Monday, May 09, 2005


If one takes 'the weekend' as being Friday through Monday, then it's been an interesting old weekend. Be prepared for a very long post.

It started late Friday, when I got home from work to find that the house had been burgled. Again. Perth has the highest burglary rate in the country, and my house is on the periphery of the suburb with the highest burglary rate in Perth. In the three and a half years since I moved in, we've had two successful burglaries, one attempted burglary, and one mysterious disappearance of a bicycle from the garage that no one was ever able to properly explain.

In this instance, the thief came around through the construction site in the block behind mine, stepped through the hole in the fence where the neighbour's garage is being built, went to the window of my rear bedroom and, because its metal rollershutter was left up and it's one of the few windows in the house that doesn't lock, got in by smashing it then sliding it open.

He didn't trash the joint as much as the previous successful burglar. Most of the rooms just had a few open drawers and cupboard doors, and the occasional overturned objet d'art. He concentrated most on my bedroom and the study, where he emptied drawers from a wooden filing cabinet over the floor, upended my clothes hamper and a few interesting bags over the bed, strew items like old cameras and power tools across the floor and swept all the little odds and ends off my bedside tables in search of thievables.

He got away with my iPod, my iTrip, my digital camera, about $145 in cash, and most annoyingly, the spare key to my motor scooter. He gets points for thoroughness, knowing enough to crawl under my desk and unplug the USB cable for the iPod from my computer and the power socket, and also take the original boxes from the filing cabinet with peripheral cables, manuals and software discs. Fortunately he missed enough for me to be able to prove to my insurance company that I really did own an iPod, a digital camera and all the other things.

The scooter key is the really painful loss. I had the scooter with me at work, so he couldn't steal it at the time, and he probably doesn't even realise what the key is for. But I can't risk him having a key and not doing anything about it. In the short term, I went out on Saturday and bought a half-metre of steel chain and a heavy-duty padlock and threaded it through the front wheel. That'll at least slow him down. He'll come once, see that the scooter is secured, then have to go away and come back some other time with bolt cutters and finish the job. That means I have to get the scooter re-keyed, and because I hadn't got around to insuring it yet, I have to pay for it all myself. That's damn annoying. The scooter was supposed to save money, and I've had it less than two weeks and I'm already having to throw a couple of hundred dollars at it.

Oh well. As I reflected late on Friday evening after I had cleaned the place up, it could always be worse. I found a little ornamental box upturned on an end table, with my grandfather's gold cufflinks still inside. My other grandfather's antique wristwatch was lying next to an overturned jewellery box on a bedside table. My grandmother's mantle clock, and the antique china lions that have been passed down through the family for nearly three hundred years, were just as I'd left them. Digital cameras and iPods can be replaced (if my insurance company doesn't dick me around), but you can't replace fifty or a hundred or three hundred years of heritage.

A police forensics officer came on Saturday morning to take fingerprints and check for any CSI-type stuff, and spent a good hour and a half going over the house. I noted that the police hadn't sent a forensic officer around last time, and he replied that home burglaries are shifting up the police priority lists. He mentioned that it was one of the few crimes where the police seemed to care more about it than the general public. People have become fatalistic and accepting about break-ins, he said, and that's not an acceptable state of affairs for the police. If people stop being outraged when their homes are burgled, and matter-of-factly believe that there is no chance they will see their possessions again or witness the thieves brought to justice, then that is a silent, stinging rebuke to the police, and one they refuse to accept.

I'd already noticed this myself. People around here build up images in their minds that are perversely comforting. When they're burgled, they never fail to say, 'It was probably just some drug addict looking for money for a quick fix." It's their way of reassuring themselves that human nature is essentially good. In so doing, they imagine a poor, strung-out junkie, so gripped by their addiction, so desperate for their next fix, that against all their common decency and desire to do the right thing, they smash a window, grab some consumer technology and cash, and run straight for their dealer.

Apparently the police are pretty pissed off at this sort of community tolerance. It's not a matter of drugs. It's a matter of greed. They want something, you have something, and they don't care how much it may hurt you to take it. If drugs come into it at all, it's usually because burglars find themselves with a big wad of stolen money and decide to blow it on some celebratory narcotics.

In essence, this is what causes the pain of burglary for the householder; being thoroughly disrespected. It's not so much that little consumer toys are taken, but that someone thinks so little of you and what's important to you that they're prepared to trash your home for a few dollars. Drawers are yanked out of cupboards without any thought at all that they might break, or dent other pieces of furniture. Boxes of neatly ordered photographs and documents are strewn across the floor, by someone who regards them not as valued memories, but as obstructions to getting what he wants. My grandmother's clock could easily have been smashed by someone flipping it out of the way in case there was something valuable behind it, and my grandfather's wristwatch could just as easily been crushed underfoot if it had fallen on the floor instead of onto a table.

For what it's worth, I told the policeman, I'm angry about it. That seemed to make him happy.

Now that the house is set to rights, there remains only the sense of unease at every sudden noise in a distant part of the building, a sense of vulnerability when The Flatmate and I are both out, and a sense of resentment that I have to spend hundreds of dollars to protect myself from a lack of simple decency in others, when they get that decency free from me.

There is an odd little footnote to this story. This afternoon I decided to install some locks on the house's last three lock-less windows, in my study, the back bedroom and the spare room. To get at the window in the spare room I had to pull the bed away from the wall, and when I did so I noticed a little black pouch lying in the dust and debris under where the bed had been.

Inside the pouch was a Tungsten T3 PalmPilot.

It wasn't mine. It had been there so long that the battery had gone flat, so I couldn't switch it on to see if it might give me clues to the owner's identity. It seems bizarre that one of my guests appears to have lost a $600 PDA and never mentioned it to me, even to the extent of "Hey, I can't seem to find my Palm. If you see it, let me know, okay?"

I suspect it belongs to a houseguest who was here a couple of months ago. If so, presumably he'll want it back. But if not, well, BONUS! It may turn out that even the dark cloud of burglary can have a silver lining.


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