I had a few errands to run early this afternoon. A package to mail, a check to deposit at an ATM, and a drug store and grocery stop. After I was done, I decided to make a little loop up past Indian Rock, then down to Solano for a bakery indulgence, then back home. On one of the streets along my way, I saw a couple of kids go into a driveway that was partially shrouded by a bush; then one of them stuck his head out and looked up and down the street — almost like he was doing charades for the phrase “furtive ne’er-do-well.”
I had my digital camera, and my first impulse was to take it out and snap their picture. But I thought better of it. The furtive-looking kid had a cellphone out and looked like he was talking. Maybe he and his buddy were just hiding out while cutting school or something. I avoided eye contact as I walked past, having decided I didn’t want to do anything confrontational since I didn’t like my odds for taking on one kid, let alone two. I continued up to the end of the block, then looked back. I could still see the guys at the end of the driveway. Then a guy who was working on a neighboring house came out onto the sidewalk and looked their way; they started walking up the street, past the worker and toward me. My gut feeling was that something didn’t look right, so I took my digital camera out, set the telephoto magnification to its 10x maximum. I was pretty sure the shot would come too fuzzy to make out their faces, but I took a shot anyway (it’s the one above; click it to see a large version).
Then I continued on and looked back after a minute or so. Strange. I didn’t see the two guys. I walked a few more steps and looked back again. No, they weren’t there. A car passed while I was looking back and pulled into the curb about 50 yards ahead of me. When I turned and continued up the street, the two guys I saw were climbing out of the car with a third guy who’d been driving. Not sure whether the driver had seen me take the first picture and they were going to try to intercept me, but they started walking away from me — the driver across the street, the two guys I’d seen earlier on the sidewalk ahead of me. There was something casual but purposeful about the way they were leaving the car that made me wonder whether it was stolen and they were ditching it. So I took a shot of the car (below), with the trio retreating in the background. I followed them around the corner just to see which way they were going, then decided to go with my gut instinct and call the police.
I called the Berkeley police non-emergency number and told the dispatcher I had seen three guys who appeared to be casing the neighborhood. She asked why I thought that; when she heard the details, she was convinced enough that she sent some officers to the neighborhood. Since I had kept my distance from the group and couldn’t see where they were any longer, I went on my way to Indian Rock.
Long story made short, an officer called me later to ask whether I could identify the guys I saw “if we showed them to you.” I told him I just wasn’t confident I could make a positive ID since I’d avoided really staring them down. The officer said the car I’d seen them get out of was, in fact, stolen and that two of the three guys I saw were seen walking behind a house down the street from where I last them; the police had caught up with them. So something really was up, though it turned out there was nothing to arrest them for (the officer told me the only one who’d be criminally liable for the car theft was the person driving; since I couldn’t say for sure who it was, they couldn’t bust anyone). The officer also told me there has been a string of burglaries in the neighborhood and “now I feel like I know who two of the burglars are.”