Thieving Varmints

Lucy Castle, Contributor

It must suck to have to buy back personal property from a pawn shop: the haggling, the inflated prices and seeing your initials — written in Sharpie by your own hand — on the stolen goods you already bought once and for which you now have to fork out more money. And let’s not forget the violation felt in your psyche when you realized your stuff got jacked … and that’s if you’re lucky.

Based on the California Department of Justice “Crimes and Crime Rates” reports for Humboldt County, property crimes (burglary, robbery, larceny and theft) are committed at an alarming rate (the lowest being 1,724 in 2008) — most of them filed at a value less than $400 . And these are just the statistics entered into the California/Humboldt County database — many property crimes are not reported.

I’ve lived in tiny towns where folks left their screen doors open all day and truck engines running for a half-hour while they shopped. My neighbors would stop by unannounced to watch the evening news, whether I was home or not. I’ve also lived in seedy, crime-ravaged neighborhoods of big cities in which people had to dial two phones in my building before I buzzed them in. I once left my wallet on top of my car and my apartment keys in the doorknob for a whole weekend. My landlady held a baseball bat while I checked my rooms. Everything was in its place. I’ve also shut down pickpockets and dropped found driver’s licenses into mailboxes.

So I was fully prepared for whatever this quirky l’il gem called Humboldt County had to offer; I was about to finish my degree at HSU and had found a sweet room in a nice, sleepy neighborhood in Arcata.

I have to admit: The first thing stolen from me when I moved to the North Coast was my heart — irrevocably, hands down. The trees, the ocean, the horizon, the politics, and cheap rent and a manageable cost of living — a good biking community. I was stoked and allowed myself to be seduced by the laissez-faire, “it’s all good” attitude that permeated everything, from my education to waiting forever in line to get a sandwich at the Co-op. Then, very soon after, I noticed other things started to go missing.

My housemate’s golf clubs were ganked overnight from his car, parked in the driveway in our safe neighborhood. My friend’s truck was jacked from the HSU parking lot (apparently Toyotas have, like, five skeleton keys for all models). He found it in Manila — his tools, camping gear and stereo gone. I once spent a leisurely lunch hour at Mad River Beach and returned to the parking lot to find the gas line cut and rear taillight assembly missing. (This was when gas was almost $5 a gallon, but I was driving on fumes as it was, so they didn’t get shit in their attempt to siphon or drain my tank. But the taillight fix cost me $300.) And this was in Arcata.

After moving to McKinleyville, my truck and my husband’s truck were broken into. My ashtray had been rifled through and dumped (because they didn’t find any roaches or loose change), and a cheap pair of sunglasses and an expensive jacket were stolen. I will never live in Eureka. Tweekers on stolen bikes would be too easy to hit and run, and I don’t want that on my record.

Friends have had surfboards snatched from the shore as they sat in the lineup, too far to paddle in. (Isn’t that really bad karma, bro?) Wetsuits have been whisked away from clotheslines. Potted plants (seriously) have been poached from porches. Kayaks have been kyped from roof racks. Dogs have been dragged (for reals) from doorsteps. My son’s skateboard was snagged and stomped on at the skate park while he got Subway for his buddies and himself. I’ve heard sad stories from acquaintances who left for a day on the river, only to return home to find the front door wide open and sheets stolen from the bed; the looters made off, Grinch-style, with cameras, iPods, and “eggs in one basket.” Remember the Christmas earthquake last year? Some crackhead looted my stepdaughter’s’home and stole their wrapped gifts. And it never got reported because the cops have better things to do than file reports of the missing items you care or don’t care to report

I should’ve heeded the red flag: While locking up my bike at HSU in 2004, ready for my first day of classes, I noticed my peers bringing wheels and bike seats (anything quick-release) into the classroom. “Better safe than sorry,” one student wryly said to me. “People steal stuff here like it’s their job.”

Property crimes are a symptom of a larger problem. Unless you’re a straight-up certified kleptomaniac who has to steal to satisfy some obsessive-compulsive disorder, you’re most likely a crack/meth-head opportunivore who is breaking into homes or lurking around cars or loitering around O.P.P. to score money or drugs, or money for drugs. And you’re a piece of shit.

Bottom line — and it really sucks to admit this because, for the most part, Humboldt County comprises good people — lock it up. Have a trusted friend watch your stuff when you’re away. I’ve heard of vigilante crews posting up in the dunes by surf-spot parking lots that will strike down, with great vengeance and furious anger, on lame-ass itchy-fingers.

Get the community involved. Register your vehicles/ bikes/gear/pets. Ensure your dog barks only at suspicious/ vile activities, instead of all the time. Pay attention. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

And if all this thievery continues … Humboldt, I want my heart back.

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