It’s been a year since The Great Tire Theft, and I’m feeling inspired. If I were writing a summer book report, I’d call it, “How I Learned that Police Don’t Give Two Shits about Stolen Tires.”
I shouldn’t be angry that someone stole a tire off my truck in broad daylight. Thieves have families to feed, too. That $200 tire probably fetched $20 on the street, which buys a lot of baby formula and school supplies. And meth.
The theft tested briefly my typical Zen-meets-hydro calm. It was at the end of a long Monday – June 4, 2018 – when I walked to my Chevy Trailblazer parked in a private lot behind the Fort Worth Weekly office located in an expensive neighborhood near the Cultural District. My Trailblazer was one of the only vehicles remaining in the lot. (There was no reason to include that last detail. It’s just a shameless plug to let my bosses know I was working late.)
I opened my driver-side door, crawled inside, and put the key into the ignition. My thoughts went something like this as I shifted into reverse: “It’s nice to be off work. I hope traffic isn’t too bad on the … WTF!”
The “WTF!” part occurred as my truck’s front-end fell downward at an odd angle and with a loud thump. I stepped out, walked around, and noticed my right-front tire was gone. The metal rotor, sitting on the pavement, had left a couple of deep gashes in the hard surface from the fall.
Whoever stole the tire had used a jack to lift up the front end and then left the jack holding up my truck afterward. I had rolled the truck backward and off the jack with a crash. The thief took my six lug nuts as well, leaving me unable to attach my spare tire.
This was one method of avoiding traffic, I supposed.
I called police to report the theft. That call was the beginning of a meandering trip down a winding trail deep into the recesses of a black hole’s sphincter. Anyone considering a career as a tire thief could thrive in Cowtown. I kept the jack in case police wanted to dust it for fingerprints. That seems funny a year later. Now, I realize I could have provided police with the thief’s actual fingers and not seen justice prevail.
The Weekly office is nestled among houses valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Monticello neighborhood. The Cultural District and its museums and art galleries are within walking distance. Manicured lawns and high property values lend a cozy sense of safety, albeit misleading. My tire theft wasn’t unique. Police reports from a one-week period in Monticello around that time revealed 16 crimes in the neighborhood, including an aggravated robbery, an assault, a home burglary, a store burglary, four vehicle burglaries, three thefts, and criminal mischief.
Our company truck had been broken into a month previously in the same parking lot. Over the years, our employees have had several cars broken into during work hours. I recalled a former sales executive running into the office some years ago, crying because she’d walked to her car that was parked right outside our main entrance and found her window smashed and several personal items missing.
We supplied police with video footage of the thieves attempting to steal the work truck, but nothing came of it. Our security cameras captured footage of my tire thief as well. Two officers arrived in less than an hour, looked at my truck, wrote down information, and gave me a report number.
The next day, I received a phone message from a police officer asking me to call back and provide my email address so that someone could send a form for me to fill out. I called the number. The phone rang and rang but was never answered and never went to an answering machine. I tried calling numerous times over the next couple of days with no luck.
Ghosted. By the cops.
OK, I get it. A tire theft is relatively insignificant. I’ve been on the receiving end of many underwhelming news tips that I had no interest in pursuing.
I try to imagine a news tip that’s the equivalent of a tire theft to a cop: Maybe a tearful kid walks into a newsroom and says, “I lost my puppy. Can you write a story to help me find it, please?” On a busy day, I’d say, “Go peddle your tears elsewhere, kid. And grow a pair, for chrissakes. It’s a tough world.”
However, if I happened to need a slice-of-life tale to warm readers’ hearts in our Kulture or Stuff pages, I might tousle the kid’s hair and say, “I feel your pain, little fella. Tell me your story.”
I doubted police would see slice-of-life potential in cracking the case of my missing tire. Cops file reports on most everything. They’re like data processors for the insurance industry, tracking bent fenders, keyed doors, and stolen tires without actually giving a damn one way or the other.
The problem with police blowing off petty crimes is that it might prompt people to seek their own retribution. I’m not going all Death Wish on somebody over a tire, but someone might. Violence is in our DNA. Biologists say prehistoric humans first began working together not to come up with better solutions to farming or cave building but to develop better ways to kill other cavemen. If you think we’ve progressed much further than that as a species, read any history book.
Our security footage showed a black 2004 Chevy Colorado pickup truck pulling into the parking lot at about 2:45 p.m. on a sunny day one year ago and parking beside my truck. A stocky man with dark hair went to work with a jack and tire iron. In eight minutes, he removed the tire, loaded it into the back of his pickup, strapped it down, took my lug nuts and two of my wheel caps, and drove away. If he had applied himself in life, he’d be working on a NASCAR pit crew by now instead of driving around Monticello looking for stuff to steal.
The footage provided a grainy but discernible view of the man’s face, body, and clothing, along with the truck’s license plate. My favorite part is the startled look on the man’s face from behind his windshield as he is leaving the parking lot and notices a security camera pointed at him.
The plate number allowed me to look up the truck owner, his name, address, date of birth, driver’s license number, place of employment, and work phone. I found an online photograph of the truck’s registered owner, although the person looked different from the one seen stealing my tire.
We sent the video to police on June 6.
A couple of days later, I emailed Monticello’s neighborhood police officer, Christopher Watts, to say the number I had been told to call to ask for a form was not being answered. Could I give him my email address instead?
An automatic reply came back from Watts, saying he was “out of the office until Monday, June 11” and would “return calls and emails at that time.”
On June 21, I sent another email to Watts. I received another automatic reply saying Watts was “out of the office until Monday, June 24” and would “return calls and emails at that time.” The next day, Watts left a phone message saying he was out of town but “will check on this when I get back into the office” on the 24th.
I sent another email to Watts in mid-July to check the status of The Great Tire Theft. Watts responded with an email saying “the last time I read the report, the detective was waiting on video to be uploaded. Has that been done yet?”
I told him the video was sent weeks earlier. Again, I provided police with the make, model, and license plate of the vehicle driven by the thief.
Patience is not one of my most notable qualities, and I had been busy while waiting for police to do something. The thief’s truck was registered to a guy named Adam, who worked in Dallas. I called the company where he worked and asked the receptionist for Adam. She transferred me to a number that rang a few times before being answered by a message machine. The man on the message identified himself by his full name –– the same name as the truck’s registered owner. I left a message asking him to call me back. I didn’t say why.
Adam never called.
I phoned him a couple more times that week before leaving a detailed message about why I was calling. A truck registered to him had been used in a theft that was captured on video, I said.
Still, no response.
I called Adam’s employer and asked to speak to his supervisor. The receptionist wanted to know why. I told her. She connected me to a human resources representative, who said the tire theft was a police matter and I should call them. The human resources rep said she would take no further action since the incident was not work-related.
I considered driving to the company, looking for the truck in the parking lot, and then waiting beside it for Adam. But I didn’t feel like driving to Dallas to do the police’s job. Besides, either Adam or I might end up as a grease spot, all because of a piece of rubber.
I recall driving around the neighborhood looking for the thief’s truck in parking lots and apartment complexes after watching the surveillance video while I was still riled up. I didn’t want to fight anyone, but I wanted my stuff back, and I was going to look for it and retrieve it if I could.
Psychologists say victims of theft or burglary experience violation, anger, fear, helplessness, and sadness. I felt the violation part but little else. I’ve been seeking inner peace for much of my adult life and have come close in recent years.
When I was younger, I relied on anger for protection from people and circumstances. Eventually, though, all of that inner venom starts poisoning the host. In my 30s, I tried pushing away anger by consciously noting every time I had a negative thought, stopping myself, and thinking of something positive instead.
In time, the furies faded, leaving me fully exposed to life’s travails. Booze and anger were my super powers, and I hid behind them for protection. If someone did something to hurt me, I could drink tequila, say, “To hell with that asshat,” and feel better.
Nowadays, stripped of my defenses, I go straight to sadness when hurt. I wallow too long, beat myself up, and make excuses for the other person.
Anger was like hitting my thumb with a hammer. It hurt like hell then evaporated quickly. Sadness is like wrapping a rubber band around my thumb and leaving it throbbing for long periods.
Eventually, though, I give myself the same pep talk I gave the pretend tyke with the imaginary missing dog: “Grow a pair, kid. It’s a tough world.” That makes me feel better and moves me forward without relying on anger or ill will as a salve.
On July 23, Watts emailed to say he had forwarded my last email to the detective assigned to the case and asked him to contact me. “If you do not hear from him in a day or two, please let me know, and I will go check with him in person,” Watts wrote.
The next day, I received a phone message from a detective, who left his name in a manner that was indecipherable: “This is Detective Gobbledygook from Fort Worth Police Department. Your case is in my active priority case file. I’ve got a couple of other cases in front of you, but yours should be the next one I get to. I have received everything, and it looks to be pretty good as far as having leads on it.”
“Pretty good” seemed like an understatement as far as leads go, considering I provided police with everything except for the thief in person.
I hadn’t heard anything from Detective Gobbledygook by mid-August, so I called and reached an answering machine for what sounded like “Detective Fizharris.” I left a message. After a month with no response, I called again in mid-September. And what do you know? A Detective Fitzharris returned my call. He said the license plate number I had reported didn’t seem to match the description of the truck. After a short conversation, we realized he had the wrong license plate number. A letter and a number had been mistyped apparently.
The detective told me he would send an email requesting information about the theft that he could present to the district attorney for prosecution. He wanted a statement from me along with an invoice listing my expenses for replacing the tire, wheel, lug nuts, and wheel caps.
I provided the statement and invoice the next day.
Then … crickets. For months. And months. In December, a Monticello online chat room was buzzing with discussion about a series of garage burglaries that had occurred. At least 10 burglaries had been reported, all occurring during daylight hours. Tools, lawn equipment, electronics, and bicycles were among the stolen items. In January, police nabbed a burglary suspect in the same block as our office.
More months passed.
Am I angry? No. Fort Worth cops work a demanding, stressful job in the fastest-growing large city in the country. Tire thefts are like hangnails on the triage priority list. I understand. Still, writing about slices of life is my job, and this slice was too plump with irony to ignore. To anyone angered by my rant: Grow a pair. It’s a tough world.
Last week, I called Fitzharris to see if the district attorney had accepted my case and assigned Tarrant County’s most valiant prosecutor to prove the crime. The call went to a phone machine, and I left a message. I’m still waiting for a reply. I hope they don’t forget to call. It’s our anniversary!