Monday, 3 October 2016

They stole our stuff and the police got it back

by Farzana Rasheed

Image from here.
We woke up to a quiet and cool Sunday morning. The LEC had been off since the day before and, the back up generator had been running since last night. We turned it off at 6:00 AM and, I turned it back on at about 1030 AM. I put on the kettle and, sat on the sofa to enjoy Fareed Zakaria's GPS programme on CNN. Haresh was snoozing in the guest room and, he soon joined me. 

My phone rang and it was one of our clients inquiring why the Internet Service was so slow at his apartment. The client was actually ringing Haresh but he'd been looking for his phone the whole morning and, the call diverted to my phone. While he was chatting to the client, he explained all this and also started telling him that his wallet was missing. While this conversation was going on, I suddenly realised that my laptop bag was missing! I shrieked in grief as if I'd lost a loved one. I couldn't believe it. In fact, an older laptop and my brand new Macbook Pro had been swiped from the dining table. 

I shrieked in pain, shocked, because I had had a burglary in 2009 and, my Macbook Pro had been stolen late at night in Monrovia. It brought back terrible memories of that night when a thief had come in through an open balcony door and, went into my office and, stolen a whole bunch of laptops. In those days, my office was my apartment too and, Haresh had rushed to the balcony, inches behind the oily thief. I never recovered my laptop and was quite devastated. I had no back up and, years of work and personal files were lost. 

So, this Sunday, I felt the same sense of insecurity and loss. In fact, I had just had a phone stolen (and thankfully recovered) hardly a few weeks ago.

We ran around the apartment looking for a sign of breakage until we found a massive gaping hole in the ceiling of the guest room (where Haresh had been snoozing). We stood shell shocked standing in that room and I kept wailing about my laptops. How come we didn't hear anything? How come Haresh hadn't noticed the hole in the ceiling? 

Haresh quickly put on some clothes and shoes and rushed off to the Police Station. 

After 20 minutes, Haresh brought back 2 Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officers with him in 'plain clothes.' They  looked around in apartment and then, went to investigate. They climbed up into the roof and founded my discarded handbag. The thief didn't think it was valuable. I didn't even realise it was missing. 

Haresh hadn't noticed the hole in the ceiling. He didn't notice the window of the room slightly ajar and, the side table in a mess. He had thought our daughter Kavita had made the mess. He also didn't think of anything when he couldn't find his phone. 

And, I was shocked that we hadn't heard someone cutting a hole in the ceiling. We could only console ourselves that the generator was on, our own bedroom door was locked and, it was also raining. We couldn't have heard anything.

Would you believe our luck that the police found the thief in the community behind our apartment building after hardly 30 minutes?! Haresh rushed up excitedly to say they found the thief and he'd seen him. My laptop bag and laptop sleeve was found upon him.  He was apparently a young good-looking boy named Smoky. There was a commotion on Randall Street and folks had gathered around to watch the show. Apparently, people around him said he was an unbelievable climber. The community members explained that they themselves were alway prone to robberies and, they had so many known criminals living amongst them. 

The thief Smoky explained to the police where he had deposited the stolen items and, they went off. They didn't have a car so Haresh offered them to use our car. After a couple of hours, they came back and took Smoky with them because they hadn't recovered the stolen property. 

During this time, needless to say, I was very agitated, upset and angry. It's really not a good feeling to know your home has broken into. I thanked the gods for our health, for my books and paintings, and for each other but still, I felt stung and insecure. We asked ourselves, "What are we doing here?" 

I also called up the landlord and, told him that hardly a week ago, we had replaced our Air Conditioner because the rain leakage had messed up the AC. I complained to him that his building had a flimsy roof and now, burglars had just cut out a hole and climbed into our home. The security that he had hired was also clearly useless. I managed to control my ranting and asked him to send someone to temporary repair the roof so that the rains don't flood our home. I even added a "Sir" and "Sorry to disturb" you in my conversation. I've learned that landlords in Monrovia really don't guarantee anything and, it's better to stay on their good side. I also sent the landlord a polite WhatsApp message with pictures of the damage. Sure enough, less than 1 hour later, the landlord's contractor was at our place and, started working on temporarily closing up the hole.

At around 5 or 6 PM, the police came back and, showed us the retrieved laptops and phone and wallet. They said they would keep these items as evidence and could only be collected at the Central next day. Haresh asked whether at least he could have his phone back as we receive so many business calls on Haresh's number. The police gave Haresh's phone back to him and, said they still needed his car to go look for Smoky. They went off.

Another fellow came to Haresh and gave him some cards and IDs that were in his wallet. I don't know how he got them but said he would be an informer for Haresh and in case he saw any hanky panky.

I felt so much better but slightly anxious that my laptops were not back with me. Haresh put me on the phone with the head of the burglary department boss. The boss explained that my laptops would be safe and, we could collect them the next day.

I felt more at ease but still shaken up. We had a visit from friends who came to "sympathise." We had tea and pakoras and, chatted about life in Liberia.

It was unbelievable that we had our things back but suffered through a day of stress and anxiety and a sense of insecurity.

I then told myself that most of the public in Monrovia lives with even more acute insecurity and uncertainty. How many times have staff told us their phones were swiped from their pockets during the ride home, in tightly cramped taxis? How many times had staff told us about how their home had been victim to armed robbery?

The police is also poorly paid and badly equipped. The CID who recovered our things did not have a vehicle and did their work with a 'small encouragement' of $ 70.00 which they used to pay informers.

The security companies employed by apartment buildings, shops and offices do not train their security guards either. I doubt they pay them well. They are not equipped with any arms or even a stick. During heavy rain, they huddle under the doors of the buildings they are meant to protect. They don't have a chance against any rogue.

Our landlord told us he would deduct any money we spent with the police and damages from the fees of the security company. Most likely, the salary of the feeble security guards would also be affected. Fair?

Haresh and I talked about putting some new rules in the house and, thought about putting more barbed wire on the roof and, even electrifying the roof.

All these questions aside, sure enough Haresh got our stuff back from the Police today. I came to the office and, my laptop was on my desk. It was not formatted (luckily,  do have a backup), damaged or even slightly scratched. It's as if yesterday's events were just a terrible nightmare.

Thank you, Liberia Police, by the way. 

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