Since last Friday, I have been dealing with the aftermath of a massive burglary of my home, and my primary feeling, besides anger and sadness, has been impotence. So, to combat this sense of helplessness, I’m releasing this public service announcement in hopes of somehow helping prevent this awful experience, dear readers, from happening to you. Or helping you deal, if it does.
It is a pretty sickening feeling to learn that your home has been violated by strangers. I was out of state for a wedding when I got a phone call that my darling, precious storybook apartment in San Francisco had been breached, and my flat screen TV had been stolen. I quickly thought to myself, “Damn, that sucks. I wonder what else was lying around?” and racked my brain. Fortunately, during a feverish bout of spring cleaning, I had recently put all my electronics into a decorative box on my bookshelf, rather than displaying them around my room in plain view. I was sure my ancient 2004 laptop, hard drives, etc., were safe in their hiding spots. I had also stashed my most sentimental and valuable jewelry on a shelf in my closet, rather than leaving it out on my dresser as I had done for years. I would have to accept that the TV and iPad on my dining table were gone, but that wasn’t the end of the world.
Sadly, I was wrong.
Smashing the phone into my ear, I paced around my friends’ place in Chicago with my heart pounding as my roommate walked me through our apartment at the other end of the line. Room by room, the clock ticking toward 1am for me, she listed off the things that had been stolen from us. What about this? I asked. Gone, she replied. And this? Yeah, gone. Our apartment was completely cleaned out. On a Friday afternoon. In broad daylight. My Chicago friends poured me a large glass of whiskey as I absorbed this news.
Apparently, a team of guys (I have to assume the gender here, based on the giant gloved handprints left in the dust on our furniture and the diameter of the disgusting black wristwatch that was left behind in my closet) strode into our apartment, took their sweet time figuring out where to find all the best stuff, and casually walked out with nearly $20k worth of loot.
Somehow, inexplicably, none of our neighbors noticed unfamiliar men going up and down our outside staircase, burdened with 2 bicycles, 2 large TVs, 2 DVD players, 3 laptops, an iPad, 2 iPods, Bose speakers, 3 cameras, 2 hard drives, a guitar, nearly $3000 worth of jewelry between LJ and me, and dozens of other small electronic items, including all my flash drives and my MiCoach running training system (did they actually think they could find buyers for these items?!). With these things, they also took every last shred of security and safety I had felt living in our cozy little spot nestled between Twin Peaks and the Castro.
How could no one notice? How did they get in?! There was no evidence of breaking and entering. Did they have a key? Do we know them?! Was it the movers we hired a year ago, or the CSA veggie box delivery guy?! Was it a neighbor? How long were they spying on us to see when we’d be gone, and how long did they wait for our downstairs neighbor to leave the house as she only does once a week on Fridays?!
Nagging, terrifying questions aside, I know stuff is just stuff and life goes on. But some of that stuff was important to me, and I’m actually getting madder, instead of more chill about it. I went to put on a necklace to match my outfit this morning and nearly punched a hole in my door when I remembered I didn’t have it anymore. LJ and I have been on the phone constantly with the police and Project SAFE to figure out what happened, whether we can catch the guys who did it, how we can prevent this from happening again, and how we can cope with the PTSD that’s causing us to jump every time someone slams a car door on our street.
Here’s what I wish I had done differently, prior to the break-in:
1) I wish I had stored my most special jewelry—gifts from graduation and 1960s bracelets from my mom’s high school days and special necklaces from weddings and birthdays and a sapphire ring given to me by my parents months before my dad died. I wish I had squirreled them away in nondescript boxes not in my closet but deep inside other boxes filled with crap no one would ever dream of stealing, like my microeconomics notes from grad school.
2) I wish I had kept my two hard drives–which were intended to be backups of one another, as well as backups of my computers from all time–stored in completely separate locations. Maybe even a master hard drive in a safe deposit box. Because, with all three of those items gone, I no longer have:
- All my emails, music compositions, and papers from college, grad school, and in between
- All my photos since 2003
- All my mp3s (dating from the glory days of Napster; i.e., MANY)
- Peace of mind (all my tax documents and credit reports since 2004 were saved on these non-protected devices), which brings me to:
4) I wish I had installed a curtain over our glass front door, which let in a lot of beautiful light, but most surely enticed our little friends because of the big shiny 37″ inch screen gleaming in the front room. Our place was definitely scoped out in advance, and I wish I had never given them anything to get excited about.
5) I wish I had kept my bike locked inside my apartment when I went out of town.
Some other things I learned through this process:
1) It is a good idea to change your passwords immediately after a theft. Who knows what sites you might have open on your computer? Change your email and bank passwords, and put out a credit fraud notice on your accounts. That way, if anything weird happens, you can call up and report it with no questions asked.
2) You will almost surely find your stuff on Craigslist, as soon as a couple hours after the incident. I didn’t think to look until Monday, when I found my laptop, TV, a Tiffany bracelet, and a hard drive, all posted within an hour of one another with the same all lower-caps, non-punctuated, detail-free descriptions. I’m sure my awesome road bike had been posted immediately for a really low price and sold already. To retrieve my other items, I set up fake email accounts and tried to set up a sting with a plainclothes officer, but I couldn’t be 100% sure these things were mine from the photos. I wish I had marked my items with distinguishable features (like, put a sticker on my laptop, or etched my initials in the front of the iPad). The police will only go out if you are sure, without a doubt, that the items belong to you, but then they WILL go out, which is pretty awesome.
2) There is a service called Project SAFE that exists to provide free-of-charge security consultations to renters and homeowners in San Francisco. Other cities probably have similar nonprofits. Security Specialist Rob, as he is called, is coming to our house next week to go over lighting, locks, access, storage, windows, etc., to make sure LJ and I feel safe enough to continue living in our place. I’m very excited about our date with Security Specialist Rob. I thought I felt secure after returning home last Sunday night, but the waking-up-every-hour thing, and dreams filled with knives and strangers and obsessive triple-checking of locks make me realize my subconscious knows better.
3) If I had watched more Law & Order and CSI episodes (like, even one), I would probably have known instinctively not to touch the wristwatch I found in my closet. Instead, I picked it up, showed my roommate and threw it on the coffee table in disgust. When I told the investigator about it, he got very excited, thinking it could have prints. I’m taking it down to the station today (sounds badass, no?), and we’ll see if I ruined the only piece of evidence that might have helped us catch these rat bastards. I hope not. Don’t touch anything when you discover a burglary.
4) Security cameras are worth it. Sounds like overkill, but do YOU want to lose everything you own that’s valuable with no possible recourse to find the perps? I have learned that I do not. My neighbor recommended these two cameras and DVR.
5) Breathe. It’s just stuff, and no one got hurt. Meditate, call your friends, set up a Dropbox where people can repopulate your photo collection for you (I will be sending out the link to mine shortly). Buy a new TV immediately so you don’t have to stew all week about missing an episode of Mad Men.
6) Renters Insurance!!! It’s like $15/month.
Good luck out there.