Tag Archives: theft

The Sucky World of Being Robbed

In my life I’ve been robbed a few times, too many in fact. My first robbery was in Mexico City, the first place I traveled to alone. Having only a week there, I did a whirlwind tour of three places, starting in la ciudad Mexico and ending there. Returning on a Sunday, I went to Chapultapec Park and the world famous anthropology museum, Museo Nacional de Antropologia where, speaking hardly any Spanish at all, I still managed to carry on a conversation with a Spanish speaking guard and understand most of the signs in the museum.

Mexico City is vast, with a population topping 2o million at that time (over 8 million in the city proper). The subway is extremely cheap and the only way to get around quickly. I had been warned to keep my bags close and where I could see them and I did that, but as I boarded the subway train I was pushed on. Now I know that the crowded cities do this to pack the people on but it was a Sunday and not that crowded. As I was putting my transfer into my bag I noticed the slash through it where the guys who had pushed me on the train had taken my wallet. Lucky for me I had less than $10 USD and one credit card with a very non-Mexican name that I canceled immediately. The rest of my traveler’s checks were in my room. Unlucky for me, it was a Sunday, with no banks open and no place that would take a traveler’s check so I couldn’t eat dinner.

When I was in India, backpacking around, I locked down every pocket I could on my giant backpack, leaving only two side pockets open, which carried shampoo and dirty underwear. At one point I got stuck on a train, which had four open beds to every partitioned but open area. I had asked for the women’s carriage but hadn’t been given it. I couldn’t sleep because I was on the top bunk and my backpack was shoved under the bottom one, way too heavy to have been lifted had it even fit up top. My face was about six inches away from the ceiling fan, which luckily was covered. I kept looking down to check on my pack but at one point I just had to go to the bathroom, the squat toilet on a moving train (and how fun was that). Eventually when I disembarked I found that my shampoo and dirty underwear were gone. I hope they enjoyed both.

I was robbed again in New York City. By now, I was quite aware of the sneaky way in which robbers try to get your goods. I’d had a small pack to carry around with me for the week. But I let my guard down at the airport, at the last minute. My friends had driven me to the airport and we were have a coffee when a man came up on my left and asked us the time. Of course we all looked at him, unaware of the person behind me and on my right who grabbed my purse. We realized it in minutes but it was too late. Off went my purse, $200, two plane tickets, my film, my glasses, my contact case and all my ID (I had only brought the ID I needed though). The airline said they would replace my ticket for free but I had to pay for it first. Of course I couldn’t because I had no money or ID. This was before 9-11 because I can’t imagine how screwed I would have been otherwise. Luckily my friends could cover the cost and I could pay them back later. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

The most robberies I’ve experienced have actually been burglaries of my home or car. And they are the ones that have happened more recently. Several years ago I was home on a very hot night with my windows and doors open. My patio door faces the back yard and the other door does not face the street so not visible to anyone walking by. I was packing for a trip the next day and was in my den typing when I smelled cigarette smoke.

I don’t smoke but I looked up to see someone brazenly in my living room. Somewhat in a surreal state I ran into the room as the guy left and was gone by the time I could look out on the street. I called the police but to no avail of course. I believe it was my ex-drug addict neighbor, someone who knew where all the doors were. I searched the neighborhood that night, looking in every dumpster I could find, sure that he had taken what he needed, and dumped the rest.

The next day I had to get a driver’s licence before I could leave on my trip. All I had was an expired passport so I could get the license done but would not be allowed to pick it up until I had my birth certificate. Somehow a photo ID  like a passport isn’t good enough but anyone could walk in with my birth certificate and get my driver’s license picture shot and paid for. That makes a lot of sense. And of course I had to write back to my birth province for the birth certificate and ask my sister what hospital I was born in because I certainly didn’t know.

I made it through, canceling credit cards and paying for new ID. About two months later I received a call from a dumpster company where they had found my purse, complete with ID and even postage stamps. The purse and wallet were disgusting soaked with garbage juices but I reclaimed my ID and now have spares of a few things. But I was out the cost of the replacement ID, the purse and wallet and of course my cash. I’m even more cautious now but on a nice day at home, you’d think you could leave your door open. I have friends that live in a small town outside of Seattle and they never lock their doors.

Personally, I think I’ve done my time being robbed and burgled and that it’s now time to win the lottery. Hopefully I can write about that exciting change some day soon.

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From Police to Police State

You would think with the eye on the RCMP over the Dziekanski inquiry, that both RCMP and city police would be on better behavior in Greater Vancouver. Note that some municipalities use a local police force while others use the RCMP.

Now, granted there have been a helluva lot of gang shootings to date, with at least 18 dead so far, so probably the police are a little jumpy. And we already know based on testimony by the four very fit RCMP officers who taser Robert Dziekanski to death that they’ll take raised hands or a desk stapler as a threat of deadly force and use it in kind. Oh and that they didn’t panic. These guys might have looked better if they said they had panicked but that they were cool and calculating about taking down an unarmed man and tasering him four more times while he writhed in pain is even more scary.

So, just maybe everyone wants to use caution more. Police once upon a time used to be trained in ways to take a person down using just their hands. And if the criminal was carrying a dangerous weapon, well disarm them. Shoot to kill was the last resort. However, that’s now changed and shoot to kill, ask questions later is the order of the day.

In March a homeless man was approached by police for stealing from a car. Later it turns out he wasn’t the thief but he supposedly advanced on them wielding an X-acto knife. Now it could be the police havexacto1 misnamed it but many X-acto knives are tiny, with a wedge-shaped blade of about an inch. They are very sharp and potentially lethal at close range. You’d have to get very close and personal to inflict damage. This image of a range of X-acto blades was taken from www.dickblick.com with the most common being the triangular shape.

So the police shot the guy in the stomach and killed him. Sure it was two women police officers and maybe they were scared. But they could have backed up, I think. And why couldn’t they shoot the guy in the arm or the leg, thereby giving him a lot of pain and disabling him from advancing? There was no need to shoot him in the stomach. Were they bad aims. Or was the X-acto blade much larger and being hurled at them?

On April 5th the police shot a guy in a Ford F350 truck who was allegedly stealing it. It seems that when they tried to block the truck the guy gunned it at the police car. The police shot at him, one shot, and wounded him. The car thief is expected to recover. In this case most people agree the police had a right to shoot. I doubt they had time to react with more than that with the truck coming at them. And it’s pretty hard to shoot to disable when someone is sitting in a vehicle with tinted glass. They could have tried to shoot out the tires but at that point it was probably not obvious what the guy had planned. I should note here that in Vancouver, up until recently it’s extremely rare that a police officer would shoot anyone. Once a year is more often than normal.

So we’ve had two shootings in four months. Not to mention the three off-duty cops that beat up and robbed a delivery driver. Sure, they’re the exception and yahoos from three different cities. But what this all points to is that there is a perceived image that the police forces (municipal and RCMP) are out of control. Police departments need to take a proactive stance and see if their training is adequate. As well, training needs to start with immobilizing a threat in the safest way possible to everyone. That means trying to take down a person with minimal physical violence, moving from  hands to taser to guns only when lives are threatened. That means not a perceived threat as the RCMP somehow saw in an office stapler. A deadly threat means being shot at or run down.

These departments also need to look at who they’re hiring. Bigoted, snobby and racist police will be more likely to prejudice a situation with their perspectives. What suitability tests are run on these candidates to ensure they stay calm, level-headed, use reasoning to assess a situation and don’t let prejudices get in their way. (I won’t do more than mention the many women of the downtown East side who disappeared over the years withouth the police doing anything because the women were drug addicts and prostitutes.) They need to have some basic psychology and counselling courses and learn how to verbally diffuse a situation as well.

I’m not saying all police are bad and they have a tough job. Some are probably nervous with all the shootings. But I do think a reassessment of training procedures is in order. We’d like to know that the next time we lift up a piece of paper or even give a cop the finger that we won’t be shot for it. Otherwise, we’ll probably all tow the line as we move into a police state of mind.

An addendum to yesterday’s post: With all three incidences mentioned above, the police have confiscated video or film taken at the scene. At the shooting of the homeless man, the police went through the guy’s phone and he said they erased the footage of the shooting. We all know what happened with the footage from the Dziekanski tasering. With this last one, they manhandled and threatened to arrest a newspaper photographer if he didn’t relinguish his camera. There is a disturbing trend towards the erosion of our civil liberties and the police taking, tampering or trying to hide evidence of questionable investigations. Even if they haven’t tampered they are giving the impression by confiscating materials in such a way. And if we don’t have freedom of the press, we don’t have checks and balances. Again, retraining seems to be needed here.

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Drugs, Thugs and Hugs

Vancouver is starting a community court as an attempt to stop filling up the court system with repeat criminals who happen to be drug addicts and stuck in the perpetual cycle of addiction>money>crime>drugs>addiction.

There are several stats that contribute to trying something new. I’ve always contended that our criminal justice system is broken. The Downtown Eastside is considered the poorest postal code in Canada, as well as having the worst and largest number of addicts. Vancouver suffers from a high number of crimes ranging from car to house break-ins. Many of these can be contributed to addicts looking for that fix and needing money. So in their jittery, drug addled state, they trash cars, or steal purses and backpacks or invade homes.

I’m not speaking speculatively but as someone who has been a victim of these crimes. I’m not particularly rich, don’t drive an expensive car and don’t live in a ritzy neighborhood. That doesn’t matter in Vancouver. When I had a Honda Civic (the most stolen car in BC at the time) it was broken into sixteen times. Licence plate, registration, sunglasses, ashtray w/coins, first aid kit, half a tire jack, gear shift knob, cassette tapes, etc. were taken. Some can be contributed to kids and car thieves (gear shift knob, licence) but the ease of getting into a Honda was well known.

Although the break-ins happened all over the city, the majority happened where I live in East Vancouver. My next door neighbor, who at one point had a nice heritage house, became an addict. We had no proof that he was the perpetrator but the crime rate on our street was very high while he could still pay the mortgage on his place. My apartment (part of a heritage house) was broken into when I was away but my landlords were watching it and at home that night. We’re pretty sure it was the drug addict neighbor who even seemed to be paying a couple of teenagers to scout out places.

Twice more my place has been invaded. The second time I was actually home and someone walked into my back door (facing into the back yard) and took my purse. I suspect it was my no longer homeowner neighbor who had lost his house to drugs. The last time was last year when some other addict crowbarred my French patio doors and stole my camera.

This happens time and time again in Vancouver and although some criminals are of a higher organization, most of these crimes are caused by drug addictions, homelessness and sometime mental health concerns. Locking up these petty criminals for a short time doesn’t solve the problem overall. Most get very minimal sentences and are back time and again in the courts.

The community court (that some are labelling Hugs for Thugs) is to deal quickly with the criminals, where they meet with a triage team of counsellors and/or social workers. They’re sentenced to varying degrees, where community work or reparation is included, and sometimes jail time. This court has just begun and has been successful in other geographic areas. It’s the first in Canada and hopefully, along with the safe-injection site, will help keep the crime down and maybe, just maybe get people off drugs and off the street.

We’ll need affordable housing, which there is a lack of for even people who are poor and not yet homeless, as well as those on drugs or suffering from mental health issues. But I wonder how it will work if the addicts don’t want to change. And I know, after talking to someone who was a police officer for 25 years, that those on crystal meth will be the hardest to reform. Crystal meth literally eats the brain, making those addicts the most violent and least likely to be able to get off the drug. They usually have a five-year lifespan from when they get addicted.

But considering the rampant crime and the ineffective court system for this problem, I’m willing to hope this could be a win-win situation, with everyone suffering less from crime and people getting off the street and off drugs.

The official community court, justice reform site: http://www.criminaljusticereform.gov.bc.ca/en/justice_reform_projects/community_court/index.html

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The Price of Vancouver: Car Crime Capital

Vancouver’s car crime status may have slipped recently but it was once car crime capital. More cars were stolen in the area and more cars broken into than most places in North America. Why? Well, being a port city perhaps those cars were shipped to parts unknown. Perhaps pirates came in to strip them of useful parts. Perhaps we have enough gangs of various persuasions who can resell them. I can’t speak to the car thefts per se, and haven’t done research but it was bad enough the police set up bait cars in various areas.

I do know that anyone who lived along routes in and out of the city often had their cars stolen (and one woman I talked to said her car had been stolen five times). That one is easy. Our inadequate public transportation system stops before the bars close. Anyone who comes in from any of the outlying areas: Surrey, Mission, Coquitlam, Whalley, etc., needs to find a way home afterwards. Bus and SkyTrain have stopped, taxis are too expensive, so let’s steal a car.

Break-ins on cars are easy to figure out too. Vancouver has the poorest postal code in Canada, which coincides with the Downtown East Side and the worst drug problems. Drugs=addicts=car break-ins. Pretty simple.

I once had a Honda Civic, the most stolen car in BC at the time, partly because it was the car to hot-rod for the young guys. My car was never stolen but it was broken into 15 times. In truth that included the stolen sunroof from the Nissan Sentra.

Here’s a list of some of the things stolen from that car:

  • half a tire jack
  • gear shift knob
  • prescription sunglasses
  • ashtray with coins
  • teeny tiny first aid kit
  • cassette tapes
  • car insurance
  • license plate
  • sunroof
  • stopwatch

If you add that up you’ll see it doesn’t equal 15, and many of those were stolen at the same time. My window was broken once and each of two door locks gouged out at different times. The door was left open after several of the break-ins (Civics were notoriously easy to get into) and I had to replace the car battery.

I lived in different areas and break-in had happened downtown, on the west side, central and East Vancouver, where I live now. But most of the vandalism happened because of my neighbour. Though we could never prove it, he broke in to numerous cars and houses. He foreclosed on his mortgage because it went up his nose or into his arm and the people who bought the house had ample evidence of drug use in the syringes and spoons left all over.

The crime rate went down when the neighbour disappeared. I also resorted to putting huge signs in my car window that said: STOP! This is East Van. You are thief # 14 15. There are no keys, money, drugs, CDs, jewels, condoms or children in this car. I don’t leave anything in the car these days but my window was broken two weeks back after about four years of no vandalism (except my place). I had one CD in the car, visible. That was a mistake and cost me $200 deductible to get the glass and moulding replaced. There are still enough drug addicts in the city and they’ll take anything any way they can to fuel their habits. And the federal government wants to close the one safe injection site.

The government really needs to weigh the cost to home and car owners in what they lose and have to replace from thefts, plus the cost of policing and investigating against the cost of a safe-injection site. I have a very strong feeling that the cost of one site is a lot less. And what does that site do? It takes the people off the street, keeps them from dying, gives them a chance to get their lives in control and maybe get off drugs, and it saves us a lot of crime. If an addict can hold down a regular job and not have to resort to crime and prostitution then they have a better chance of becoming a viable part of society and not a money sink. Until then, Vancouver will continue to have high break-in and vandalism rates and the poorest postal code.

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