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OPINION: Drug addiction underlies most theft

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By Randy Patrick

Four days after Mother’s Day, Mom called to tell me they had found her billfold. The cash, credit cards and her Social Security card were gone, of course, but what troubled her most was that some of her most precious keepsakes were missing.

The one she treasured most was a card on the back of which my father had pledged his undying love. He gave it to her when she was17, and she had kept it close for nearly 60 years.

“Why would she want that?” she asked.

It meant nothing to the woman who robbed her. It meant everything to her.

It was the only part of the ordeal that made her cry.

In June, my mother will turn 75. She is a strong, but tender-hearted woman, and innocent in some ways. She is more trusting of strangers than she should be, and she wants to give people the benefit of the doubt. That’s why, when some of us went to a new sporting goods store for what was supposed to have been a relaxing night out, she let down her guard.

The stranger asked my 15-year-old niece, who was with my mom, if she could try on some clothes for her because she was about the same height and build as her granddaughter.

Mom started to move her purse on the dressing room floor closer to her, but thought the woman, who seemed so friendly, would get her feelings hurt. That’s just Mom.

Moments later, the purse was missing. We figured the thief had hidden it beneath the clothes draped over her arm that she said she returning to the racks.

My sister, brother-in-law and I were waiting near the front doors when we saw Mom running toward the customer service desk. She alerted the security guard and the store manager.

They guessed who the suspect was. She had been harassing customers in the parking lot for hours wanting money, and they had tried to run her off. They had her and her possible accomplices, a man who claimed to be her ex-husband, and a teenage boy, he claimed he was her son, on camera.

My brother-in-law, Stan, and I were talking with the manager and the security officer, when I looked through the window and saw that my sister, Kim, had detained a woman in the parking lot, a few feet away from the pickup truck, where the man and boy were waiting for her.

“That’s her,” the manager said, and we ran outside and surrounded the woman.

The manager spoke firmly and told her she needed to come with him, but he and the guard weren’t allowed by law to touch her.

It was my sister who, quite literally, took the situation in hand and forced her back into the store, where she was interviewed for more than an hour by a police officer before she used the ruse that she had to go the hospital. She grinned at us as she made her escape on a stretcher.

I walked up to the man’s truck to memorize his license plate number in case he tried to get away, and he came after me. He swore he had no idea what she was up to in the store. She had come to him asking him to take her to shop for clothes for her son because she didn’t have a driver’s license.

He was so sorry, he said. I almost believed him.

All things considered, Mom was fortunate. Someone found her purse, emptied of its contents, in a shopping cart, and later, an employee discovered her checkbook wrapped in some clothes. No checks were missing. The only thing the police officer could charge her with to hold her was having prescription drugs not in their proper container. That night, Dad and Kim spent more than an hour canceling credit cards, and the next day, my parents had to go to the nearest Social Security office, the police station and the county attorney. It was more than a month later when the billfold was found.

Probably the biggest loss, other than my mother’s precious mementoes (everything else can be replaced), was her sense of security. That’s the thing about being a crime victim; you feel so violated.

It was, of course, about drugs. The woman had a habit, and she had a rap sheet a yard long and had served time in prison. But most of her crimes she had gotten away with, and the police and prosecutor told my parents she would probably get away with this one.

Courts are overburdened. Jails are overcrowded. Social workers are overwhelmed.

According to a 2015 report by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Inc., alcohol and drugs are involved in 80 percent of all crimes that result in incarceration. Almost half of all inmates are clinically addicted, and about 60 percent of those arrested test positive for drugs.

I’ve heard police chiefs and sheriffs say almost every burglary and theft is drug-related.

The scourge of drug addiction is destroying our society. We have to do more to end it.