It was a short story from the Glendale News-Press, a community paper of Los Angeles Times. About 300 words dedicated to a report on repeated petty theft at a Glendale Catholic church. And the amount of space devoted to this news was to be expected. The LAT has an ever-shrinking newshole, and even in fatter times murders have been briefed. But it had the potential for much more.
In the case of this particular donation-box bandit, we're talking about $400 or so. The story refers to a "tool" the crook has been using to get into donation boxes. (Crow bar or screwdriver or mallet?) And Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz gives the quote that encapsulated what I was thinking when I started reading this story:
"Unfortunately, it is an easy target because it is a church that often opens its doors to the members of the community, and the church does have members that donate money to various causes," Lorenz said.
A very true statement. But I've never heard of a church having its offering plate or donation boxes targeted. Part of it, I'm sure, is the fact that God sees all and even sinners have a difficult time picking His pocket. As church facilities director Bill Evans is quoted saying:
"You would think that it being a church that someone wouldn't steal from them, as sacred as it can be," Lorenz said.
Beyond that, though, is such theft a rare offense or is it commonly of such a petty nature (unlike the gospel of wealth) that it goes unreported?
I'm not sure if the reporter here needed to explore that. Like I said, the contents and nature of this story were exact what I expected. But she could have.
When I was starting out as an intern reporter at the Ventura County Star, a time before they were thoroughly archiving online, I learned to always report the context of every story in order of local-state-national. At times, I probably overemployed this principle, for example including county, state and national statistics about dog bites in a local centerpiece about a dog -- Miss April, if I recall -- being mauled by two other dogs at a park.
Though not included in reporter Megan O'Neil's first pass at the donation-box bandit, there is definitely potential to do a follow-up that explores the prevalence of church-offering thefts, that explores the spiritual guilt that could come from stealing from a house of worship and that evaluates the way churches handle security and what they could learn from their interfaith counterparts.