Guest Column
Michael Jacobs
Contributing Editor

It’s amazing how quickly a crime occurs.

When your main contact with crime comes from TV shows or newspaper articles, those personal violations can seem suspended out of time. It takes so long to comprehend the story of a crime that it’s easy to forget the act itself happens in an instant.

The situation changes when you’re the victim of a crime, even something as nonviolent as theft from a vehicle. I know that now from experience: My laptop computer was swiped from my car in a classic smash-and-grab.

I have to give the thief or thieves credit for spotting the opportunity and having the guts to seize it in broad daylight on a weekday afternoon in downtown Sandy Springs, particularly at a doughnut shop, where a police cruiser could arrive at any time.

I was complacent or absent-minded or just plain stupid when I pulled into the doughnut shop’s parking lot about 1:15 p.m. July 10. I could have parked right in front, in full view of everyone inside; instead, I picked a spot on the side, where there are no windows. I could have brought the computer inside with me — the main reason I had it was to get some work done while I had a cup of coffee — but instead I decided to read and not write, making the computer unnecessary. I could have hauled the lightweight laptop inside anyway; instead, I opened the computer bag in the car, grabbed some papers and placed the bag on the front-passenger floor board.

I suspect someone saw me picking through the bag. I didn’t hide it, but a passer-by had to be looking for it to spot it.

Sometime in the first 15 minutes of my visit, it happened. The bandit smashed the driver’s window, opened the door, reached across to grab the computer bag and was gone. He left the baseball gloves and toll-road quarters and, unfortunately, the trash accumulated by my children in the back seat.

A departing store employee saw the smashed window and notified me. When I saw the shattered glass everywhere, I at first was too stunned to realize anything was missing.

One good thing about being a crime victim at a doughnut shop was the brief wait for a police officer. He arrived about 10 minutes after I called 911, although he hadn’t been dispatched; he just wanted a bit of refreshment. He took my information while he sat in his cruiser, and that was that.

Police spokesman Lt. Steve Rose said car break-ins are on the rise because so many people have easy-to-steal, easy-to-fence GPS devices. Even if a thief sees just the suction-cup mounting for a GPS device, he’ll smash into the car, assuming the device itself is in the glove box. The only real defense, Rose said, is to leave nothing of value in your vehicle.

My computer is gone forever, but my feeling of stupidity just won’t go away. I was one of 70 victims of larceny from a vehicle in Sandy Springs in July — 28 percent of all the crime reported that month, according to information on the police Web site — but I am guilty of being an accessory before the fact. I did everything to help the thief and nothing to deter him. My cascade of bad decisions led to his instant decision to strike. He’s a criminal who I hope will someday pay his debt to society, but I deserve the blame for this property loss and have already paid the price: $180 for a new window and $620 for a new computer.

The cup of coffee was good, but it wasn’t worth $800. Time will tell whether the lesson I learned was worth it.