Don't try this at home, folks.
That's what police are saying about City Councilmember Jim Madaffer's recent foray into crime fighting. No, really, they say: Don't try this at home.
Madaffer apparently left a bag containing his laptop computer, cell phone and other items in his car in plain view Oct. 15, prompting a carpe diem-minded passing thief to break in and make off with it, San Diego Police spokesperson Monica Muñoz says. While most people would have simply swallowed the loss as an object lesson in being more careful with their property, Madaffer saw an opportunity to kick some serious malfeasin' ass.
The council member sent a text message to his stolen cell phone on the off chance the thief would be stupid enough to reply. He was, and after several messages back and forth, the two men agreed upon a plan that would make both happy. The thief, at a certain time, would place the laptop behind a trashcan at the Tierrasanta Recreation Center; Madaffer would retrieve it and leave behind $300; and the thief would later pick up the money and leave behind the remaining stolen property.
Madaffer then contacted San Diego Police Sgt. Dale Shockley, whom Muñoz described as a personal friend of the council member. Shockley and several other officers staked out the drop-off site, and when the suspect showed up, he was promptly arrested.
The episode was enough to cause San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Diane Bell to swoon—and San Diego Police officials to cringe.
In her Oct. 23 column, Bell kicked around the images of Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting before settling on Marlon Brando in describing Madaffer's actions: He “text-messaged the thief at 6:45 a.m. last Friday with an offer he hoped the man couldn't refuse.”
Less enchanted about incident was Muñoz, who, when reached for comment by CityBeat, quickly pointed out that the idea for the set-up was Madaffer's, and not the department's, adding that negotiating with a criminal for the return of stolen goods is not something the department recommends.
“Councilman Madaffer sent those e-mails before contacting his friend, Sgt. Shockley,” Muñoz says. “Under normal circumstances, someone would call us and make a police report. We would prefer that people not engage with suspects and try to cut a deal. By and large, a situation like that could turn out to be very dangerous.”Asked whether Shockley had violated department policy in helping Madaffer on department time, Muñoz said he had not. “Sgt. Shockley was working with a friend of his and trying to help him out as a personal favor,” she said. “People often ask friends in the department for assistance.”
Madaffer didn't return a phone call from CityBeat requesting comment. Next time, perhaps, we'll use the Bat Signal.