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What I Say About Frank Gruber

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From the Police Blotter

By Frank J. Gruber

When I lived on Electric Avenue in Venice 25 years ago thieves broke into my car twice and stole my radio. Those were the days when fancy German radios were the rage, a fashion that simultaneously created demand for more fidelity than needed in a moving vehicle and a new avenue for criminal enterprise.

Which led to a whole industry for car alarms and radios that had faces that you could remove and take with you. Who says crime doesn't pay?

I have always been against the death penalty but at the time I thought an exception should be made for thieves who broke into cars to steal radios.

I bring this up because Tuesday evening my wife and I returned to the house at 9:30 and found that our house had been burglarized. We had entered our backdoor, having come from the garage, and my wife noticed that our "other" backdoor was open.

This isn't so unusual, because the door won't latch unless you give it a little push when you close it, and I made some comment about how I didn't think we had to worry about squirrels (a problem we've had in the past) because it was night and they're not nocturnal. But by then I had turned the corner into our TV room, where I have my home office and where I immediately noticed that what was not there was my home computer, a Mac portable.

I said something like, "we've been robbed."

We ran upstairs (something I later realized was not the right thing to do, since the burglars might have still been in the house) where what we found was not there was my wife's computer, also a Mac portable.

We called 911. In a few minutes three officers were at our house. Once they had determined that the robbers weren't in the vicinity, two of them left and the third, a remarkably amiable officer named Fujita, stayed to take our report and to wait for forensics to come and search for evidence.

Meanwhile I called my son Henry on his cell phone, and talking to him I realized that his saxophone was missing; that turned out to be the most valuable item (considering the age of the computers) that the thieves took.

Also meanwhile my wife and I were trying to remember the last time we had backed up our hard drives. That's the kind of memory that you want to be very fresh.

When we talked to Henry, we found out that he had been in the house with a friend of his until 9:20. They had been in his room, listening to music, with the door open. Henry's room faces the street, so when they left and turned off the light, it was probably clear that no one was home. That means the burglary took less than ten minutes.

I'm guessing the burglars saw Henry leaven, then walked down the side of the house, to the secluded "other" backdoor. How they got in, I don't know. The lock on the door was set, but as I mentioned before, sometimes that door looks closed but it's not latched. They might have got lucky and just pushed it in. Perhaps they used a tool like a slim-jim, but there were no marks of a break-in.

Needless to say, we are now locking the deadbolts when we leave the house.

I'm also guessing the burglars left in a hurry when they heard my wife and me at 9:30, and that's the reason they didn't turn the house upside down. So we were lucky in a sense, since they only got away with a few items, but perhaps we were most lucky in the demeanor of the burglars. Office Fujita told me they could just as easily have been the kind who react violently when surprised in the act.

So now we are dealing with the insurance claim, replacing the items we lost, changing passwords, and agonizing over why we hadn't backed up the computers more recently.

I should mention that the forensics officer from the SMPD dusted all over for fingerprints. The last time we were burglarized -- we were hit a few times when we lived on Marine Street -- the police were able to find our burglar when he was picked up on a parole violation because they had his fingerprint from our window. I got to testify that no, we did not invite the defendant into our house.

Maybe we'll get lucky again, although I never got back my beloved old Leica that he took.

Officer Fujita told me that the computers and the saxophone would probably be sold for drug money in Venice. I'd like to say that if anyone reading this column happens to be an innocent third party who has recently purchased a two or three year old Mac Powerbook with either a lot of philosophy articles or a lot of Lookout columns on the hard drive, I'll buy it back. Same goes for a Yamaha alto sax in a case with two mouthpieces. Or if you find an old battered Jandd pannier-style bicycle briefcase with a pair of my glasses in a dumpster, please contact me care of The Lookout.

Before I whine too much, let me be quite clear that what happened to us is nothing like what is happening over in the Pico Neighborhood these days. There are magnitudes of difference between property crimes and attempted murder.

It's also worth reflecting that the value of what was stolen doesn't get anywhere near the $12,000 or so that an identify thief charged to my credit card last year, not that I had to pay any of it.

Still, I have to look back on my nearly 30 years of living in Venice and Ocean Park and wonder -- have I lived in the reasonably safe and friendly neighborhoods that I thought I lived in, or someplace not so nice?

In those years, between my wife and me we have had at least half a dozen car burglaries (her car as recently as this year -- another radio gone), four house burglaries (three on Marine Street, including one that a neighbor thwarted before the burglars could get away with their loot, and now last week's), and various bicycles, boogie boards, and even lawn furniture lifted from various patios and porches.

And let's not forget the two young men gunned down in the clothing store just a couple of blocks away on Lincoln -- their murders were in my neighborhood, too.

Am I saying that it's time to move to a gated community in Chatsworth?

Not likely. I love the good parts of living in an urban community too much to give them up because of the bad. But when people consider how and why cities declined in this country, it's worth considering that a lot more middle-class people left town because of crime and the fear of crime than because of traffic congestion.

So I won't bolt. But I'll lock the deadbolts.

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