Stay Where You Are Safe

April 24th, 2019

A news story crossed my Twitter feed the other day about a homeowner confronting a “mail thief”. The whole encounter as well as what lead up to it is caught on a security camera the homeowner had installed at her front door (it looks to be a Ring brand of “doorbell camera”).

You can watch the video here. But briefly, the mail thief approaches the house, pauses to determine if anybody is home, then opens the mailbox (which is right at the front door). She then removes mail and begins to open it. Ceratinly unusual behavior! At that point, the homeowner opens the door and confronts the thief. Surprised and caught in the act, the thief doesn’t put up much resistance and the homeowner “escorts” (as in, forcefully persuades) the thief off of her property.

The homeowner looks to have used an appropriate level of non-lethal force, as generally required to protect property, and the thief fortunately doesn’t put up much resistance to being escorted off the property. In the end, the public gets a good laugh at the viral video as we watch the thief get her just desserts for violating the sanctity of this woman’s mail. All’s well that ends well, right?

The question is: why? Why confront this thief when you have a doorbell camera recording everything? Staying where you are already safe is one of the cardinal rules of self-defense, especially if you are in the safety of your home already, behind locked doors. Do the benefits of embarassing this “mail thief” outweigh the unknown risks of the confrontation. We can already reasonably infer that the thief has little respect for personal space, property rights, and the law in general. But think of all the unknowns which this homeowner opens her door to?

  • Does the homeowner know if the thief is mentally unstable and will escalate to violence?
  • Does she know if the thief is armed?
  • Does she know if the thief’s reaction will be to simply retreat or instead try to gain entry?
  • Does she know if the thief is really intent on a home invasion?
  • Is the thief some form of decoy? Does the thief have accomplices waiting outside of camera view for the homeowner to open the door to confront the diminutive woman stealing her mail? Innocent, harmless looking decoys are a typical tactic in home invasions.

The homeowner (and you watching your security camera in a similar situation) don’t know any of this. So why risk it over mail (or your kid’s bike you told them 10 times not to leave on front lawn, or even your very expensive car)?

The law generally, and with good reasons, discourages “self-help.” While self-defense is one form of self-help the law permits, it is only within very confined circumstances. Even if justified, even if this situation escalated to justified deadly force, what is the easiest way to avoid all of the legal, emotional, psychological, and financial problems? Stay where you are safe. Use your passive security (the video) as evidence to identify the thief. Call the cops and let them handle the rest.

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