To spot a thief, try this

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You people are great. You write me from prison, you write me from exile, you write me with flowery thoughts on a range of subjects.

Few things are more exciting than spotting a strange envelope on my desk. Kids on Christmas morning are no more giddy than I am when I get new mail the old-fashioned way. Because no gift under any Christmas tree could be more pregnant with possibility than these letters.

I get them from hookers, drug dealers and murderers. Occasionally, I get missives from perfectly non-criminal types who only want to vent or share their views while drinking homemade vodka. Those letters, too, are crammed full of observations, gossip and sometimes, instruction.

Such is the case with the following letter, which arrived on the one day of sunshine this spring. Herein lies a playbook for combating crime in the Twin Cities. I do hope the police are reading this. Should they choose to act on these instructions, we may all be looking for jobs by the start of alleged summer.

The following letter is verbatim. Any unauthorized reproductions or transmissions without the expressed written consent of the something something major something is strictly yada yada yada.

“Dear Mark. I find your column in Sun Journal interesting. Since you are a crime reporter, permit me to suggest how to see a criminal in action. These have been my observations:

Shoplifting.

1. Just before closing time, some folks come into the store, go down certain aisles, pick out stuff, walk out with the crowd. Nobody notices what they have done.

Or so-called tryout shoes. Leave old ones there, walk out with the new shoes on their feet without paying for them.

Pick up a hat, put it on, make it look like it’s something one had on before coming into the store.

Illicit drugs: pushers wait for busy times to push drugs.

1. Kids coming out of school.

2. Dinner time, when people are going to lunch, nobody is watching and busy going separate ways.

3. Passing out drugs from one car to the next as one crosses railroad tracks.

4. Using houses of alcoholics to dispense drugs since few people pay attention to alcoholics.

5. Evening time when banks are closing, a pusher comes to town on a motor bike, people who have been hanging out at various locations converge on cyclist and each gets their quota of drugs and disperse. (Some folks hang out in drug stores, gas station, bus stop, someone’s lawn, lean on lamp post.

6. Parking Garage. Hoodlums check for certain cars, try to break windows with their feet to gain access. Usually done about 11:00 at night.

7. When people are gone to work, house breaks occur, or if one knows the family is gone on vacation, funeral, out of town. (A cousin’s house was robbed thus. They lost a lot of musical instruments and electronic stuff.)

8. I caught somebody breaking cellar window to gain access to the home while people (neighbors) were gone to work and kids were in school. Culprits were so called “friends” of the family.

9. Kids were stealing stuff out of the church. I followed them, caught them showing the goods to some friends, got all the stuff back. I caught somebody trying to steal a 10-speed bike parked by the church. Person was in church. Robber took off without it. It was 3:00 afternoon.

Police would catch more criminals if they made the rounds of streets at different times, not go by daily at same time. People hide and come out when cops have gone by. I’ve seen it happen.

Here are some hints how to catch criminals in action. Have fun.



I love the tone of this letter. In addition to the helpful suggestions and anecdotal evidence, it’s got a nice wildlife feel to it. Instead of: “How to Spot a Tufted Titmouse,” this one could be titled: “How to Spot a Tufted Crackhead Stealing Your Television.”

Why, you could take the whole family to downtown Lewiston and make a day of it. Pack a lunch, bring binoculars and crouch behind the garbage pails on the seedy side of town. “See there, kids? If you’ll look carefully, you can see the Yellow-Bellied Appliance Thief swiping that guy’s microwave. Shhhhh. No sudden movements. This species spooks easily.”

Don’t forget to pack your rain gear. And some pepper spray.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

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