Reality Beat: How I Entered The Annals of Crime

Unlike my mom’s dog Skippy-whose birthday I celebrated in this very space a few weeks ago-my family’s dog Mimi hardly receives the time of day from us, let alone a birthday party in Italy. Indeed, were it not for the tender mercies of our daughters, we’d have ditched the shelter animal long ago. She’s the kind of pet that growls at small children on the street. She’ll take your hand off if you get too close to her favorite bone. And now she’s grown a tumor on her side the size of a grapefruit (benign, alas) that makes her even more pathetic.

Nonetheless, Mimi rose several rungs in our estimation on Oct. 7 when she alerted me to the presence of a burglar in our apartment. The incident started shortly before 2 p.m., when I was working in my office-it’s located in the same building where we have an apartment-and heard Mimi barking ferociously.

As I mentioned, barking isn’t unusual for her. Nonetheless, I decided to go upstairs and investigate. The apartment was quiet and so was Mimi, who was now cowering under the dining-room table. But as I headed toward the master bedroom, I made the acquaintance of a rather menacing male, approximately my height and weight-6-foot-2 and around 185 pounds.

The difference is that my 185 pounds is an unimposing blend of flab and bone with that morning’s breakfast pastry thrown in. His was pure muscle, sheathed in a skin-tight, long-sleeved striped knit shirt intended, I suspect, to accentuate the difference in our respective attitudes towards exercise.

Was I afraid? Not totally. Perhaps I was in shock, or perhaps it’s that being on the crime beat I’ve spent so many years exposed to cops and crooks that I’ve become inured to the prospect of crime. (Though I confess it took me far longer than usual to fall asleep that night.) Also, this wasn’t our first burglary: Several years ago, my wife and I walked in on a pleasant, mild-mannered fellow who explained he was looking for the super as he slipped out the door. I knew better and called 911 while my wife raced to the window.

The perp ducked into the building next-door, where the cops arrested him. We weren’t as lucky this time. The crook said something to the effect of “I don’t want any trouble” as he barged past me. I also happened to notice that he was carrying a small black sack in his hand, though no weapon.

I rushed to the phone and called 911 as soon as he was safely out the door. Unfortunately, my wife, who has far more common sense than me, wasn’t around, and I was sufficiently flustered that I didn’t have the presence of mind to pick up the cordless phone or my cell phone and run to the window-so I had no idea in which direction he’d fled, or if he was still in the building.

By the time I reached the lobby, the cops had already started to arrive. It’s fashionable to gripe about city services, but I vividly saw my tax dollars at work that day. No more than five or 10 minutes after I made my 911 call, there were a half-dozen police cars on the street, officers combing the stairwells and an NYPD helicopter hovering overhead in case the perp had fled to the roof. (He hadn’t.) In the amount of time it took me to call 911, he’d apparently escaped.

The police believe the perp had taken the elevator to the top floor, started trying doors, and got lucky when he reached our apartment, which may have been unlocked. Unfortunately, an evidence-collection team that arrived later that afternoon couldn’t come up with any prints.

On the bright side, the incident turned into something of a house party. I knew about half the cops who showed up at my house, and a bunch more at the corner of Third Avenue and 83rd Street, where I was driven after word came over the police radio that the 19th Precinct anti-crime team was detaining a suspect who fit my perp’s description. He was the wrong guy.

The detective who “caught the case,” as they say in police parlance, was Tommy Hackett, a friend and among the 19th Precinct squad’s more resourceful and colorful members. Tommy was one of the detectives assigned to the Irene Silverman case, which resulted in the murder convictions of grifters Sante and Kenneth Kimes. When Tommy isn’t hunting down crooks, he runs a store out of his locker selling NYPD T-shirts, sweats, belt buckles, mugs, etc. I’ve done my Christmas shopping there on more than one occasion.

The detective was eager to have me come in and look at mug shots. For those who haven’t been the victim of crime lately, they’re no longer kept in folders or notebooks, but on the computer. (The software, predictably, is called iMug.) Unfortunately, the computer was down, so it was several days before I could examine the photos.

Not that there was any risk of forgetting my assailant. There’s something about encountering a large stranger in your apartment that seems to permanently sear the guy’s appearance on your consciousness. It occurs during those very active two or three seconds when your every fiber is devoted to calculating whether to detain him and be a hero (perhaps dying for the pleasure), or to override that instinct-wounded male pride be damned-so that you get to write about the experience at a later date, not to mention watch your kids grow up.

Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize any of the tumblers in Tommy’s data banks. None of the images, which included numerous “skells” as the cops call them-wasted drug addicts-transvestites and guys with lots of bumps and bruises, even vaguely resembled my assailant. My perp was neatly if not fashionably dressed. He was even wearing a gold chain around his neck, which probably belonged to some previous victim. By the way, that little black bag he was carrying contained several thousand dollars worth of my wife’s jewelry.

So now I carry my cell phone everywhere, hoping to spot my assailant and avenge my wife’s loss, not to mention my male honor. (An item in Our Town ‘s police blotter, “For Crime Reporter, A Case Hits Home,” only served to heighten my shame.) I have a recurring fantasy of chasing the perp down the street while calling 911, a police dragnet materializing like magic, and then confidently testifying against him in court, sending him up the river on extended sabbatical. (My fantasy does not include him doubling back and beating the shit out of me.)

On my next regularly scheduled visit to the station house, everyone seemed to know about my crime and commiserate with me. Nonetheless, that didn’t prevent Deputy Inspector James Rogers, the 19th Precinct’s commanding officer, from touting the latest crime stats. “Unfortunately, your house was burglarized,” he noted, “but we’re down in burglaries for the week, month and year.”

Oh, yes-and I’m treating Mimi better, too. I now pet her regularly, at least when she isn’t protecting her favorite bone, and I’ve raised her daily ration of dog biscuits from four to six.

Reality Beat: How I Entered The Annals of Crime