Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Sept. 6, 2004)

Stolen Property and Human Nature

  By John Martin

While cash is the ideal booty for a burglar, anything easily transported and likely to sell fast is desirable.  Jewellery, firearms, small electronic items are all going to be attractive. Once inside a home, the thief’s major concern is typically his ability to physically carry the goods.  Most burglars don’t steal a boom box because they want a boom box.  They steal a boom box because there’s a nearby pawnshop that will pay quick cash for a boom box.  They’re looking for something they can easily sell to a stranger in a bar or parking lot, a pawnbroker or someone else.  The items are generally sold at a fraction of the value.

Over the years I’ve seen people in beer parlours selling electric razors, watches, bottles of scotch, leather jackets, cassettes, running shoes, steaks, jeans and other items.  It’s a virtual certainty these were all stolen property.  Sometimes staff chased them out.  Sometimes staff checked out their wares.

But breaking into people’s homes can result in serious consequences.  Some prefer to loot from parking lots.  People will cause five hundred dollars worth of damage to a vehicle just to steal three CD’s that can be unloaded for ten dollars or less.

Many people, Svend “Bling Bling” Robinson for instance, prefer to do their stealing at retail outlets.  Prosecutions for shoplifting, unlike in cases of Break and Enter, aren’t automatic and the penalties pale in comparison.  Hint; going on TV and crying helps.

There was one individual in Vancouver who used to come into the bars and offer to run across the street to Woodward’s and shoplift whatever you were interested in.  This fellow would actually offer to come back with the size and color of your choosing. 

Sometimes even honest people find it difficult to turn down a bargain.

One of the slickest scams I ever came across, perfectly legal mind you, involved a couple of young entrepreneurs who assumed, human nature being what it is, many people just can’t pass up a great deal, even one involving stolen property.

They had purchased numerous cheap, foreign audio speakers and parked at the far end of a busy mall parking lot.  One would wait at the van with the merchandise while the other would scour the lot for takers.  The person would approach someone getting out of their vehicle and, purposely appearing very nervous and anxious, explain that he and his business partner had acquired some high-end speakers they were willing to sell for a fraction of the price. 

The stranger, figuring they were stolen and this guy wanted to get rid of them fast, would take a quick look at the speakers and make a counter-offer.  The supposed thief would grudgingly accept and the guy would walk away believing he had just scored a big time audio deal.  In fact, he had still paid two or three times what the speakers were worth.

Not the most commendable commentary on human nature, but revealing nonetheless.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

Prime Time Crime current headlines

Contributing Writers