A few years back, unwinding a real estate deal gone bad, I called up my then-partner to give him the bad news: to get rid of the junk property we’d foolishly bought, we’d have to bring several thousand bucks to the closing table.
There was a long silence.
Then he said: “You know, John, sometimes you pay tuition and you didn’t even know you were going to school.”
Last month, I paid one of those “tuition” bills.
During a weekday afternoon, burglars broke into our home and pretty much cleaned us out. They entered through an unlocked ground-story window, subsequently pulled a truck up into the side yard, loaded the loot and got away clean. They took jewelry, silver, collectibles, bicycles, tools, TV sets and anything else they could grab.
Two nights later, they came back and stole one of our cars, which was parked in front of the house. Apparently, they also had stolen a spare set of keys.
A month later, the car’s gone, the perps are unidentified and life goes on. We paid a hefty bill, and here’s what we learned: For crooks, residential burglary is pretty much a no-risk business. The cops don’t even pretend to investigate burglaries, unless they have solid leads (as in, a note from the burglars identifying themselves, including address, phone number and best time to call).
When we called police to report the crime, a young officer arrived fairly quickly. In our naiveté, we expected the kind of investigation you see on “CSI.”
Instead, the officer took a brief look at the crime scene, laboriously entered the details into his laptop (note to CSPD: teach your officers how to type), and left.
No dusting for fingerprints, no casts of tire tracks and no follow-up. During the next week, we left repeated messages for the officer — no response. We subsequently found out that he was “off” during the week, and that department policy forbids him, or anyone else, from accessing voicemail during such times.
Exasperated, I asked a friend, a retired cop, what to do.
“Look,” he said, “a burglary like yours goes to what cops call the back of the book. Nobody’s gonna do anything. The only ones they catch are through informants, or if someone gets a license number.”
Another friend, a member of the force, confirmed that.
“The people who used to investigate serious assaults are now investigating homicides — and the people who used do property crimes are investigating serious assaults. In practical terms, there are no detectives assigned to property crimes like yours.”
The stats confirm their blunt remarks — the local clearance rate for burglary is slightly more than 10 percent, according to the CSPD Web site.
Lesson learned — you’re on your own. We’re a lot warier, and a lot less careless.
After the burglary, we put in a sophisticated alarm system and we make sure when we leave that the house is secure against easy entry. The burglars could still, I suppose, break windows and climb in, but they’d be starring in their very own home video.
Another lesson learned — be adequately insured.
Chuck Gosnell and State Farm couldn’t have been more helpful and cooperative, and the adjuster was as generous as he could be — but he couldn’t pay for things we hadn’t bothered to insure. We didn’t have specific jewelry riders, so much of the loss couldn’t be reimbursed.
So here’s the obvious question: do we have enough cops? Do we need to cough up more tax dollars to strengthen the force?
That’s not a question that’s easily answered.
During the Democratic National Convention, CSPD played rent-a-cop, collecting $400,000 for sending 57 officers (equivalent to nearly one-sixth of the uniformed force) to help out for a week.
Police spokesman Lt. David Whitlock said that their absence had no practical effect upon community policing, pointing out that between “40 and 70” officers are absent on any given day.
CSPD had planned for the absences, Whitlock said, adding that many other Colorado jurisdictions also sent police to Denver.
Maybe so, but I can only compare my experience with that of my sister, a Denver resident who experienced a similar burglary during the 1990s.
“The cops were great,” she told me. “There was a detective assigned to the case, he took me to pawn shops, to flea markets, all over town. There was one pawn shop they were watching, he took me there, and it was all there, in the safe. In the end, they caught the people, and we got almost everything back.”
That was a different era — before eBay, which serves as a de facto worldwide fence, exchanging stolen items for cash, no questions asked.
Meanwhile, we’ve stopped calling the cops to ask them about our case. The car’s gone, the stuff’s gone and it’s time to move on.
My friend, the retired cop, rubbed it in the other day, after I told him my tale of woe.
“You feel like a chump, don’t you?” he asked. “But maybe you learned something.”
Yeah, I did. Reality is a school that doesn’t offer tuition refunds.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.