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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 02/ 4/2011

My Car Break-In, Caught on Video

By Theola Labbé-DeBose

I am the kind of city dweller who is on guard nearly all of the time. You won't find me walking around listening to music on my iPod, texting on my Blackberry, or carrying my wallet in my hand (the times when I run out to Starbucks from the office, I tuck it tightly under my arm). I don't want to be distracted or make it easy for someone to come along and swipe my stuff right from me. Gotta be street smart.

I've applied similar caution when it comes to my car. Don't leave a coat out in plain sight. Cover up other items or put them on the floor if I have to leave them in the car. I don't want to give someone a reason to look into my vehicle.

So I'm kicking myself for letting my guard down Thursday morning, which led to my car break-in that was captured on video.

It was a busy morning. I woke up at 7 a.m. as usual to give my seven-month-old son his morning bottle, change him and put him back to bed. I had an 11:30 a.m. meeting and probably should have gone straight to work. But I decided to squeeze in a workout at the gym (It had just been so long!). So after some time on the treadmill and a few pushups it was 10:45 a.m and I was driving around near The Washington Post looking for that rare bit of parking grace, a legal spot on the street. When I turned onto the 1300 block of N St NW, it seemed to be my lucky day. There was a tight space seemingly just waiting for my parallel parking skills and my small 1997 Toyota Rav4. I pulled in, turned off the car and collected my belongings.

As a reflex I turned around to check the back seat and saw my gym bag. I tried to stuff it down with one hand but it was bulky and wouldn't fit. Usually I keep a blanket in the back of the car so I can cover items when I leave them. That blanket was missing. Shoot, I thought. Still, I'm not sure why I didn't just toss the gym bag in the back anyway, instead of leaving it on the seat. Or carry it with me to the office. I remember thinking quickly, "Oh, it will be fine, it's the daytime, right off a major street in an okay area."

According to this video taken from a nearby condo building camera, about 30 minutes later, a man walking by spotted the bag and decided it was his lucky day. Within 30 seconds he broke in and grabbed it.

I got back to my car about 6:30 p.m. I sat in the driver's seat, about to turn on the car, when I instinctively turned around to check for my bag. And then I saw the broken window. And the shards of glass sitting in my son's car seat base. And I thought, "Okay. You got me. I can't even be that surprised. I let my guard down."

I called the police, who kindly came after about 15 minutes, and the officer took a report. He offered to call a crime scene technician, and I took him up on it, so another officer came out and put black dust on my car, looking for fingerprints. The concierge at the condo building stared at hours of video footage from that camera to find the precise moment when the car window got smashed. The officer watched the video too, noting the suspect's description for his report.

I lost some new gym clothes, toiletries, a beautiful silk scarf my mother picked out for me for Christmas, sneakers and sweaty socks, a piece of costume jewelry and a very old iPod, the kind that still had the click wheel. I care about the scarf the most because it was the kind of personal present that I planned to keep forever.

There's no huge lesson here, since I know what I should have done and in a rush, I didn't do it. I forgot my own operating instructions about never leaving anything out in the car and a criminal took advantage of that.

I remember what a resident of the condo building said to me as I stood outside next to the missing window in the early evening darkness of winter, waiting for the police.

"Did your car get broken into?" he said, as his dog paced impatiently for his walk to start. "Happens all the time on this block, all the time."

Crime. It happens all the time. I know that because I write about it. And occasionally, I know that because I experience it.

[Labbe'-Debose covers crime in The District for The Post.]

By Theola Labbé-DeBose  | February 4, 2011; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Crime, Seen, Personal Safety, The Criminal Mind, The District, Theola Labbé-DeBose  
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"Happens all the time on this block, all the time."

Time to try some bait tactics, it seems. Set up a police-owned car with a bag prominently on display, video it from inside and out and have some officers at the ready. Should be able to sweep a few of them off the street. That or the exploding James Bond car.

Posted by: bb1999 | February 5, 2011 7:31 AM | Report abuse

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