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WaPo Senior Editor Discusses 'Facebook Burglar'

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Marc Fisher, a senior editor at The Washington Post, recently wrote about his home being burglarized last December. Rodney Knight, a 19-year-old, pleaded guilty to the crime. He's known now as the "Facebook burglar," after posting photos of himself with the stolen goods on the social networking site. After this experience, Fisher argues that property theft should be taken more seriously by law enforcement. He speaks with Robert Siegel.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

In all likelihood, Marc Fisher would not have written about the Facebook burglar but for two things. First, the burglar's bravado was so stupid as to create the kind of item that makes newscasts sound funny at the end. And second, the burglary was at Fisher's own home, which is not funny at all.

Marc Fisher is a senior editor at The Washington Post. And in writing about this story, he ushered several discouraging observations. Among them, the police, occupied with murders, rapes, domestic assaults, may take an indifferent view of crimes that involve only property, dignity and a sense of security in one's own home.

Marc Fisher, good to talk with you once again.

Mr. MARC FISHER (Senior Editor, The Washington Post): Good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: And first, tell us briefly about the Facebook burglar and why we call him that.

Mr. FISHER: Well, he is an ordinary house burglar who broke into my house by bashing in the basement door and rummaging through and taking some cash and my winter coat and my son's computer. But what he did with that computer is what makes this case extraordinary.

He took the computer, and after the burglary was finished, he opened it up, took a photo of himself wearing my stolen winter coat and holding the cash that he'd taken for my son's room, and he posted it on my son's Facebook wall as an act of taunting. And that photo was there for my son and everyone else in the world to see.

SIEGEL: Well, the picture on Facebook led to something that I gather is rather unusual in the District of Columbia, at least, which is a burglar actually getting caught and getting arrested for the crime.

Mr. FISHER: Right. And I should say up front that as a columnist in The Washington Post, I wrote about this case. And that may have put some pressure on the police department to take our burglary case more seriously than it does most burglary cases. So this is probably a best case scenario. And yet, even in our case, we saw how the system really doesn't take property crimes seriously.

In fact, across the country, only about 12 percent of burglary cases are ever resolved. So really, the overwhelming majority of people who have, you know, the most common crime in America happen to them; their house being broken into or their car being broken into and things taken, that experience goes not only unpunished but really unrecognized in almost all cases.

SIEGEL: In this case, the burglar is found and is charged and he pleads. Was the process satisfying to you at all?

Mr. FISHER: Not really. And every step of the way, from the police delaying and assigning a detective to the case, to the fact that the police who came to our house were very efficient and very helpful, except they told us, hey, nothing is going to happen, nothing ever happens in burglary cases because the system is too overwhelmed.

And we saw evidence of that throughout the process, from the inability of the police to catch the guy for a month, despite the fact that Facebook knew the burglar's name and address on day one, to the prosecutors really not taking seriously the burglar's long track record of arrests and convictions, to the judge not giving the toughest possible sentence, in part because the system is so overwhelmed and there's so many people in the jails.

And so property crimes fall to the bottom of the ladder. And yet, any crime researcher will tell you that burglary is a stepping stone crime. It's what leads to more violent crimes. So why not nip it in the bud?

SIEGEL: To be the victim of a home invasion, of somebody going through all your stuff, your son having somebody get on his Facebook page, is there an enduring scar from all that? Is there a residue of all that?

Mr. FISHER: Well, there is. You know, and probably the - I mean, the things can be replaced. The money can be eventually be replaced. But the enduring harm, I think, is in the sense of trust and the sense of security. Since my article on the sentencing appeared, I've heard from hundreds of people, including lots of police and even some judges, who say that the system does not comprehend just how traumatic these kinds of invasions are.

There is this sense of, well, are we safe at home at night? Do we trust the people around us? So that - it has this corrosive affect on your ability to trust your neighbors and the people around you. And that is something that the system really needs to take into account in a much more active way that it's normally done both in big cities but also even in suburbs across the country.

SIEGEL: Well, Marc Fisher, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. FISHER: Good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Marc Fisher, senior editor of The Washington Post. His most recent article about this is called "The Facebook Burglar Busted Into My House. Why Wasn't That Taken Seriously?" It appeared in this past Sunday's Outlook section of The Washington Post.

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