My house was robbed the other night. Actually, it was very early on a Thursday morning. My dog and I were in my upstairs bedroom and did not awaken. The door to my bedroom was closed. I suspect my dog was in some kind of “dog rem” sleep because usually she barks at any strange noises or smells.
The robber got my tiny change purse; I had owed a friend $400, so had that much and about another $50 in the purse. The robber also got my wallet, which had my California driver’s license, all my credit cards, a debit card, my medical insurance cards, a Starwood “awards” card, and some business cards.
The robber slipped in through an open side door (until then, I had left it open so my dog could get out if she wished, which she always does sometime in the middle of the night). There were lights on inside were the robber must have entered, so he could see an obvious set of built-in drawers that might contain stuff worth stealing. Alas, my purse and wallet were in one of them. I think he opened the change purse, saw the $450, and said to himself he had hit the jackpot: enough cash to keep him going or on drugs for a good week. So, he took off, and after checking that my wallet had no cash in it, probably tossed it.
I found out the next day while searching for my purse and wallet to go to work. I thought maybe I had misplaced them and combed the house for the next two days. Finally, I went to the police station to report the crime. A very nice officer took me into a little conference room where I filled in the forms and answered his questions. To verify my identity (since I had none on me), he pulled up the particulars of my driver’s license.
When I told him I leave the side door open for my dog, he did not say anything, but gave a look that meant something to the effect that I was a blooming idiot. Then he asked me if I had surveillance cameras, which I did not (I’m getting them now—they’re cheap). He was particularly interested in the surveillance videos because that same night, the police caught a man robbing another house only about a 5-minute walk from my house. He had hoped I had the robber’s image entering my house, connecting him to other crime. Reason: to take the guy off the streets. I live a block off PCH, and the cop told me there is a rise in crime along the PCH strip. The crimes are ones of “opportunity.” Crooked passersby quickly can get in and get out.
And, from what I can tell, the trend is getting worse.
There is a reason for this. It belongs within the generalized theory of Unintended Consequences. In the early-mid 1990s, a “get tough on crime” movement swept the United States and many states passed “Three Strikes and You Are Out” laws that meant if you commit three crimes described as felonies (including any illegal drug use, or even being in the same room as someone who does), you are put away in prison for life. No possibility of parole.
In California, the initiative passed in 1994. It was sponsored by the Prison Guard’s Union, which wanted more jobs and better pay for prison guards.
The consequence of the law was over-crowding of the state’s prisons. Several years ago, a U.S. Federal Court ruled that the over-crowding constituted “cruel and unusual” punishment for the convicts and ordered California to fix the problem.
California did. It unloaded its least serious offenders onto county jail facilities. Those facilities then became overcrowded and had to release their own least serious offenders onto the streets.
Further, in a truly stupid move (to stop future prison over-crowding), the state government passed another law stipulating that if a robbery consisted of cash and/or items whose cumulative value was less than $950, then that breach of law was not a felony. It was a misdemeanor. It was like a traffic ticket. The robbers quickly figured that one out and began stealing stuff within the limit.
They might get caught, and maybe booked, but they realistically could not be held. And giving them a ticket had no value. Most of the robbers could not afford to pay any fine, and many if not most had no known home address. A ticket was meaningless, and everyone knew it. Robbers can smile all day long.
Friends tell me I should feel outraged, violated, working myself up to righteous retribution. I do not feel that way. I feel as though all along I knew about the local thieves, and the increase in petty crimes, even house intrusion, and I did not take it seriously. I thought it never could touch me. Then it did. I felt like a fool.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many nonprofits.