Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sorry, I can't spare a square

Oakland flushes out a suspect in restroom thefts
- Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Sunday, December 18, 2005

In the annals of law enforcement, it may go down as the great "Toilet Paper Caper" -- a high-tech sting operation that enlisted even the Oakland Police Department's internal affairs division, to catch a thief who was swiping bathroom wipes out of the Civic Center complex.

It all started about a week and a half ago when people began complaining about the lack of toilet paper in the building's bathrooms.

"At first, we blamed the staff for not filling the receptacles,'' said Derin Minor, the complex's assistant manager. "But then I noticed that the cardboard spools at the end of the rolls were missing, too. So someone was taking the whole thing."

But who? And why?

The first step was to establish a time frame for when the heists were going down. The janitors began frequent checks of the toilets and found the stalls were coming up short between 6:45 a.m. and 7:15 a.m.

Next, authorities enlisted some high tech-help, matching the times with tapes from the complex's closed-circuit TVs.

Bingo. There was the suspect, entering the building empty-handed -- and leaving a short time later, bag in tow.

Then came the sting operation.

The next time the suspect walked in, janitors were put in place at the entrances to restrooms and other "strategic" locations.

After about 10 minutes, they could hear toilet paper receptacles being ripped open.

Miner and one of the custodians decided to stop the guy before he cleaned out the entire building. When they moved in, he bounded down the emergency stairs and headed for the door, toilet paper and all.

The radio, however, proved faster than the man. By the time the suspect hit the lobby, more janitors and even some of the gang from internal affairs (which has an office in the building) were ready for the collar.

After a brief scuffle, the alleged thief -- 47-year-old Duane McDaniel -- was in custody.

"There was a citizen's arrest,'' Minor reported later in a memo, "and the bandit was hauled away."

Estimated take of the great caper: 200 rolls of tissue, four jumbo rolls of hand towels, about 40 plastic bags and a few TV dinners the suspect had allegedly swiped from the employee lunchroom -- all told, about $200 worth of stuff.

"You know, just the other day I was at a meeting, and the police chief was talking about how this was the season for unusual crimes," said Public Works Director Raul Godinez. "The next thing you know, we have one."

By the way, McDaniel -- who told janitors that he was already on parole for an earlier breaking and entering -- did have a bit of conscience, authorities say. He never went after the paper in the handicapped stalls.

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