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Akst: Polar Bear theft sullies the new year

So much for starting 2014 on a high note.

We made a quick getaway to visit my in-laws after Christmas. We found a responsible college student to house- and dog-sit. She did a great job, it was a great trip and we returned home New Year’s Eve before the heaviest snow fell.

Then I discovered the crime.

While we were gone, someone stole the inflatable polar bear from our front yard.

Polar Bear was connected to a timer, so at sunset, he and our other modest outdoor decorations would come alive. Polar Bear sat on his haunches and gave a friendly wave to passers-by.

When we first got the decoration, we were concerned about stability, punctures and snow covering up the little fan, so my father-in-law and I built a special platform. We used tent stakes to secure the platform to the lawn. It worked great for several years.

It’s not the Lindbergh kidnapping I’m reporting here. I doubt the value of Polar Bear even crosses the threshold from misdemeanor to felony, but in several ways, the theft has injured my family.

I plan to report the theft to the Sycamore police. I’m sure they will be professional and take the report seriously, but we all know that the theft of Polar Bear won’t be an investigative priority.

I’m also not holding my breath for a new year’s miracle.

What I hope is that my little story finds its way to whoever stole Polar Bear so that they might understand the consequences of their actions.

For one thing, Polar Bear is several years old. We can get another inflatable, but we can’t replace him. For another, building the custom platform was a cool project my father-in-law and I worked on together, so that’s gone.

Then there are the statistics. According to a 2012 DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department report, theft cases increased to 75 in 2012 from 72 in 2011. Every crime statistic negatively affects a community.

The worst part is that whoever stole Polar Bear probably thought they would just be messing with grownups. But our son turns 8 soon and he’s trying to hold on to the magic of the holidays.

The theft didn’t help.

“Why would someone do that?” he asked tearfully. “It’s not precious, so why would someone take our polar bear?”

Even a 7-year-old realizes this wasn’t a crime of desperation to feed someone’s family, and as every parent knows, it’s hard when there are no good answers to legitimate questions. Still, he took it well.

Better than me. I’m not a turn-the-other-cheek guy. In fact, I’m reminiscing my Texas upbringing, where it’s more or less OK to shoot anyone who knowingly trespasses onto your property for no good reason.

But as I said last week, I do believe in redemption, so here’s what I propose:

Whoever took Polar Bear, please return him. Just put him in our back yard late at night – you certainly know the address – and we’ll put this behind us. It’s the right thing to do.

Otherwise, you’ll live with the consequences of your actions, and you might be surprised at how far and how fast information in a newspaper spreads. This little stunt – and I – might catch up with you.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter @jasonakst.

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