Calling it in to the PD.
Someone comes home to find that their ceramic planter that their kids gave them for their fiftieth wedding anniversary is missing off their front stoop. They go over where it was and look around. Nothing to see but a ring of dirt where it used to be. They decide that there is no need to bother the cops about it. They’ve already looked around, and there isn’t anything that the cops can do about it. The next day they clean the dirt ring off the stoop and try to forget it, but they feel just a little vulnerable now.
The weather is getting warmer. It is Friday, and a college student is walking to her apartment from the bus stop after a day of classes. She decides that she is going to pump up the tires of her bicycle so that she can start riding it to class. When she goes to the bike rack, her bicycle is gone. The chain has been cut and is laying on the ground where her bike used to be. She calls her dad. When he is done with all his questions, the student asks him if she should call the cops. “What can they do?” he asks. “You don’t even know when it was stolen.”
A man goes out on a Saturday to do some gardening. He notices that his shovel that he left leaning against his backyard shed is missing. He also notices that there are pry marks on the door, which is padlocked. It appears that no entry was gained. The man curses himself, convinced that it is his own fault for being so careless and leaving his shovel out. He promises himself not to make that mistake again.
Dozens of crimes like this happen every day, and most of them go unreported. Most of the victims are convinced that the cops can’t do anything. And in each individual case, they might be right. The cops probably are not going to launch an all-out search for a stolen planter, a shovel, or a bicycle that ended up getting taken sometime over the winter, because there is nothing to go on. But collectively, these cases are important to the safety of the neighborhood. Because if they go unreported, they continue to take place, but when they are reported they begin a process that helps the cops solve them.
So what happens when these small unsolvable thefts and attempted thefts get called in? The city is divided up into areas and an officer is assigned to each of them. When Max and I were police officers, the city was divided into four areas. That’s a lot of ground to cover for four officers, so each officer will try to get as familiar with their area as they can. They check the reports each day. They look for similarities. They look for the parts of their areas that are being overlooked. If at briefing they find out that a ceramic planter was taken from one residential neighborhood, that a shovel was stolen from beside a shed just around the corner and that the latch of that same shed had been pried, and that a bicycle was stolen from the bike rack at an apartment complex that sits on the edge of that same residential neighborhood, all these cases that the victims thought were so unimportant alert the area officer to the fact that someone is prowling the neighborhood and stealing whatever they can easily get their hands on. The officer starts to concentrate their efforts on that neighborhood. They talk to the victims, ask questions. Who is coming and going? Who belongs there and who doesn’t? Who is just passing through? Who is loitering around? They get the utility officers who are not assigned an area to help patrol the neighborhood. Over time, as more of these seemingly small crimes are reported, they take on a pattern. The cops start connecting the dots, and eventually they identify a suspect, serve a search warrant, and lo and behold, they find a ceramic planter, a shovel, and a bicycle, all reported stolen. Sadly, they also probably find a lot of other stolen items that didn’t get reported and will never be returned to their owners, but thank goodness for those who did report them.
So no crime is too small to call in. Make your neighborhood safe: report them.