March 14, 2011 — Vallejo Times Herald (www.timesheraldonline.com)
'Social loafers' fail to take action during mugging
By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen/Times-Herald staff writer
A leisurely walk on a nice Vallejo
day suddenly went mad for two young women when they found themselves chasing a robber
down a busy street, yelling for help to no avail.
Residents Leah Mullen and Casey Lozano said that after a green-hoodied mugger wrested
Lozano's purse from her, he took off running and they sprinted after him.
"We were yelling, 'he grabbed my purse!, Please stop him!, Stop him, please! Please!,
"Mullen said. "We passed at least a handful of people who could have done something
but didn't -- grown men who were fully capable of running after and stopping someone.
"But they just stood there and looked at us like we were stupid. I don't know."
She didn't know it but Mullen had not only encountered a thief, but also what is known as
"It's when we say to ourselves that if we don't do it, someone else will," explained
Vacaville-based consulting psychologist Bruce D. Sanders. "It might also be a fear of getting
involved because of personal risk or a fear of getting involved with the police or the criminal
Social loafing is common, and the fear of involvement is becoming more so,
especially in big cities, Sanders said.
The Vallejo incident calls to mind the similar though infinitely more terrifying story of Kitty
Genovese, who in March 1964, was, according to some accounts, repeatedly attacked on
the streets of Queens, NY for more than half an hour as "38 respectable, law-abiding
citizens watched, "from their apartment windows. Those accounts say no one called police
until after Genovese was dead.
Though social loafing may be maddening for victims, physical intervention is not always the
wisest move for bystanders, Vallejo Police Department spokesman Jeff Bassett said. But
they can help, anyway, he said.
"The safest and best thing for people to do, without getting involved, is get a good look,
get a good description and be able to provide it to police," Bassett said. "And call us in a
timely manner, with a vehicle description and direction of travel, that's what helps us
apprehend them after a crime happens."
The recent incident began when the two friends started a stroll from downtown to Springs
Road, Mullen said.
"We decided to take a walk on a nice day at 3 or 4 in the afternoon," Mullen said.
"We thought it was a safe route, down Tennessee Street, and tons of people were out
because it was a nice day."
Mullen said she noticed a guy behind them, even mentioning it to Lozano, but didn't feel
threatened. The police report described the suspect as about 24, 5 foot 7 inches, 130
pounds "with a dark complexion, small twisty hair, wearing a bright green jacket with
multiple patterns ... and dark colored jeans."
"Before you knew it he came up behind her and grabbed the purse, and they played
pickle for it for a while, and then he let out a growl and she let go, and he took off and we
took off after him," Mullen said.
Lozano said a couple of motorists tried briefly to follow the man, but gave up. And one man,
who was putting a baby in a car seat, momentarily took off after him, but couldn't leave his child.
Most shocking, Lozano said, was a man who saw the crime in progress from only a few feet
away and ignored it."One guy, who looked like he was in his mid-30s, with his son who
looked about 12, saw it happen, and as I was wrestling for my purse, I looked in his eyes,
pleading for help and he just walked away," she said. "And before I could think, we were
Benicia-based psychologist Micah Altman agreed with Sanders that the fear of getting hurt
is one likely reason some people don't intervene."But also, there are some people who put
themselves in harm's way to help," she said. "Like everybody, it's an individual response."
In any case, something victims can do to spur onlookers to help is to call out specific instructions,
"Like, yell out, 'call 911!' or 'call the police!'" Sanders said.
Mullen and Lozano said they've never before been victims of this type of crime.
"To me, after it was over, I didn't care about my stuff getting stolen but I was shocked that
hardly anyone tried to help us."
The mugger ran down Tennessee Street, turned right near the old Goodwill Store and
disappeared, Mullen said. He eventually outran the women in a neighborhood near Alabama
and El Dorado streets, according to the police report.
"He jumped a fence, and I can't do that," Mullen said.
Mullen said she called 911 while in pursuit and that police responded "surprisingly fast."
"They drove us around a little bit, looking for the guy," she said. "They definitely were doing
everything they could to find this guy."
Later, the women had time to consider the lack of help in their time of crisis.
"I can't really judge them, maybe they were afraid," Mullen said. "But I definitely hope I would
help first and ask questions later if I ever find myself in such a situation."
Lozano said she came away with similar feelings.
"I got a big slap in the face out of this," she said. "Nothing like this has ever happened to
me before and never will I be one of those people who sits around twiddling their thumbs
while someone in trouble is pleading for help."