Ten things to remember when chasing down a burglar

On a Saturday morning a few weeks ago we awoke to the sound of an ominous crash coming from the house next door. It sounded like glass breaking. Something was wrong. Our neighbor’s house had been unoccupied for the past month since she went to live with family after her 93 year old roommate died. Fearless Trixie got up to investigate. She came back to say nothing looked amiss. A short while later I went out to the corner store to pick up some half and half and eggs and on the way back decided to check out the house again. At the moment I got around the corner to the back of the house someone with bulging pockets was creeping out the back gate. A sketchy-looking skinny white guy with missing teeth wearing a wife beater. A movie cliché of a crack-head.

He said something nervously about fixing the roof and needing to go out for more supplies. I started asking difficult questions. He kept deflecting and slowly backing away. Then in an instant he was hauling ass up the sidewalk. Shit.

These are ten things I’ve learned since that moment:

1.) Wear comfortable shoes. Clearly you don’t want to be running in flip flops or pumps. Ideally you’d be double knotted into a pair of track shoes. Sockless Jack Purcells will give you blisters. But they’ll heal.

2.) Take your bag of groceries with you. This may seem ill-advised at first glance, but you will need it to store the handfuls of jewelry that your burglar will throw down every few blocks to thwart your pursuit. And, you’ll be surprised at how hungry you are when the chase is over.

3.) Keep your distance. 10-20 yards. You don’t want to find out if he’s got a weapon. You don’t want a scuffle. You just want to stay close enough so that bystanders know you are actually chasing someone, not just out for a jog.

4.) Harden your heart. After a few blocks of pursuit, your burglar will start to bargain with you. He will say things like “There, that’s the last of it. Just let me go, please.” Or better, “Please, I don’t want to go to jail. I’m so sorry.” Or even more heart-tugging, “Please, I’m on parole, I have a two year old. Who will take care of him?” Be strong, dear runner, your heart should remain dedicated to pumping oxygen, not undermining your resolve.

5.) Figure out your shouting script early on and stick to it. I recommend something like “He just robbed an old lady. Stop him!” You’ll need to repeat this line just about every block. Bystanders won’t know what or why there is a pursuit. You need to keep each successive block informed. Especially if you want the police to eventually show up or, better, if you want a big black guy to get out of his car and help you end the race. Hope for that ending.

6.) Bring your cell phone. It’s a real drag being far from home knowing that your family members are waiting to put cream in their coffee and fry up some eggs. They will wonder where you are. It’s embarrassing borrowing a police officer’s phone, hoping your household isn’t screening calls.

7.) Don’t ride in the back of the police car. They’re going to ask you to go back to the place of the burglary and later to the police station to take a statement and a bunch of other shit. But you’ll need to insist on the respect you deserve. You’ve just chased down a fucking burglar. You’re a crime-fighter. You don’t deserve to sit on a plastic seat that smells like blood and feces. There’s no air conditioning back there. Everyone watching the scene assumes you just got arrested. Trust me, you don’t want all that. Tell the police, you’re riding in the front seat or you’ll wait for a taxi.

8.) When you get home with the police to get the phone number for your next door neighbor, insist that they take your statement and information right there and then. Resist their requests to “go back to the station for some paperwork.” Two hours sitting in a precinct lobby to just repeat information you have already provided to two other note-taking officers is a big annoying waste of time. You don’t NEED to go. They have telephones.

9.) A few days later when the assistant DA calls to schedule the hearing date, negotiate with him. They need your help. They can work around your schedule. Insist that you be the first hearing of the day. And more importantly, request that the DA file a motion to restrict the defendant from coming within 500 feet of your property. It’s a simple motion, but he won’t suggest it. It’s worth it though, for some minimally increased sense of security.

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10.) When you finally talk to your neighbor and you discover that the total recovered items from the defendant were two rolls of dimes, a wad of jewelry she describes as “costume stuff” worth about $100, and a half a bottle of her roommate’s vicodin, do not feel demoralized or chagrined. It does not help. Because you know that it wasn’t ever about the stolen goods. Stay focused. It was about crime. About keeping your neighborhood safe. It was about justice. And anger. It was about a split second decision. It was about a new sensation. It was just the only right thing to do that hot Saturday morning. You, too, dear reader, can chase down a burglar.


21 responses to “Ten things to remember when chasing down a burglar”

  1. WW says:

    Law & Order: Philly style. It is always sunny there. Way to go, F, even if your effort felt futile. It wasn’t. It mattered.

  2. Missy says:

    Great, engaging post. I empathized with you so fiercely that by the end I was starving. Thank goodness I already have eggs (and bacon! not part of your narrative, but I instinctively felt it was there somewhere) in the fridge and don’t have to go to the corner store. Who knows how long I might have to wait for breakfast?

  3. Scotty says:

    This post got my blood pumping almost as much as a drunken middle of the night call from Long Beach.

    Hells yes, Mr. Fawcett, hells yes!

  4. Jeremy says:

    Wow, fantastic post. Entertaining and funny and, yes, ultimately kind of sad. And what a bad-ass, too, chasing down tweaker Philly burglars. (I think I would’ve just shook my fist at him and yelled, “And don’t come back!”)

  5. MF says:

    Once again you have established your status as supreme TGW hero. Great post. I’ll remember never to sit in the back seat of a police car.

  6. lisa t. says:

    Me [batting eyelashes and looking up gratefully toward Farrell]: The old-lady-next-door– and my– hero.

  7. trixie says:

    he’s my hero, too.

  8. Jeremy says:

    No, he’s my hero!

  9. Dave says:

    Is there enough Fawcett to go around?

  10. brooke says:

    Wow. Exciting weekend in the 215. I’m happy you got the creep, and I agree it’s about having a safe neighborhood, not so much the costume jewelry. After all, what if everyone just ignored robbers because they were probably only stealing dimes and cheap jewelry?

    I do think #2 is ill advised, especially if you’ve got something heavy like milk. Maybe just put the bag down, pull out the chips, and take those along for a snack. Great post!

  11. Trixie Honeycups says:

    dave- you of all people should know that there is no end to the bounty of fawcett (well, i might know that better, come to think of it, actually.)
    brooke, i totally agree. it was just half and half, and eggs. but there was SUPPOSED to be milk. in fact, the next words out of my mouth after “my hero!” were “where’s the milk?”

  12. Trixie Honeycups says:

    does that make me high maintenance?

  13. farrell fawcett says:

    it’s true. those were her exact words. no, it doesn’t make you high maintenance, just funny. to everyone else, thanks for the love. i expected most of the comments would be more like “you’re insane. what the hell were you thinking?” you probably thought it, but thanks for not saying it. the other fun thing that happened is that the word got around the neighborhood and suddenly neighbors are saying “damn, i heard you tackled a burglar. awsome!” i don’t bother correcting them. oh yeah, and our neighbor who was victimized brought over a case of beer to thank me. so, i guess that makes it all worthwhile. even though it was heineken. i’d do it all again even without the beer.

  14. Dave says:

    Heineken is practically not beer.

  15. Dave says:

    Also, I don’t think you were insane. Not about chasing the burglar. But I don’t think I would have done it. I’m not a morning person.

  16. Trixie Honeycups says:

    #14: word. that’s not kept me from having a cold one though.

  17. Stephanie Wells says:

    You are totally NOT insane for doing that, even if it’s insane. I would have done the smae thing (I did, once, but in a car, outside of Tim Wager’s place in fact when someone’s bike was being stolen.) I think you are a heroic vigilante and I wish there were more of you.

  18. brooke says:

    #12: Totally H.M.D.Q.

  19. andrea says:

    Man. I decide to check in with my long, lost whatsies and what do I find? I will now dream of having my own vigilante Fawcett around. You tough and funny he-man. Now, I don’t drink milk so it would have been “Where’s the Rice Dream?” which is just not as funny.

  20. Tim Wager says:

    Heineken is practically not beer.

    “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

    (I did, once, but in a car, outside of Tim Wager’s place in fact when someone’s bike was being stolen.)

    I have no recollection of this incident. It could have been any one of many sketchy neighborhoods I’ve lived in.

    And Farrell, you go, boy.

  21. wow. not only am i hungry for eggs but i think you’re the coolest superhero i know. not a sentence i’ve ever formulated before, so this is a moment to remember kids.