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Tree thieves hard to track despite trails of dirt

on October 21, 2008


It was about 10 p.m. on a summer night, recalls Bushrod resident Ben Khoo, when his father-in-law opened the family’s door after hearing a strange noise outside, and noticed something was missing.  A tree.

And not a particularly tiny tree either.  Along the fence, where a five foot tall bougainvillea once blossomed, there was nothing but a hole in the ground.

Khoo is pretty sure thieves dug the plant up, grabbed it and ran.

“There was a trail of dirt going that way,” says Khoo, gesturing towards Alcatraz Avenue. “Big clumps of dirt right here, and smaller clumps as you go along.”

Within weeks, Khoo says, thieves struck again.  This time, he lost two potted palm trees, worth about $120.  “And this is a relatively busy street,” he said.

Amanda Lucas uses a chain to secure her wooden bench.

Amanda Lucas uses a chain to secure her wooden bench.

Amanda Lucas also lives on a busy corner, but that hasn’t kept thieves off her property.  In the two and a half years her family has lived in their house on 63rd, they’ve been hit twice.  First, her son’s tricycle was taken from in front of the house, and later a potted bonsai tree was stolen off her front porch. “It’s so odd to me,” says Lucas. “I have no idea who would steal a plant.” 

When her in-laws gave the family a wooden bench worth about $500, Lucas decided not to take chances.  The bench sits out in her front lawn, but it’s shackled to a pipe with a bicycle lock. “We thought, well, if they’re going to steal our plants, they’ll probably steal our bench, so we’d better lock it up,” Lucas says.

And she may have been right to do so.  “There used to be three metal benches here,” says Chris Cook, gesturing to the bench-less lawn of Dover Park.  “And we don’t think the city took them,” says Cook, a Bushrod resident.

Thefts of this kind have been a persistent irritation in North Oakland, says Paul Brekke-Miesner, neighborhood services coordinator for the Oakland Police Department. “There have been a couple in the last month,” he says. In addition to plants and toys, neighbors have lost items off their porches ranging from chalkboards to coolers.  “It got to be pretty regular the past few years.”

Brekke-Miesner said the people responsible for the thefts are probably hoping to make quick, easy cash by selling plants and other items. “Are people stealing this stuff to beautify their homes?” he says.  “I don’t think so.”  On a couple of occasions, Brekke-Miesner adds, people have managed to track their stolen plants down at local flea markets.

But it’s a hard crime to track – not only because it usually happens quietly in the night with no witnesses around, but also because people rarely report this kind of theft, even when the items they lose are worth hundreds of dollars.

Lucas, for example, filed a report for the tricycle, but not the plant, and Khoo never contacted the police. “I think the Oakland police department has got bigger problems than two palm trees and a bougainvillea being taken,” he says.

Lucas with her potted plant.  A similar plant was stolen from her home.

Lucas with her potted plant. A similar plant was stolen from her home.

It’s an irritating problem, both Lucas and Khoo say, but not one that causes either much distress. “It’s sad that I can’t leave plants and toys unlocked, but I think it’s a reality of living in an urban setting,” says Lucas.  “My main concern is my personal safety and the personal safety of my family, and that’s fine.”  

“In the scheme of things, it’s not a really significant issue,” agrees Brekke-Miesner.  But he still urges people to file reports by calling the non-emergency line or mailing in a citizen crime report. The Oakland Police Department is data driven, he says, and each report gives police valuable information about crime in the neighborhood. “We look for patterns, connect dots,” he says. “Who knows if those people are doing other things as well?”  At times, Brekke-Miesner adds, someone will be caught for a minor offense and end up confessing to other crimes as well.

“You gotta call it in,” he urges residents.


Follow this link for more information about citizens’ crime reports.||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||


  1. Peter Mockler on May 20, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I found your site while browsing for bonsai tree info on google and saw a few of your other pieces too. I’ve just added you to my yahoo rss Reader. Just wanted to say” keep up the good work” and congrats on a job well done!

  2. […] Oakland North Tree thieves hard to track despite trails of dirt Posted by root 6 minutes ago ( Submitted by melanie on october 21 2008 2 58 pmone comment there used to be three metal benches here says chris cook gesturing to the oakland north highlights and shadows overhang outdoor ceiling fans on highlights and powered by wordpress log in entries Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Oakland North Tree thieves hard to track despite trails of dirt […]

  3. Donna on September 17, 2009 at 2:44 am

    Jugging the cost of trees today I vote to report all stolen property. We live in a crazy world were some people think anything goes. This artical gives us something to think about. You can also report the stolen trees to your insurance company. They do make a small hidden camera call the cyber eye that plugs into your car or home and catch the son of a guns read handed.
    Thanks Donna

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