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Recovering stolen property without the police?
July 19, 2013 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Looking for advice on how to recover stolen property if I know the thief's identity but the police won't act.

My apartment was burglarized a few weeks ago, and the thief made off with a MacBook Pro and a few other low-value items. Luckily, the online backup service I use continues to upload all files created on the computer, which has allowed me to obtain the thief's full name, email, and Facebook, which in turn has given me his date of birth, high school, relatives' names, and plenty of photos (although not an exact address or phone number). He's even taken Photo Booth pics of himself with my other things, so I'm fairly certain he's not just a hapless stolen laptop buyer.

Despite providing this information to the police, however, my case "has been reviewed and will not be assigned to an investigator at this time."

I'm looking for advice on how I can recover my property, especially from anyone with experience (or even better, success) in this situation. Given how much interest the police have shown so far, I doubt the thief will ever face any serious consequences, and frankly, I don't care that much... I just want my stuff back.

Any help is appreciated. Thanks in advance.
posted by aqhong to Law & Government (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have filed a number of replevin actions and recovered property pursuant to them. This is a civil action for the recovery of property. You can also add a claim for conversion to sue for money damages for the value of the property. It will cost you a few hundred in filing fees, and most courts have form replevin complaints.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:15 PM on July 19, 2013


What city/state/country are you in?
posted by jquinby at 6:15 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why not try pursuing the police approach further? I'd start by contacting your local elected officials, like a councilman or similar. If they won't help, maybe a local reporter who covers the police and government matters would be interested? You might be able to "motivate" the police a little bit if you drum up some attention to your case.
posted by zachlipton at 6:25 PM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"has been reviewed and will not be assigned to an investigator at this time."

What? You need to pursue this more with the police department. Speak to a supervisor. More information about what type of police agency (small town, large city, sheriff's department, et cetera) would be helpful.

You have done all the legwork and it sounds like an easy arrest, I am baffled as to why they will not pursue it and I have experience in dealing with police department bureaucracies.

Feel free to PM me.
posted by mlis at 6:38 PM on July 19, 2013


Is the thief trying to resell your stuff or otherwise get rid of it? Or just hold onto it. Anything I'd say hinges on that, because me and my friends have had plenty of success with the "meet thief trying to Craigslist, steal it back from them" method.

Cops not acting in this type of situation is not uncommon in my experience. In fact, them doing anything would be seen as unusual by me.
posted by emptythought at 7:19 PM on July 19, 2013


Be the squeaky wheel to the police. You're only other alternative is to go to the thief's house and steal it back, which is a horrible idea.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:48 PM on July 19, 2013


Did you have coverage through renter's or homeowner's insurance? If so, I wonder if getting them involved could help.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:58 PM on July 19, 2013


because me and my friends have had plenty of success with the "meet thief trying to Craigslist, steal it back from them" method.

OJ Simpson got away with murder, but is sitting in jail for doing just this. I would not recommend it.
posted by three blind mice at 8:28 PM on July 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


Nthing the suggestion to talk to people on the city council, whether you have district or at-large representation. I've had occasion to work with people on councils in cities as big as 150,000 and know that this can bear fruit.

The person or people on the council realize you're not a raving kook, that your story holds water, and they make a call to ask someone in the police department to take a look.

Obviously it doesn't happen 100% of the time, but no loss in trying.
posted by ambient2 at 1:24 AM on July 20, 2013


Besides your local city councilperson, how about taking it to a local consumer investigative reporter?
posted by easily confused at 2:50 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


My approach would be to identify the complaint process for the police and follow it.. Depending on local arrangements I would copy in media and an elected representatives. Our local police can be a bit behind the times and I would regard it as a civic duty to ensure events such as this are followed up.
posted by BenPens at 3:16 AM on July 20, 2013


Try going through the police again, make sure you talk to a supervisor. It might be better to do this in person. If you can find an address beforehand all the better, and be very clear that you just want your stuff back. I got some things back myself this way -- the thief quickly gave up the items when the police knocked at his door and asked for them.

If you can figure out where he lives, show up with a few friends and knock on the door. Be very polite. Explain how happy you are that they found your lost laptop and all your other lost items. Ask after his relatives by name.

Other alternatives:

Call his mother.

Make a new facebook account, add him as a friend, and add as many of his friends as possible. Message him saying you need your laptop back.
posted by yohko at 6:30 AM on July 20, 2013


easily confused: "Besides your local city councilperson, how about taking it to a local consumer investigative reporter?"

It's this.

From my admittedly limited experience, just threatening to talk to the press when the local police don't want to get off their ass gets somebody involved. Bonus points for using social media.

The local press is usually dying to find local special interest stories, find an intern and they'll spend hours on this guy.

yohko: "Other alternatives: Call his mother."

Whatever you do, don't do this, she might decide to burn the evidence.
posted by Sphinx at 8:23 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


BenPens: "My approach would be to identify the complaint process for the police and follow it.. "

Oops, I was wrong. Whatever you do, don't do this.

Never, ever, ever try and complain about the police to the police department. Several people have been arrested on the spot for doing this. Pardon the pun, but the police don't police themselves, and seem to get irate when someone complains about how they do their job.

If you feel the need to file some sort of complaint, you should try and file it with whatever civilian oversight group oversees the police in your area. In the US, it's usually some arm of the local city council. If you don't have civilian oversight on your local police, than good luck.
posted by Sphinx at 8:32 AM on July 20, 2013


If you go to the thief's home, you could be breaking the law. I'd go back to the police, in person, and ask for advice and assistance. next step, lawyer.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


A friend of a friend had this exact problem with the Oakland police. He set up a tumblr to share details about the criminal (video cam pictures and the like) and the internet went wild with all kinds of press. Within a day or two he was contacted by the Communications department at Oakland PD, who quickly arranged for a squad car to go to the guy's property and get the stolen laptop back.
posted by paddingtonb at 6:30 PM on July 23, 2013


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