn't leave a pile of shit on the floor). The only thing that seems to be gone is my (new but cheap) laptop.

Could be better, too, needless to say.

There's always some irony when I'm on the other end of police services. And now, like any citizen, I can bitch that it's been over three hours since I called 911. Some good research shows that a long response time doesn't piss people off as much as waiting around not knowing if cops will ever show up. I can confirm that. I guess I'll go to bed.

This is probably all I'll post till I'm back home next week.

For the record, I would have liked police to stop this guy before he came in through our window.

Update: After an 8(!)-hour wait, NOLA police service was most excellent. The officer was a thoughtful New Orleanian with 19 years on. We investigated. We waited for crime lab. We chatted about policing. We learned two neighbors also got hit. The officer read my op-ed in the Sun. In this house, crime lab got prints and DNA off a can of energy drink the burglar took from the fridge, drank half of, and left on the counter. And they also prints from the window that allowed entry. Another neighbor has a camera on this building, so there should be nice video of the guy coming in. All in all, were it not for the actual burglary, it was a very pleasant way to spend a couple hours.

It's amazing how much stuff wasn't taken (Zora's computer, camera, NYC house keys, power tools). And luckily, right before we left for dinner, I went back inside and locked our bikes together (my very expensive folding bike and Zora's rental) saying, "well, this will make it harder for a burglar to walk away with these."

The only part that really bothers me is an 8-hour response time. I called 911 at 01:43, again at 03:24, and a cop showed up at 09:45. Seriously? I wouldn't have minded if they told me when I called the first or second time, "an officer will be there between 9 and noon tomorrow." No problem. I'll go to bed. There's something be said for waiting for light, anyway.

But if you say an officer in "on the way," a reasonable person might expect an officer to be, well, on the way. Are we supposed to wait up? I did, for far too long. Are we supposed to disturb the crime scene to go to bed? Eventually we did. Should I close the window in which he came? (I had to, after the world's loudest morning mosquitoes wouldn't let me sleep even after I gave up waiting.) There has got to be a better way.

The other weird thing is the burglar riffled through the books. Burglars never do that.



Andrew Laurence said...

It must be hard to time a burglary for the exact same time you feel a shit coming on. :-)

I'm sorry for your loss. I haven't been burgled since 1980 or so, but I remember how badly it sucks, particularly when it happens where you actually live full-time, as it did to me (ironically, they got very little that time, too).

I hope the laptop was encrypted or had nothing proprietary (like your next book) on it.

Adam said...

I've always thought each shift in each district should have one or two cars designated for answering calls for not-in-progress property crimes. Those officers would just go from one call to the next, writing reports all day. Shitty job, to be sure, but the officers could rotate who would do it each day. The dispatcher would, as you suggest, give callers an ETA so they wouldn't be sour about having to wait several hours. As you say, people wouldn't care about a long wait time if they knew they could go back to sleep or go to the store and expect the officer at a particular time. That system would then free up the actual post officers to do more proactive patrolling and more of that "community policing" stuff I keep hearing about.

john mosby said...

Do you have any rival criminologists at Tulane? Taking your laptop in hopes of poaching your next article; drinking your Red Bull to mark the territory; then being distracted by the books - kind of fits the MO....


Adrian said...

Some people store cash in books.

Anonymous said...

Those officers would just go from one call to the next, writing reports all day. Shitty job, to be sure

It's the kind of gig they should have for old patrol guys who are getting a bit creaky but aren't yet in a position to retire. There's only so many front desk type spots and right now we staff those with retired guys.

Unknown said...

If you recall Chris Rock did a bit were he said if you want to hide money hide it in books cuz (insert slang word for black shiftless person per other bit) don't read. The whole bit was about black on black burglaries after a discussion of who he worries about at ATM. It was a performance in D.C. If you haven't seen you really should as it is if it was written for you.

Andrew Laurence said...

I'm a little surprised they investigated and took prints at all. In Oakland, they don't. You can't call 911 either, unless the crime is in progress. You can only file a report by computer. If you don't have a computer, you can go to the police station (there's only one, downtown near Jack London Square) and use theirs. I'm not sure whether it's available 24x7 as I don't live in Oakland and do have a computer.

Do you think you were treated better because you're an ex-cop? I find Comcast gives me better service when my internet is screwed up, because I work in IT, or maybe just because I'm savvier than the average home user.

Moskos said...

Man, I *hope* I'm being treated better because I was a cop. (And also because I'm savvier and more honest than the average crime victim.)

As a rule, I usually hold off telling cops I'm a cop because I want to see how they work and how I'm treated without privilege.

In this case, even though I'm the victim, I don't really have a dog in the fight. It's not my house. I lost a cheap computer. I'm not getting it back. Oh well. I thought it was going to be a quick report. The responding officer did not know I was a cop yet when he said, right off the bat, that we'd be waiting for crime lab. That surprised me. But once I knew we'd have a bit of wait, I told him my past so I could ask most direct questions and get more honest answer.

Crime lab (civilians) didn't know my status, by the way, but they were extra good because one crime lab tech was... in training. So it was all done very well. And crime lab had a DNA swab that we didn't have in 2001. Finger print dusting was done just like I learned in the academy... and never once did as a cop.

And a detective did show up, which certainly would not normally happen for a run-of-the-mill burglary. But he showed up not when it was known I was a cop but after a combination of three things: 1) there was an honest and truthful victim (which is rare), 2) three houses had been hit, and 3) (and I think most importantly) our neighbor has a security camera that covered the point of entry. Three real burglaries that might actually get cleared? That doesn't happen every day.

Moskos said...

I've seen that Chris Rock bit. Good stuff.

People hide money in books because no criminal looks in books! I wonder if Chris Rock taught burglars to look in books.

But for what it's worth, the detective I spoke to said he's never seen that before either.

Moskos said...

As to writing reports all days. Yeah, it would be seen as kind of shitty. But it would probably do patrol officers some good to spend one day a week dealing with mostly honest victims and not chasing radio runs.

There's a certain level of professionalism that would go along with taking good reports and hitting your scheduled appointment times. And there's empathy to be gained from dealing with more honest victims. And while cops hate paperwork, it might be good one day a week not to have to answer radio calls, be in more control of your work schedule, and have time to eat a nice lunch. Call it "detective in training," if that helps. Or just give it to old guys who won't chase or arrest anybody.

Andrew Laurence said...

I'm sure you're savvier than the average crime victim, or the average person for that matter, but what incentive would a crime victim have to be dishonest when reporting a burglary? Do you mean reporting things stolen that never existed in hopes of claiming them against insurance? Or something even more nefarious. On the few occasions when I needed a cop to help me, I was honest and cooperative just like I am with everyone whom I need to help me. As someone who helps customers for a living, I appreciate being on the receiving end of similar behavior, and of course there's the golden rule. :-)

Again, I'm not saying you're wrong, as I have zero cop experience and have been the victim of very few crimes, I'm just interested in your thoughts as to why this occurs.

Moskos said...

Fair question.

I honestly keep forgetting how the public has so little idea about the day-to-day crap police deal with. People like to think cops get a call for burglary and find a nice victim like you or me who was actually burglarized. Yeah, it happens. But I'll tell you what is far more typical, at least from my experience.

A) Insurance scam. They need a police report. Often they get one. Cops ain't going to the mat to save insurance companies money.

B) I lent something to my friend but he won't return it so I want you to go get it from him.

C) I gave something to my friend but now I don't like him so I want to get him arrested.

D) My baby's mother or father took what is rightful theirs, but I want it back.

E) Any other bizarre domestic situation where something is missing.

F) Somebody stole back something the "victim" stole in the first place.

G) I sold something for drugs or booze or hookers, but now I got to account for it because I never really owned it in the first place.

What these all have in common is that the "victim" is lying to the police officer.
The lies come in various different shapes, forms, and degrees, and the cop has to figure it out. It's note-worthily rare that a cop is being told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Very often the "victim" will end up knowing the "burglar." Now indeed, you can get burgled by a friend, but the devil is in the details. (And often there is a crime, sometimes many crimes, but not one is burglary.)

So the cop is left with the choice of A) being a mindless report writer, recording crime that never happened (inflating the crime rate and wasting police investigatory resources on investigating fiction), or B) accusing the "victim" of being a lying sack of shit. (Admittedly there is a gentler way of phrasing that, and some middle ground as well)

Adrian said...

Or H) a stash of drugs, cash or guns was stolen and the 'victim' wants try cops to figure out who stole the fictional TV so they know who to retaliate against...

Andrew Laurence said...

Thank you! This was fascinating. I would think that if I were involved in something even slightly illegal, I would attempt to avoid interactions with the police, not summon them to my home, but I guess a lot of people are stupider than me. :-)

Andrew Laurence said...

I'm also reminded of the recent New Yorker cartoon where wife tells cop that in addition to all the things the burglar(s) stole, they also completely reworked the main character in husband's new novel. :-)

woolywoman said...

we have a running joke in our house, when I am gone all day and the 3 teenagers have been in the house alone. I walk in, the house looks like a small bomb has gone off: "either file a police report or get busy and clean this place up!"

I live right outside Oakland, CA. Everything not in progress is filed by computer, but the police dept is in a craptastic part of town where you would not want to park at night. So you could go down there and use their computer at night, but why would you want to? (There's no parking lot for non cops, that I am aware of.) I live in a small town on the edge of Oakland, and our police also request online reports for things like stolen bicycles, stuff taken from unlocked cars, etc. Seems like a better use of police time, to me.