I was a victim of burglary

If you’ve been reading my recent blog posts, you’re probably already aware that I recently made a quick trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. Considering I am temporarily staying in the residential quarters of the Tempo company facility, I had a convenient non-stop flight available via Southwest Airlines from Long Beach Airport up to Oakland International Airport.

Upon arrival, I picked up my rental pickup truck—a 2021 Toyota Tacoma—and enjoyed my week-long visit.

I am probably one of the most anti-California people you’ll ever meet. I hate California and almost everything about it. For example…

Much of California’s newest legislation is counterproductive for the people, serving more to make political statements than to help the state’s residents. Cal­i­for­nia claims to help the disadvantaged and marginalized population, but statistics show that is not the truth. California’s legislators have a long track record of being unable to learn from history—both their own and that of other states’—and constantly make easily-avoidable mistakes. California’s state a­gen­cies make it increasingly difficult for businesses to operate effectively and efficiently, thus creating limits to innovation and advancement. Cal­ifornia’s taxes are ridiculously high, but their gov­ern­ment services are cripplingly incompetent compared to other states’.

As you can imagine, that list only scratches the surface of my issues with California. The only reasons I even continue to maintain any relations with Cal­i­for­nia at all are because Tempo is a California corporation (though that may be changing soon) and I have a decent number of friends and family mem­bers who choose to call California their home.

Branching off my prior point of California using their policies for politics, California’s cities are absolutely infested with crime right now due to its “soft on crime” attitude in response to the recent social activism surrounding police and racism. Because of this, I frequently preach about the importance of per­son­al safety in California, especially in Greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The police there do not have the same kind of staffing as de­part­ments in the suburbs or in other states, and they often do not have the resources to respond in a timely manner to non-life-or-death calls, so you need to protect and look out for your own self.

The San Francisco Bay Area in particular has or­gan­ized crime groups that commit seamless, highly efficient thefts in broad daylight. These thieves use spe­cial­ized equipment integrated directly into their gloves to shatter car windows in less than a second and take valuables from inside. Each squad has their own rotating route on which they memorize which cars are owned by locals so that they can instead target the more vulnerable tourists. Other less or­gan­ized thieves do not discriminate and hit every vehicle in an area. Because of the strain on law enforcement resources, the criminals are becoming in­creas­ing­ly brazen.

Locals have tried to combat this by emptying their vehicles, posting signs on their windows pleading for the thieves not to tamper, leaving their doors un­locked as to disincentivize window break-ins, and sometimes even leaving their trunks and hatchbacks wide open. It sometimes works… and some­times doesn’t.

The late morning of the day of my departure, I checked out of my hotel and went to refuel my rental pickup truck so I wouldn’t be charged an e­gre­gious­ly high refueling fee. I was staying at the Courtyard by Marriott Oakland Airport, so I picked a convenient gas station nearby and on the way to the ren­tal car facility—the Shell at 285 Hegenberger Road. I placed my backpack on the front passenger seat, threw my luggage in the back seat, and set off with­out bothering to put the address into my GPS—it was just a u-turn and a few blocks away.

I turned right into the gas station, drove up to a fuel pump, put my rental vehicle in park, and stepped outside. I used my credit card to pay at the pump, authorized the transaction, in­serted the nozzle into my gas tank, and locked the trigger. While fuel was flowing, I started walking a circle around the ren­tal pickup truck to inspect for damage ahead of its return.

I made my way around and behind the pickup truck over to the opposite side and noticed that the front passenger side door was slightly ajar. Confused as to how I managed to drive from the hotel to the gas station without noticing, and wondering why the truck didn’t alert me, I pushed the door securely shut and continued my walkaround.

One second later, I realized what happened.

I peered in through the window and noticed my backpack was gone.

I had fallen victim to the organized theft rings in the San Francisco Bay Area, culprits of the very crime that I warn people about all the time.

More as a formality than anything else, I walked into the convenience store after I was done refueling, upon which the clerk and a customer, both of whom had witnessed the crime, said it happened “right under [my] nose.” They said it was over in a matter of seconds while I had my back turned to the truck and was paying for fuel—a white Jeep Compass had driven up, opened the passenger side door, snatched my backpack, and drove away. I always ad­vise people to keep their head on a swivel, but it seems like even that wouldn’t have helped in this situation, considering how quickly and ef­fi­cient­ly the theft was ex­e­cuted.

To make matters worse, I basically telegraphed that I was a tourist, i.e., an easy target. My rental pickup truck had Washington plates, which indicated I was a visitor—if not a rental car, then probably an out-of-state road tripper. On top of that, I noticed that the people in that area were pre­dom­i­nant­ly Black, so being the one and only Asian person functionally announced that I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood and most likely was not a resident.

However, notwithstanding any of the above, the thieves accessed my passenger side door without breaking the window. So what happened?

After thanking the witnesses for the information, I headed back out to my rental pickup truck and did a bit of testing. I started the engine, placed the truck in drive, ensured all the doors were locked, then reverted it back to park. The instant I shifted to park, all the doors automatically unlocked, pre­sum­a­bly as a convenience feature. When I had exited the vehicle earlier to refuel, I did not manually re-lock all the doors (nor did I realize I even had to).

Considering that this kind of theft happens in this area all the time, and no vehicles or firearms were stolen, I didn’t bother calling the police—it’s not like they will or can do anything in this situation anyway. Instead, I just drove over to the rental car facility to return the pickup truck and ensure I would be at the airport on time as to not miss my flight.

So what was the damage?

A Lenovo Legion 7 Series laptop I purchased on sale for ~$1,600 that retails for ~$1,850. A Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II digital camera I pur­chased on a no-warranty discount for ~$550 that normally retails for $629. Two SanDisk Extreme PRO SDXC cards, a 512 GB one in the camera and a 256 GB one for backup, I purchased for a combined ~$150. A custom-designed zirconium pen with titanium damascus hardware I pur­chased for ~$300. A dis­con­tin­ued classic Red Bull Signature Series backpack I received for free from Red Bull but was also available for sale at the time for ~$150. RayCon Eve­ry­day earbuds I purchased on sale for ~$70 which now retails for $90. And some other odds and ends with a cu­mu­la­tive value not exceeding $150.

The total of actual losses, without accounting for retail or resale prices, was ~US$2,820.

As sadistic as this may sound, I’m sort of glad this happened. Things could have gone much, much worse, and they didn’t.

First, I’ve learned that this is one of those things where, you can study the criminology, theories, and data all you want, but it’s hard to truly understand it until it’s happened to you. Even as someone who has formerly worked in law enforcement and has seen this happen all the time, it’s definitely a wake-up call and a learning experience when it happens directly to you.

I also only got my backpack stolen, and not my phone or wallet, which were both directly on my person at the time of the theft. If I had gotten either of those stolen, I am fairly certain I would not have been able to make my flight back, or if I did, there would have been many complications. My wallet had my only form of identification. My phone had my electronic boarding pass. I did not know how to navigate to the rental car facility without GPS as­sis­tance. I needed rideshare service to return to the place I’m staying at after I land.

Unrelated to the travel issues, my wallet also contained credit cards with a cumulative credit limit of over US$120k, which I would not have been able to immediately freeze if I didn’t have my phone. Even though I personally would not have been liable for unauthorized purchases, that is still an as­tro­nom­i­cal amount of money for a merchant to lose if someone used my cards and the store handed over the merchandise to the thief.

I also had minimal to no threat to my personal safety. It happened behind my back before I had any opportunity to react, and I had no direct interaction with the thieves (i.e., it was not a robbery). I did not have a deadly weapon brandished at me. That is definitely a relief, because I generally do not carry my firearm with me when I am traveling by plane (due to the extra hassle it takes to properly secure it in a special container and transport it through checked baggage), so if there was a threat to my life, it’s not like I would’ve even been able to fight back and defend myself.

After returning to Long Beach, I went straight to my personal pickup truck and did some testing, upon which I learned that it also had this “convenience feature.” I guess it is convenient for people who travel as a group, but considering that I almost always travel alone, I turned off auto-unlock for all ex­cept the driver’s door.

This means that, during my last 4.5 years of truck ownership and somewhere upwards of 150 refueling sessions, my pickup truck doors had always been left unlocked at the gas station. That’s a little scary to think about, considering that sometimes, when I am hiking or wearing workout shorts that are not compatible with a holster, I will carry my gun in my backpack. I am very fortunate that my backpack did not get stolen during any of those times when my gun was inside, and I am also very fortunate that my gun was not inside in this instance when my backpack did get stolen.

Ultimately, this was a very simple financial loss of ~$2,820 on my end. There were no credit cards stolen that could’ve caused further damage to mer­chants, no firearms stolen that could’ve been used to commit aggravated crimes or take others’ lives, and no personal injury to my own health or well-being. Obviously, $2,820 is quite a bit of money, but I am very fortunate to have a great job where I can maximize the use of my strengths to bring high value to the company and be compensated very well, so it won’t be difficult for me to recover.

Upon arriving at the airport, I used my phone to remote log out, change passwords, and deauthorize account and software licenses from my freshly-stolen laptop. Except for the most recent 10 or so pictures, everything else was already backed up from my camera to the cloud, so I didn’t lose any photo mem­o­ries from the trip (as you can see from the restaurant blog posts I already published).

After returning to Long Beach, I filled out an online police report with the Oakland Police Department. This incident happened back on Tuesday, Jan­u­ar­y 24, 2023 a few minutes after noon Pacific time. I filled out a police report around 10:30 PM that same night. It has now been over two weeks and my report still has not been processed, so I still do not have a formal report number.

As you can probably tell from my website, one of my favorite things to do is to capture photographs and share my life with others on my blog, so my cam­er­a was the very first thing I replaced—I purchased a new Sony ZV-1. It is lacking a few convenience features that my old Canon camera had, but the auto-focus is extremely fast and accurate, and it’s nice trying out a new brand to get a broader perspective of the available technology on the market.

I didn’t buy a new laptop, and instead fished out my old Chromebook I bought around 8 or so years ago. It’s slow, but it still works. I can’t play games on it or do advanced photo editing, but I can still check my emails, write blog posts, browse the web, and use cloud apps like Google Docs/Sheets and Mi­cro­soft 365 for Web. Considering how I basically do everything on my desktop computer and barely use my laptop, I figured there’s no rush to buy an­oth­er laptop.

I replaced my lost earbuds with the JBL Tune 125TWS. I use desktop speakers with my computer and literally only ever wear earbuds when I’m on a plane, so I didn’t go too overboard doing research on earbuds before making a purchase—I just picked one that was not too cheap, was in stock, and had quick shipping available.

I don’t care what backpack I use, so I went to the garage of Tempo‘s HQ and grabbed a backpack from a huge pile of old equipment that probably would have gotten thrown out anyway; it is more satisfying to me that I am recycling potential waste, rather than having a nice backpack. I didn’t replace my zirconium pen because that thing was way too heavy anyway and probably would’ve served better as a paperweight than a pen. Everything else I either replaced in-kind (like the SD cards) or did not replace (like my phone charger, because I already have plenty).

And with that, I leave you with one actionable step and one piece of advice.

Newer vehicles are all coming with more and more convenience features. I personally don’t like them. For example, I have an old-school pickup truck bed where you need a physical key to get in, and the only way to breach is either to pick the lock or take an angle grinder to the steel cover. This gives me a lot of peace of mind when storing things in my truck bed. On the contrary, newer pickup trucks have electronic tailgates where you can press a button or hot-wire an electronic signal to open them.

If you have a vehicle that was manufactured in the past several years, check your convenience feature settings in the instrument cluster and infotainment system. If you often drive alone, make sure these “features” aren’t leaving you vulnerable to theft.

And finally, don’t get complacent. I, a former member of law enforcement, a former mixed martial arts coach, someone who holds an academic degree with a focus on crime, and someone who is generally highly aware of my surroundings, still fell victim to professional thieves. It’s never good to be so anx­ious and paranoid that you can’t think clearly, but it’s also dangerous to be complacent. Stay humble and alert.