Yet another car break-in, but why call in the cops?

February 13, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The day is immediately ruined for me when I walk out of my house Saturday and attempt to unlock the door of my car, only to find some dirt ball has beaten me to it, minus any invitation on my part.

Wonderful. So now I'll add this break-in to the break-in of my garage a few months back, which I'll add to the break-in of my wife's car a few months before that, which I'll add to the theft of my car about a year ago. This time, apparently noticing the Club locked onto my steering wheel, the dirt ball only went for cash, about $3 in quarters I'd stuck in a little compartment.

The emptied compartment drawer was on the floor now, thrown there along with some cassettes I'd had in the glove compartment. There was some Sarah Vaughan, some Sinatra, some Ella Fitzgerald. They were left behind. There's no accounting for the musical deficiencies of these morons.

I drove off to run an errand, wondering if I should mention the break-in to my wife. Probably not. She's still upset from the time her car was hit, when the thieves took cassettes, plus bags of clothing she'd collected for a local homeless shelter. But I get home now, and there's a look on her face.

"My car," she says. "Somebody broke into it."

"You, too?"

"Me, too?" she echoes. "You, too? They threw things around, but they didn't take anything."

"There's nothing left to get, from the last time," I say.

"We ought to call the police," she says. But there's no real conviction in her voice. In the grand scheme of things, the police have more important business. To call them over such piffle seems an imposition, an interruption of the routine outrages that will make each morning's newspaper.

The decay of this city has now reached such a level that, earlier this month, we had the police commissioner, Thomas Frazier, declaring a new policy in which minor narcotics cases will be sloughed off. The cops may actually know there are guys carrying dope who are standing in front of them, and yet walk away from a sure bust.

What's the point? The arrest will only tie up the officer for half his shift while serious weapons crimes continue on his underprotected beat, and the arrest will lead to a court date on which a judge, taking note of terribly overcrowded prisons, will let the junkie go -- and never mind that record of housebreaking and knocking over old ladies for their pocketbooks that he's piled up to support his habit -- because, well, where's he supposed to put the guy?

So, we should call the cops because somebody jimmied open two cars and made off with a couple of dollars in quarters? No, but maybe it raises questions about this new arrest policy and how it relates to the protection of this community.

Frazier has been very clear about the war this city loses every day to the drug traffickers, who create much of our crime. The police can't turn it around with traditional approaches. They can't arrest enough people, can't lock up enough people, can't hire enough new officers or hope enough new prisons are built.

Thus, changes are coming. There are police computers to analyze arrest patterns: Which junkies are committing the most crimes to support their habits? Which ones might accept medical treatment, if it were offered? Attempts will be made to attack that problem as a health issue, in ways similar to those Mayor Kurt Schmoke once talked about.

In the meantime, the police back off from the easy arrests of street junkies. Thus, the obvious question: If they're easing up on these folks, who fuel the bulk of street crime, what about other crimes?

Can they still waste officers to monitor parking meters, when they're ignoring druggies?

Can they still pursue those who handle a sports bet, when they're easing off those who carry drugs?

Can they continue to worry about a whole range of so-called victimless crime, when the serious street crimes have now gotten so out-of-hand that some will be ignored to get at others?

In such a condition, why bother to call the police over mere break-ins of a couple of cars? Once, we'd have felt terribly violated. But that was before the car break-in of a few months back, and the garage break-in of a few months before that, and the car theft of a year or so ago.

Now? Now, you just want to find that dirt ball and say, "Are you proud of yourself? For $3 in quarters, you risked breaking into two cars? If this gets around, the other criminals will laugh at you."

And then, not quite in afterthought, heave a sigh of relief and add, "By the way. Thanks for not doing anything worse."

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