Sunday Afternoon With A Good Book ~ To Catch A Thief

No, we neither read the book nor sat back and watched the movie; this post is about catching a thief in our neighborhood. Sorry, no photos this post.

As part of my Sunday day off, Cynthia and I decided to go to our new house and sit and read for a while. You know, get the feel of being in our new home without construction going on. Cynthia had a new book on the Kindle, and I had my copy of 501 Spanish Verbs and wanted to learn more about the fourteen tenses (English has six).

Cyn was settled in reading, and I was talking over the fence with Abdiel who works for one of our neighbors. I was asking Abdiel about the name of a tree with orange flowers (acacia), and we also chatted about the six break ins in our small neighborhood during the past few weeks. Doors have been ripped off their hinges and security bars on windows have been cut and removed. Most of the take has been small stuff; propane tanks ($70 refundable deposit), cameras, stereos, etc. Cynthia and I haven’t been hit because we now have several layers of security at our rental house, and our shipping containers are locked up frog-butt tight with high security padlocks. But still, I am the president of our local neighborhood watch and want to see our barrio safe and sound.

While Abdiel and I were talking, a man that we didn’t recognize, obviously very drunk, crossed our neighbor’s yard and walked toward us. This was a red flag, because in Panama it is against the law to enter someone’s property without permission. Even when our gate is open, none of our neighbors will cross the property line without our permission. He had a garden hose over his shoulder and a spider plant in his hands. His face and hands were all cut up as if he had lost an argument with a barbed wire fence. He pleaded with us to buy his things, but we figured out what was going on and sent him away. The man went to the next neighbor’s house and while apparently scoping the place out, was chased away by the owner.

The man’s next stop was at another neighbor’s house where the entire family was having a get together. He brazenly walked through the front gate and right into the house. The owner (JR) chased him out.

I was watching and decided that enough was enough. He was a little too familiar with our neighborhood and I wondered if he was indeed the perpetrator of all our thefts. I talked with JR and asked if she wanted to press charges. “Yes!” she replied.

We live on the line between two Panamanian provinces. One police department is about 10 minutes away and the other is about 40 minutes. They like to shuffle the calls from our neighborhood off on each other. I called the closest one and made my report and requested a police cruiser (more likely a pickup truck) to apprehend the guy.

Then I ran home and got our car and headed after him. I found him on a side road, trying to sell his bounty to some locals who were waiting for a bus. I drove right up to him and he again tried to sell the hose to me. $10. I got one of the bystanders aside and told him what was going on. I thought I might string the hose vendor along and tell him I would buy the hose but my money was in town and I would take him there, however actually intending to drive right into the police station.

Although I didn’t know the bystanders, they strongly urged me not to do it by myself. They were obviously concerned for my well being and I was touched. I had to honor their request even though I had my hand on my pepper spray and thought I could handle the guy.

I pulled to the side of the road and called the more distant police and gave a detailed description of the man. “Ten minutes,” the officer assured me. Now the man was on the move again, clearly crossing into the jurisdiction of the closer police. I then called the closer police department and gave them the man’s description. While I was parked there, another neighbor called to tell me that they had seen the guy too, and he looked suspicious. But I didn’t get the call because we lost reception.

The man tried to flag down a bus, but it was full. Another bus came along and I ran across the street, warned the driver of the drunken hose thief (it was the thief, not the hose that was drunk), and the driver refused entry to the man.

As I waited for the police, any police, the man walked out of my view and disappeared. It turned out that the police had sent a patrol unit to the edge of town and simply waited for the man to walk into their dragnet.

I drove to the police station, pointed to the man, and made my statement about what had happened. I also got on the phone and asked JR to come and identify the perp as the one who had entered her house.

By then, police from the neighboring province showed up. I re-stated my statement, as did JR. I told the police about the recent Rash of Break Ins (why is it always a rash? Why not a Flurry? Or a Bevy of Break Ins?). The police asked that we try to identify the owner of the hose (which we have now done) and get them to also make a statement to the police.

One of the cops asked if I was in the military during Vietnam. He said that I looked very official and was brave to deal with this guy who could have become violent. It’s funny, or more like odd to me, that even though I really don’t like conflict, I wasn’t at all afraid to confront this guy. I stood right in his face and told him to never come to my neighborhood again. One of the policemen tapped the man on the head and said, “Listen to the man.”

The upshot of this several hour intrusion on my Spanish verb study is that the man was led off in handcuffs (called esposas, same as esposa, the word for “wife” — go figure) to the other precinct, facing at least three or four charges: attempting to sell goods that he most likely didn’t own, trespassing at JR’s house, being out and about without his national identity card (a really, really big oops), and being drunk and disorderly in public.

So I feel pretty good about all of this. We got a petty thief off the street, and perhaps he is the one who has been doing all the damage in our neighborhood under the cover of darkness. Now he knows that we will take him to task for his habits. I also feel really good that once again our Panamanian neighbors have shown us that this is indeed a village. By the end of three hours, seven households were involved to pull together the pieces to put this man in jail.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow I’m back to work. I’d like to get some paint sprayed on some interior walls.