Our neighborhood has suffered a spate of burglaries — I think that's the technical term. A spate. Don't want to say a rash of burglaries, because that makes it sound like your house is red and itchy. Burglars break in, so you break out? Call the police and get the lotion.

You can brush aside the occasional report of someone taking a bike from a garage, because there will always be opportunistic miscreants wandering around looking for things to take and people to victimize. Leave an anvil in your driveway, and 10 minutes later it'll be gone. The cops will stop a guy 15 blocks away dragging an anvil, and he'll insist he bought it from John. Sure, a couple of years ago he did a stretch for Grand Theft Anvil, but he got this one fair and square. Happens all the time.

Anyway, this is not a rash, and maybe it's not a spate. Perhaps the accurate term is campaign of terror. The burglaries haven't happened when people have been at work. They happen at night. When people are home.

Bonus fun: the crooks cut the phone lines. You're no longer imagining one burglar, but a crew wearing Halloween masks.

They also steal cars from the garage, just to ruin your day as thoroughly as possible. They load up the cars with loot, then drive elsewhere to transfer the goods. Very professional, inasmuch as "being miserable human beings" is a profession.

Now, if they were colorful characters in a movie, it would be different. Right? If we were watching a caper film, why, they'd have different personality traits — the guy who picked the lock, nicknamed Fingers, would be quiet and intense and spend the job putting his ear up to locks and saying roguish things like: "That's right, darling, one more click." The guy who cut the phone lines to ensure the alarm didn't alert the home office would be Sparks — a nervous guy who probably gets shot in the second act. The leader would be George Clooney, whom we like but we're shocked when he won't take Sparks to a doctor to get the bullet removed. Hey, maybe this career criminal with a winsome smile isn't a decent fellow, after all.

We've all seen this movie, right? A dozen times. You just hate to think you're going to end up at the end of the cast list as Startled Homeowner.

The break-ins hit a peak while we were on vacation, and I kept waiting for my phone to ring with the home security number on the screen. (The alarm is loud enough I could have heard it, and we were in London.) But we were spared, and continue to be lucky — in fact, I'm sure neighbors are looking at me with slight suspicion. I may have to stage a robbery in my home to remove their doubts.

A neighbor posted some video of a guy walking into his house and helping himself to a computer and some vehicle keys. Probably not from the band of burglars, just a low-level lowlife. The picture was quite sharp, and it made me think I should get a camera. If more people had them, it would provide evidence that a crook was a multiple offender, so they could be filed away in the Stoney Lonesome for a longer stretch. (If you think these crooks are "Les-Mis" Jean-Valjean types who just want to feed a starving daughter, no one who's been burgled reports that the crook took only a loaf of bread.)

Amazon.com has plenty of security systems, most of which are good for one thing: confirming that your house has been broken into. They don't automatically summon the police, which seems like an important detail. The reviews on the products are all over the road:

• Attached it to my Wink hub; couldn't connect; had to reset the dipswitches to 012003023 to get a handshake with my router; now sends me text alerts every two minutes saying it has detected motion; turns out it's triggered by the houseplants growing


• We had a break-in last week and this device captured footage of the burglar. White balance was off. Skin tones uneven; the burglar's black mask didn't have that deep, saturated black you associate with 1080i resolution. I had hoped the picture would have a slight grain, like the classic gritty movies of the '70s, but the crispness of the picture made it look more like a modern CGI Hollywood blockbuster. The result was acceptable as court evidence, but it lacked a compelling aesthetic.

What I want is something that uploads a picture instantly to a database of known criminals, matches the face, calls the police and squirts phosphorescent dye like a startled squid, so the cops can look for a guy running down the street glowing in the dark like Casper after a visit to Chernobyl.

What I really want is for the cops to catch this guy, or guys, so the entire neighborhood can attend the trial and make victim-impact statements, preferable through a megaphone two inches from their ears: "As if losing my car wasn't bad enough, you took the keys so I had to change all the locks and that meant calling a guy. But the guy wouldn't come until the next day, so I waited. And when he showed up, he wanted to know if I wanted the same finish on the deadbolt because I had brass and he brought satin finish that was nice. And I thought, 'That would be nice.'

"I'm sorry. Is this annoying you? I'm just getting started."

Unfortunately, I fear, so are the burglars.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks