I remember…years ago, days after I returned home from Basic Training at Ft. McClellan Al, I went out to my car to discover a window broken and my radio stolen. I called the police and an officer showed up to take a report. He was a decent enough guy but I recall distinctly thinking “well he’s not going to figure out who did this”. I sort of interpreted his attitude as simply “delivering the mail”.
Now, many years later, I find myself on the other side of the equation and know full well the differences in expectations that exist between the police and the people we serve.
As in my example, theft from automobiles is an extremely common occurence. Valuables left visible in vehicles, even a significant amount of loose change, can attract a thief’s attention. What attracts them even more are unlocked doors. By and large most of the “carpoppings” (as we call them here) are thefts from vehicles left unlocked overnight. Now…forgetting to lock your car door on occasion is excusable, what is less excusable is leaving your purse, wallet (with all of your credit cards/ID, etc.), laptop, powered up GPS, I-Pod, cell phone etc. in plain view…in your UNLOCKED car…on the street…overnight. How people get in the habit of leaving $100’s of dollars and all their personal ID and credit cards in an unlocked car is beyond me…but anyway…
Sometimes, when we get there we are greeted with an attitude of “how could you let this happen??”. Look. There are a LOT of streets in Town and not a LOT of officers. It’s simple math. If there is a known problem in your area we will do our best to try to catch these people “in the act”; but when all some kid walking down the street has to do is pull on door handles till he finds an open one, odds are that we are not going to be sitting right there when it happens. Not that “it’s your fault”, nobody has a right to take your stuff, but lets say you try locking your doors and not leaving all that crap in your car and I will try my best to try to catch these guys in the act.
We are most likely NOT going to break out the CSI unit for your stolen I-Pod. If there are obvious fingerprints I may tell you to garage the car till a detective can get to it later in the day or the next day, but a detective getting called in at 0300hrs on OT to dust your car for prints just isn’t going to happen and the mess that print powder makes will probably bother you more than your stolen stuff did. No DNA swabs, no alternate light sources, no tracking dogs.
And, as cold as it sounds, unless I immediately catch someone who is carrying your stolen property, your stuff is most likely GONE. If I catch someone the following week with a ton of stolen property in his car (some of it yours), and I can’t determine who it all belongs to it does you no good. To do that we need the SN# to put in the computer system and hardly anybody knows their serial numbers. If you don’t know the serial numbers of your property (or have it marked with something like a personal code) odds are you wont be seeing it again. I admit that I myself don’t keep track of them. It’s somethhing I plan on doing something about ….someday. I have had some luck with GPS systems and cell phones as long as they haven’t been “wiped”, but that’s rare.
Now you may ask, “why should I call the police if they are not going to get my stuff back”. Well, for starters you may need a report to give to your credit card company or for your insurance. But more importantly because it helps us to know where the problems are, what time and days the crimes are happening, the method of theft and what sort of stuff is being stolen. This helps us to zero in on who is doing this and when. Believe it or not, we ARE interested in stopping these people from doing this to other residents even if odds of charging anybody in YOUR particular incident are slim. People would be shocked to discover how often that report the cop did, even though they never heard anything more about it, helped catch someone down the road.
So I guess that in conclusion I am trying to say, don’t think that I am uninterested in solving YOUR particular crime. I would love to lock someone up and get your stuff back. But unless there is some decent information to follow up on there is not much that I can do, other than file a report and hope that the data may eventually lead to an arrest in another case.