Saturday, July 11, 2009

Salt Lake Police

Norman Rockwell, 1958

I'm fed up with policeman.

Until lately I've really never had much to do with them; I had my old kindergarten view that they were our community helpers. They would get my cat out of the tree (if I had a cat.) They would tie my shoe, wipe my tears, and help me find my mom.

Recently I left Mr. Roger's neighborhood behind and moved into the real world. My first disappointment was Peter's accident. He was riding his bike to work and was hit by a hit-and-run driver. He landed on the sidewalk, unconscious, with a broken neck and a broken back (he's recovered very well, thank goodness.) Witnesses said a girl got out of the car, walked over to look at Pete, threw her hands in the air with a cry, got back in her car and drove away.

The police tried to question Pete in the emergency room (just as he came to) but the doctors shooed them away. At that time they were concerned that Peter could be paralyzed and they were cutting off his clothes, immobilizing him and running all sorts of scans. Pete never heard from the police again! There were a couple of reports in the newspaper and on TV about the investigation of the hit-and-run, but they were all full of errors and contradictions. That's how Pete learned the details of his own case. Apparently it was an unlicensed teenage girl driving somebody else's unregistered car, and the lack of info didn't merit the officer's time.

When Pete called the police from his hospital bed, he got recordings and promises for return calls, but nobody called him back. A few days later, in his back brace and neck brace, Dee took him to police headquarters to pick up his mangled bike. When he asked how the investigation was going, and if there were any leads, (basically, "is there an insurance company I can send my $18,000 worth of bills to?") the cop said they'd dropped the case. He said, (right to Pete's face in front of Dee,) "If you were a fatality, or more prominent, we'd follow this through." And that was it! They were done! Finished! Pete was alive, unimportant, and on his own.

So the other day we had another dealing with Salt Lake City's finest.

On Thursday Dee went to his downtown office after hours (about 7:00 pm.) The 10-story building is locked after 6:pm so Dee used his code to get in, went upstairs and unlocked the door to his private suite and discovered a guy sitting at his computer! Dee said "What are you doing??" and the kid replied, "Nothing . . . sorry." Dee was furious. He asked him to write down his name, address, employer, etc. which he did. Dee called the employer (who was the building's cleaning service person) and said "Come and get this kid!"

The boy said he was 13, and when Dee called me he described him as "quaking in his boots" and embarrassed. He had admitted to using Dee's computer regularly. Because he fit several of the scarier stereotypes, (mainly a dumb kid looking at porn on someone's private property) I was nervous that he would fit other stereotypes, too, and produce a weapon. Dee is young in spirit, but old in karate skills, so I called the police, and sat on the phone with Dee while he waited for backup. (I figured by being on the other end I could protect him, or at least be a witness to the gunshot.)

The employer showed up 30 minutes later, mortified and apologetic. About that same time the policeman arrived to assess the situation. He took the kid out in the hall for a few minutes, and then told Dee he'd given the vandal a "talking to" but he didn't think anything illegal had been done. Everybody was free to leave! He insinuated (in front of the culprit) that Dee was the one at fault because he had left his private computer (in his private locked office in a secured building) without password protection. "You're just asking for this," he implied. (So does that mean that if a CD player is stolen from your unlocked car, in your locked garage it's your fault for not locking the car?)

Dee has had some computer viruses this summer that have cost him down time, as well as geek squad repair bills. Now it's clear they came from the sites the boy was visiting. Luckily the boy's employer was willing to compensate Dee for those expenses and he has promised to have better control over the cleaning staff. He took responsibility and was a stand-up guy. What I'm disappointed in is the police reaction.

I'm not out for vengeance for a foolish teenage prank. If he stole any information it serves him right—"The History of Sheep Ranching in Summit County" isn't something to brag about to your gang-banger friends. It's the policeman's attitude of "Hey, boys will be boys . . . what are you gonna do?" "Girls will hit and run . . . just don't get in their way," that bugs me.

I was a silly teenager once upon a time. When I was 14 my friend and I went with our 16-year-old boyfriends, (Ken and Steve) to see what was called "The Guillotines." Actually it was a shooting range at an army base called Fort Douglas, and a popular place to park. As soon as we passed the no trespassing sign we were pulled over by military police and asked for our ID. Since Joan and I were under 16, we had the added misdemeanor of being out after curfew (10:pm in those days) and the four of us were hauled into the police station and charged with our crimes!

It was horrifying. After a stern lecture about trespassing on government property by a tough soldier with a gun on his hip, we had to call our parents to come and get us released. My parents were out for the evening (which is why I was AWOL after curfew on an unapproved date in the first place.) Always helpful, my 12-year-old brother covered for me by telling the policeman that our mother couldn't be reached because she worked all night in a factory that didn't have a phone. It didn't sell. I got another reprimand for lying.

As it turned out, Steve called his much older brother, who posed as a parent and came to retrieve us. Terrified of the possible consequences, but thinking we'd gotten away with something, we pulled into my driveway at midnight. My parents were waiting, fully armed with the whole story. (The military policeman had called back and reported on our misdeeds.) Dad told me and Ken off royally: we were both in tears. I was grounded for the whole summer. And I really was. And obviously the lesson I learned was memorable.

It's reassuring to know there are laws, and that someone is in charge of enforcing them. It gives a sense of order and security to people. I want to feel that someone trustworthy will protect me, even from myself. I miss Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

Photo by Kevin Rivoli

Do you have any experiences to add?


mama jo said...

what unreal experiences...i do have a few things to wonder my curfew was always strictly enforced...and if you had a cat...would you really get it out of the tree? i know how you feel about cats!

Christie said...

That is absolutely ridiculous! I can't believe that - he was totally breaking and entering a private office. That doesn't leave me much hope for the SLC police who were already on thin ice after poor Pete.

The Grandmother Here said...

The Salt Lake City police never recovered my grandmother's grandmother's wedding ring which was stolen by our neighbor. (They followed the footprints in the fresh snow right to her door.) I think they've got more crimes than policemen.