What's missing at the downtown office

Bars on Windows.jpg


By AOA Mary

The important thing is that nobody got hurt.

That's the important thing. Right?

No injuries, no fatalities and nothing was taken that can't be replaced.

Well, almost nothing.

One early morning about a week ago, while I allowed myself an extra hour to sleep off some jet lag, and my husband got ready for work, a neighbor knocked on our door. He'd noticed a teenage girl wearing ripped pants and a backpack slip out of our back alley.

Now there's only one way into the alley, and he didn't see her enter. He asked her some questions but he wasn't comfortable with the answers, so he knocked on a few doors to see if everything was alright.

It wasn't.

After a quick look around, my husband found that things were missing. Cameras were gone. So was a brand new not-yet-paid-for iPad, an iPhone, and, worst of all, a not-backed-up-in-a-long-time laptop. Yes, I know, that last part makes me a little bit stupid. Let me be a lesson to you all.

Also making me feel stupid - that fact that she got into the house through an open window - a window I'm actually kind of neurotic about locking-- but forgot about that one night. Reference the aforementioned jetlag.

The AOA Downtown office -- otherwise known as my house -- is in the Center Square/Washington Park neighborhood. My husband and I love living here. We both spent the earliest years of our childhoods in and around big cities and we're always telling family and friends how great our neighborhood is. There's a Living Walls mural outside my door. We can walk to The Wine Bar and Crisan and the park and The Egg. Our neighbors are awesome. They own the neighborhood businesses. They're kind and creative and fun. They watch out for each other, clean up the street, plant flowers, and shovel each other's cars out of snowbanks.

But some of my friends who aren't as comfortable in cities ask, "Is it safe?" And when they ask, I often get the sense they've formed their own answer already.

It's been over a week since the incident, and I haven't told many friends or family members what happened. I think it's partly because I don't want to worry them. I know they're genuinely concerned about us. It's also partly because I don't want to confirm their suspicions about my neighborhood. Most would never voice an "I told you so " -- still, I hate being able to give them a reason. And, here's the part it's hard to admit: For a moment or two, I started to think they may be right -- maybe I should go someplace safer.

We live in a great place with beautiful architecture and a gorgeous park, but anytime we hear about a mugging or a shooting or a break-in nearby it's unnerving. It's not often, but it's more often than in Wilton, or Round Lake, or Guilderland. And when it happens to you or someone you know, the reality of an underworld in your world becomes real. Also, a house feels weird when someone uninvited comes in without you knowing it.

What surprised me about my reaction to the whole thing was this: I was less frightened and more angry. Yes, we left the window open, but an open window is not an invitiation for someone to come take what we've worked so hard for. And who wants to live in a place where that is OK?

When I was 11, my parents moved their six kids from Brooklyn to Wilton, where
they never locked the door. I'm not sure you can do that anymore -- even in Wilton. Safety was something I took for granted. Of course ,there were eight Darcys living in that house, so God help any thief that would try to break in. I love my parents, and I appreciate the fact that they moved us there, in part, because they wanted us to grow up in a safe place -- but I've wanted to get back to a city ever since.

My neighborhood just seems to fit me. I like being a part of a living, breathing, busy place where people live and work and go for fun. I like that I can walk and take the bus to concerts or dinner or meetings. Being in walking distance of great pastry, and fantastic food and wine are bonus points. But mostly I like the people who live here. They're different, they're interesting, and most are interested in creating a great community. They're good neighbors. Neighbors were looking out for us and came by to warn us in the first place. Others stopped by to see how we were or say how sorry they are about what happened. One even took photos at the Pride Parade for AOA, since I no longer had a camera.

So, no, I'm not going anywhere.

But I'm wiser now. I won't make the mistake of leaving the window open again. Insurance will replace the electronics and I'll remember to bring the new stuff upstairs at night and back up the computer when I get home. I'll double check latches I'm sure I've already locked before going to bed. I'll be a little more alert. Maybe even a little more suspicious.

I'm wiser. But I'm a little sadder, too.

I've lost a little something that I can't quite find the right name for. Security? Comfort? Naiveté? I can't figure out what to call it, but I know how it feels. It feels like a little something that was stolen, that I'll never get back.


Don't get discouraged, you still live in one of the best cities in the country; awesome neighborhood too!

Ohh man, Mary. I'm sorry this happened.

Sorry to hear about the theft. I think that some of your stolen devices can be tracked, so it might be possible to recover them.

For example, iPhone 3 and later have built in geo tracking that you may be able to access remotely: http://www.maclife.com/article/howtos/how_track_your_iphone_if_its_stolen

It's an awful feeling to have your home violated like that. It happened to my family and me in our nice suburban Connecticut home some years ago. Same deal, we were in the house, and a window was left unlocked.

You have to wonder how these thieves operate. Just going from home to home checking for open windows? I have no idea why our house would've been targeted out of such a huge neighborhood, so that's the only conclusion I can make. Chalk it up to random circumstance and forgetfulness.

I think what was stolen, Mary, is 'trust'. And you're right, that is much more unsettling than any of the stuff that was taken. I'm sorry for your loss. But I wouldn't attribute it necessarily to a city neighborhood. Crimes of opportunity take place everywhere, suburbs, parked cars, etc.

Really sorry to read about this. The thing with this sort of crime is that it is opportunistic and could really happen anywhere to anyone. It's more a case of wrong place, wrong time than anything else.

Maybe the word you're looking for is secomforté - I think you described it pretty well!

Beautifully written, Mary. And as a neighbor, I share your feelings about this incident and also about this place and our fantastic neighbors.

I think the reason you hear about muggings or shootings or break-ins in your neighborhood more often than in Wilton, or Round Lake, or Guilderland is population density. Those towns probably have just as much crime per capita as you do, but because they have fewer residents, you hear about it happening less often.

I've always felt perfectly safe in your neighborhood--it feels way safer than mine. Of course, I'm one of those "comfortable in cities" people.

I understand, Mary. I had an apartment broken into re 12 years ago. Loved the apt, location etc. But never felt safe or comfortable there again. Felt very violated. Nice neighborhood is an oxymoron--& I live in this neighborhood, too. Love it here, always dreamed of living here. My parents' home was broken into once 30 years ago. They thought nothing of going to bed, leaving windows open, etc. Someone stole dad's wallet & watch from dining room table--tore open screen from back porch. Hang in there, Mary. And yeah--never leave anything of value in sight. We ALL learn the hard way!

Sorry to hear about it, but I'll second what's been said . . . can and does happen in the suburbs. I remember when our office was moving from Wolf Road to downtown, so many people were apprehensive about having to park downtown and how cars would be broken into. And yet, hardly a week went by that they weren't broken into out in the "safe" suburbs.

And yeah, if you registered it, you can track the iPad.

Wait. Was the burglar stealing your stuff while you were in the house! Eeek! That is discomforting. Even more so than just being burgled.

Even growing in our safe Miami suburb, my parents installed a burlar alarm. It had something to do with an incident where I saw someone running across our screened-in patio, while I was babysitting my younger sister, and I called the police.

Welcome home. Don't move. As more time passes, this will become a distant memory. And speaking of memory, portable hard drives are cheap. Hope you get a good one.

Well said, but such a bummer. Being robbed, especially in one's home, is such a violating feeling. The same thing happened to our neighbors in the Helderberg / Whitehall neighborhood. A crime of opportunity--which makes me even more paranoid that there are folks just lurking, waiting for you to slip up. Glad you're safe!

So sorry to hear this. I know the feeling you have intimately, having experienced it myself years ago. I felt completely violated. It goes away eventually, as does the anger. The trust part is harder to get back.

So sorry, Mary. Cloud backup is so easy nowadays. Dropbox, Mozy, Backblaze, Carbonite, Iozeta. Just pick one and do it TODAY! :-)

I am so sorry fro your loss. You must feel violated.

If we get new leadership in this city, and do some genuine work with our hardest-hit neighborhoods, we can reduce our crime rate.

As you know the same thing happened to us about two years ago, not as much taken, but still we were home. And the guy walked right past my wife taking a nap on the couch. And this was in Colonie. (Safest town in America, so they say). The worst part is the feeling of violation and the constant paranoia. But that goes down (mostly) with time.

Sorry to hear this but glad you took the time to write about your experience. I live a bit more uptown (near the Madison/Western 'point') and had my apt. broken into last Summer. It was a freak coincidence when myself and my roommate, as well as the 4 girls who lived upstairs AND my pit bull were all away on various vacations, conferences, kennels, etc. -- Hindsight is 20/20.

It is not fun to know that someone you don't know was standing in your bedroom or office looking for things to snag. However, I commiserate with your sentiment and become defensive when my students, co-workers, and acquaintances complain that the areas near downtown and St. Rose are dangerous, and even worse, comprised solely of 'student ghetto.' I love the crazy stuff I see when I go for hour long dog walks and I love the fact that I can go a whole week (if I really want to) without having to drive my car. I have access to good food, music, and drinks any night of the week.

Thank you for this.

I'm so sorry to hear about this.
I've moved out of Albany but when people asked if it was safe, I'd usually answer that crime happens everywhere. There's no rhyme or reason to it.
I wish you luck in moving on.

...but your neighbor is kind of an idiot. Despite how wonderful that neighborhood is, and it is, there is also a significant transient population due to the bus stop. I would think nearly anyone would at least try to detain a teenage girl, or at least immediately call the police and let them sort it out.

When my country monkey friends mention that the city is "dangerous" I mention dingos eating babies, bears, hitting deer with your car and lyme disease. And mountain lions. And all the lawn mowing accidents. And hunting season, where drunk NYC people wander around your neighborhood with loaded weapons and shoot at cows.

The real danger in downtown Albany is that the bars stay open until 4 AM.

I have been through this too, and it is a very unsettling experience. It is a violation of your space, and it hurts. But as always, you have a great attitude. (I would expect nothing less, of course.) It's funny how an incident like this can actually remind you of all of the great reasons that you live where you do. Hang in there, old friend.

Mary, I am so sorry to hear about what happened. It's unnerving and upsetting, to say the least. I agree with you completely about wanting to defend the safety of our neighborhood and feeling disappointed and angry when it is temporarily tougher to do so. As many commenters have noted, though, crime happens everywhere. Best of luck in moving forward from this.

Ohhhhh noooooo. That is so scary and INFURIATING. I'll never understand how someone can violate another person's home in that way. *hugs*

I'm sorry to hear about your loss, but glad to hear that you have a good attitude about it. Similar things happened to me from time to time when I lived in Albany, but the good really did outweigh the bad.

Now I live in McKownville. I had a scary run-in with the armed (!) assailants from the Frank Adams Jeweler robbery in March. They ran through my yard, and mistakenly thinking they were teenagers up to no good, I confronted them.

My point is that living in Albany is not inherently unsafe. Living near other humans is. But it's also great (see: your neighbors).

I'm always struck by interviews on crime documantary-type shows, because the interviewees ALWAYS say, "This kind of thing *never* happens in our town." It's a naive thing to say, and really, if a person is being interviewed, something DID happen in their town.

It sounds like you're doing a great job of keeping your rational head. The pain and anger of this experience will dissipate, I promise.

I second Kerosena, Christine & Leigh, So sorry this happened to you but you are moving on in the best way possible: Sharing your story, your feelings to help you move on. Crime happens EVERYWHERE, including my small neighborhood in Milton, so that's can't hold you back from living your dream- city living!

I have lived in London, Los Angeles & Brooklyn, and honestly, I miss cities VERY much and I actually feel they are safer (for me) because there are always people around and great neighbors that DESIRE to live close to other people and share a community together, not just wave at each other from driveways or our cars.

You live in a beautiful neighborhood and your love for it shines through.

So sorry to hear about this -- indeed troubling.

My wife and I had bikes stolen off our back deck when we lived on Irving St. The deck was not visible from the street. When cops came to investigate, Jen got the question "Did you do the research on the neighborhood before you moved here?" I'm half kidding when I say I wish I was around to hear it. I would have exploded.

- Are you saying that there are neighborhoods where i will be to blame for being a victim of a crime?
- Is so please draw me a map of the city and let me know where I will be blamed for being a crime victim

Keep your chin up. Sadly, downtown residents have to be more vigilant, locking doors, keeping aware of their surroundings, etc. It's part of life, managing risk.

I'm glad you haven't given up hope in your neighborhood - and after all, it's your neighborhood, if you love where you live don't let bullies you and take it from you!

Chalk it up as a live and learn experience and keep enjoying the “urban” life. Unfortunately, these things happen. I’ve lived in Albany for some time and was constantly interrogated by friends and family about whether I felt safe or not, and always felt like I had to justify my answer when I said “yes.” And usually that defense would go something like this: I was the victim or exposed to more crime growing up in Latham (my car had been broken into, twice, and our next door neighbor, when on vacation, had their house broken into and their electronics robbed) compared to my carefree life in Albany (6 years at that point).

Last year (2011), I even joked to family (and yes, not really a joking matter) that the Town of Colonie had had more homicides (3) than Albany at the time (though to be fair, Albany had 4 by years end) and that they should just keep their mouths shut. Well, should have kept my mouth shut, for I had my bike stolen (used a cheap lock to secure in my back alley) and my car broken into (left my window open a few inches) a few months later after making that comment. Moral of the story is, these things happen, no matter where you live, and you have to make sure you take all the necessary precautions, not matter how safe your community is. Furthermore, crime will always seem worse when you live closer to more and more people, just by the simple math of density (in a small town you have one Star Bucks, but in a large town you will have 10…same case with crime). In the end I wouldn’t give up the opportunities I have for urban living, just for the illusion that I may be safer in a smaller community and can ignore the basic safety tips you should employ no matter where you live. That mindset is what gets folks into trouble.

That stinks. What stinks more is if the police recover any of your stuff it's just going to sit in evidence until the courts get to your case.

Oh jeez, Mary, I'm so sorry. I've been there too (with K., when we lived together), and it takes a little while to feel comfortable in your house again.

Break-ins are AWFUL, and it's very easy to blame yourself, but try to cut yourself some slack. You didn't rob your house--someone else did. Just do what you need to do to feel safe in your home again, and don't let it stop you from loving Albany any less. (Sending hugs to you!)

Sorry to hear this. I am a landlord and work hard with my tenants to minimize the break ins. I did have two suggestions for you - You can get vent locks for your windows which allow you to keep the window partway open for air, but keeps anyone from opening it further. They are actually required for 1st floor rental apts in the city. I recommend the ones with the ball that rotates out of the way when you want to open it all the way, or the pins.
Also, I suggest you report it to the police if you hadn't already. They need to know where this is happening, and there is a chance you will get some of your stuff back.
Also, you can keep an eye on craigs list for you stuff, especially your laptop.

Our apartment has never been broken into (fortunately), however I had my car ransacked about a year ago. It was my own fault - like you, I had a lapse in judgment and forgot to lock it (I was struggling to carry laundry *and* a pizza, and in my struggled forgot to hit the "lock" button). My iPod was stolen. My iPod over 4 years old (I had bought it refurbished), and backed up, so it wasn't a HUGE loss, but I was still annoyed.

However, the car was also completely ransacked. They went through my glove compartment, my side pockets, etc, and left everything dumped on the seats. It was as if whoever it was WANTED me to know they had been through my car. I felt extremely violated. The loss of the stupid iPod barely registered in the way that having my car ransacked did.

Maybe Greg can let Otto stay with you for a while. Houses with a dog barking are quite often skipped by would-be burglars. Its true!

I'm so sorry that this happened to you. It can happen anywhere and everywhere, but of course more densely populated areas are affected more frequently. Also, it's up to some chance. I have a friend who was mugged twice in DC, once at gunpoint, but don't know anyone else directly who ever was, even though most of my friends have lived there for 10 years or more. I certainly never had an issue. It's crazy, and it sucks.

I would take control back by getting a guard dog, the dog park is also a fun getaway/hangout for us locals,

I just wanted to thank everyone so much for all of the support. I'm overwhelmed. It means a great deal to know that other people have been there or understand. I'm a little surprised to hear from so many people who have had a similar experience. I'm sorry you have to know how it feels, but I thank you for taking the time to share your own experience. It helps a great deal to know we're so supported. I'm very fortunate to have such a wonderful community, both on AOA and in my neighborhood. I'm trying to keep an open heart and an open mind. And to back up my laptop often :-) @Chip M. -Thanks for the tip. We did lock the devices but they had to connect to the internet for the tracking to work. The fact that they haven't makes me think they've got some experience at this.

Sharing the experience wasn't something I'd planned to do, but it's been very helpful. The creepiness factor has already started to go away and things are getting back to normal. And @Arielle, AOA Otto is ALWAYS welcome at the downtown office! We wish he'd come visit more often! Thanks again to everyone for all of the support and for being part of AOA. This has been another in a long string of reminders of how wonderful and kind this community is.

When I lived in Center Square (a zillion years ago) there were muggings in broad daylight. Rare, but they happened.

One incident I remember vividly happened at my doorstep. A woman who lived on the third floor of our building (we were in the basement) was coming home from her night shift at the hospital and a kid snatched her purse.

I was amazed by the neighborhood response: lights went on, people came out. One man chased the kid for a few blocks. No one waited behind a locked door. Because of that I felt reassured and safer in my neighborhood, but I wasn't the victim of that crime. The woman wasn't hurt, but she was unnerved.

My roommate and I offered to go with her when she parked her car at night and walk back (thinking safety in numbers), but it didn't help her feel safe. She moved within the month.

I was robbed 6/7/2012 and went through the same emotional swing. I hope through some fluke that your stuff and peace of mind return.

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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