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Let Inga Tell You: Crime, yes, but where’s the punishment?

Thief with cap illustration
(stock.adobe.com)

In the small town where I grew up, doors were unlocked and keys left in the car. I’m sure it’s (much) different now. I was fortunate not to spend a nanosecond of my formative years worrying about crime.

But had there been any crime, my childhood sense of justice was honed on a steady diet of Nancy Drew books. The whole River Heights Police Department sprang into action when Nancy’s rosebushes were stolen. When she called “the authorities,” not only did they quickly apprehend the bad guys (alas, always described as “swarthy”) but they locked them up forever. No habeas corpus, but you can’t have everything.

Many decades later, it’s still hard for me to overcome a strongly imprinted sense of law enforcement in which you call, they come and we can all sleep at night secure in our belief that help is but a phone call (or alarm button) away.

Right about now, you’re asking what planet I’m living on.

We have outdoor security cameras, although not the Ring cameras that most of our neighbors have. If you subscribe to Nextdoor for your neighborhood, you’ll see regular posts of people stealing your neighbors’ bikes and power tools out of their crowbar-opened garage, swiping packages off the front porch, vandalizing cars and committing acts that would have had the entire River Heights Police Department at DEFCON 1.

A 22-year-old man was arrested Aug. 30 and booked into San Diego County Jail on multiple counts of felony burglary and theft, many of them stemming from a series of incidents in which someone broke into La Jolla backyards and garages and stole bicycles and other recreation equipment.

Some of the Nextdoor posters — veterans of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys eras — will even take Ring footage up to our local police substation. Where they will be told to file a police report and call their insurance company. Even if the theft is above the Proposition 47 $950 felony level.

Alas, security cameras are purely for entertainment purposes at this point. With enough instances, you could put together a reel.

(Click here to see a video that was posted on social media of an attempted break-in at a La Jolla home the night of Sept. 1 while the homeowners were there. The homeowners were able to scare the guys off.)

Now, this is where people write me and say, “With all the real crime in the world, you expect our police officers to annoy themselves with this stuff?”

Got it. The part that worries me, though, is that the perps are not at all afraid for their faces to be clearly identifiable. No concern that neighbors will recognize them from the footage and call the cops. They seem to have zero fear of any consequences.

This, alas, seems even more true at the below-$950 misdemeanor level. In the early months of the pandemic, I witnessed on several occasions groups of kids going into my CVS, brazenly grabbing as much alcohol as they could carry and simply walking out. The manager said there was nothing they could do. Locals wanted to blame kids from “out of the area.” But unless that area was Rancho Santa Fe, I’m guessing the Range Rover they climbed into at the curb probably came from La Jolla.

As for the porch pirates, maybe Ring needs to come out with a version that shoots poison darts on command. But the perp would probably sue you. (And keep your package.)

My own kids, who didn’t grow up with Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, have always been a tad more jaded. My purse was stolen from my trunk while I, a single mom with two young kids, was having a first-day-of-school picnic with them in 1986. The miscreants had full one-hour lead time to get to my home with my spare house key, and it was now dark. I called the police and asked if an officer could meet me at my house. The ennui was palpable. “Sorry,” they said. “No can do. But call back if you get home and they’re in there.” My kids were sobbing in terror that their only source of protection from bad guys was … me.

But shortly after we got home to our (fortunately unoccupied) house, my faith in law enforcement was restored when an Officer Jennings called and said he had caught some kids trying to use my ATM card. He couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. He said a Mrs. Marshall from my bank would be calling me.

She did. She needed my ATM PIN to be able to issue me a new card. My kids were thrilled that I was going to get my stuff back and the bad guys were going to jail. Textbook Nancy Drew.

You’ve probably guessed that the lovely Officer Jennings and the helpful Mrs. Marshall were the folks who stole my purse and were trying to get my PIN. Fortunately, I didn’t give it.

My kids were crushed. “So,” my then-6-year-old said, “the mean people who didn’t care were the real police and the nice people were the criminals?” Pretty much summed it up.

I grew up in simpler times that were both better and worse than today. (Really glad that “swarthy” description of bad guys has been edited out of Nancy Drew books.) But Nancy would have tackled those booze-stealing teens at CVS to the ground. No question.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at inga47@san.rr.com. ◆