Tom Locklin has reason to be upset.
In June 2011, the 69-year-old Oakdale man reported the stereo system in his 2006 Chevy Silverado had been ripped out when he’d inadvertently neglected to lock his truck that night.
The dash had been destroyed and although police dusted for fingerprints, no suspects were found.
Fast forward a few months later and Locklin was victimized again on Dec. 10, only this time the thieves became more brazen.
Locklin reported his house had been burglarized, his wife’s purse was missing from the living room, and their PT Cruiser had been stolen. A substantial amount of money and her checkbook was taken from his wife’s purse.
There was no sign of forced entry, the dog didn’t bark to sound the alarm, and nothing else was taken.
All signs pointed to an inside job — as in someone close to the Locklin’s may have perpetrated the crime — though Locklin claimed he didn’t know anyone who might’ve had reason or cause to steal from them.
The neighbors didn’t hear anything and the car was recovered in Modesto without any damage. It wasn’t stripped or burned, just abandoned.
“Typically, when a purse has been stolen, we tell people to change the locks on their house and car because now they have access to your house. If you can’t afford to change the locks on the car, buy a Club or some other kind of locking device so the thieves can’t come back and steal your vehicle,” Admin Sgt. Kerri Redd of the Oakdale Police Department said.
In hindsight, Locklin is probably wishing he’d done exactly that for less than a month later, on Jan. 2, the thieves returned and stole his Chevy Silverado – the same truck that’d been hit in June.
Modesto Police Department recovered the stolen truck in Modesto, missing its plates and the stereo.
By this point, Locklin was spitting mad and he wanted answers.
“Why didn’t anyone take any fingerprints?” he demanded. “It seems nobody wants to do any real police work nowadays. It’s a complete joke.”
However, behind the scenes, detectives were busy trying to figure out who kept victimizing this one man repeatedly.
And they were hitting a brick wall.
“The neighbors reported seeing a suspicious male in the area,” Det. Brian Shimmel said. “And we reviewed the surveillance footage from the neighbor but the footage is murky. It’s hard to see anything.”
The footage revealed dark and fuzzy images of a subject in a truck pulling up to the residence late at night. Detectives spent hours trying to pick out details that might identify the truck but fell frustratingly short of their goal in spite of their painstaking effort.
Then, they received information that Locklin’s wife’s credit card had been used at Circle K in Modesto. They went to watch the surveillance tape but were thwarted by operator error, as in no one from Circle K was trained in how to retrieve the information.
“Even though it may seem to the person that nothing is happening, the officer took the time to watch the footage, which is like searching through mud,” Redd explained. “We can’t produce something out of nothing. Even though we’ve done all of this, the homeowner thinks we’re not doing enough. I don’t know what else we can do, honestly.”
Another hurdle officers face is the level of expectation by citizens who have no idea how real police work is done, thanks to cop dramas on television.
“Getting a viable print by dusting for fingerprints isn’t as easy as it looks. If there’s any kind of texture to the surface, it’s almost impossible to get a useable print. CSI is a great show but it makes our job more difficult. We could never collect a cigarette butt for DNA on a burglary case,” she said. “People want the CSI treatment for every theft and there’s just not enough money for that.”
Collected fingerprints from 12 different counties, including Stanislaus, are sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for processing, which can take anywhere between a week to a month for processing and there’s no guarantee they’ll be processed at all.
“On lower level crimes, not counting homicide obviously, DOJ picks and chooses the cases they want to process because they’ve had cut backs, too,” Redd said. “It’s very disappointing but that’s the way it is.”
Even knowing this, officers are still doing what they can to make a difference, noted Redd.
“Officers are still taking the time to check all they can to close a case and that makes me proud,” she said.
Right now, detectives have been inundated with child molestation reports, which require a lot of legwork to create a case strong enough for the District Attorney’s office to prosecute.
Because children are involved, the detectives want to make sure they’re doing everything they can to make it stick.
But it takes time and resources — two things officers don’t always have in large supply.
On any given 24-hour period, there are 100 incidents logged into dispatch, not all of these calls will turn into cases but each require time and effort to see through.
“These calls take away from any police work that needs to be done,” Redd said. “And we’ve been inundated with thefts throughout the city.”
On a day that Redd worked the dispatch desk, it was so busy she couldn’t catch a breath and neither could her officers on shift, which meant no breaks for lunch or bathroom needs. It was go, go, go. It never stopped.
Unfortunately, in Redd’s opinion, the solution isn’t as simple as saying, “We need more cops on the street, although that would help, the problem is much bigger than that.”
With every state and federal law enforcement agency tightening their belt, the ripple effect is being felt everywhere — and it’s not good.
“The prisons are kicking out the felons to county jail and county is sending property thieves back on the street because they don’t have the room,” Redd said.
As an example, a parolee was picked up on charges for having possession of four stolen vehicles on his property; within a month he was back on the street.
“Everybody’s getting kicked back and it’s the trickle effect that affects the average citizen because the criminals are out there, looking for things to steal,” Redd said.
Case in point, Redd noted a suspicious character in her neighborhood that she didn’t recognize as a resident on her street. By the following night, a known thief was seen cruising through her neighborhood.
A thief’s job is to steal — and they’re out looking for new prospects, which is why officers are saying it’s more important than ever that neighbors get to know their neighbors and watch out for any suspicious behavior.
“People have to be more diligent about protecting their property,” Redd said. “You have to get to know your neighbor.”
To that end, there are 27 Neighborhood Watch groups, however, only about 10 are active, such as in the Bridle Ridge and Burchell Hill neighborhoods.
And if you want to know what kind of crimes are being reported in your neighborhood, go to www.crimereports.com where everything from rape to theft to registered sex offenders are listed for anyone who has the desire to know.
Unfortunately, Redd said, there are a lot of crimes not being reported, which only hampers officers’ as they try to watch for crime spikes in certain areas.
But there’s another trend starting to happen that may spell trouble later as a certain level of lawlessness continues — more people are arming themselves to protect their property.
According to Oakdale Police Chief Marty West, concealed weapon permits were on the rise.
But as of Jan. 1, Oakdale would no longer process the requests, having handed that responsibility to the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department due to a lack of resources.
And so there you have it, officials said, the consequence of a spiraling economy as experienced by ordinary folk and the people just trying to make it through to the end of the day, no matter which end of the 911 call they land.
High-end surveillance cameras, anti-theft devices, neighbors watching neighbors and guns — the ripple effect is bound to affect everyone in some way; just ask Tom Locklin.