Friday night in Alexandria. I was riding with Officer Claire Burton in search of nuclear terrorists. I’m always in search of nuclear terrorists. They’re good copy. Or would be if I could find them.
Anyway, Burton is a young, attractive woman, on the petite side, good company, a year and a half on the force, who actually grew up in Alexandria and likes being a cop. (I know, it isn’t correct to say than a woman is attractive. (a) Tough. (b) She’ll probably be offended. (c) A lot of female cops these days are attractive, normal women, which contradicts the view I often hear that any gal who becomes a cop must be ugly, disturbed, gay, or twisted. It just ain’t so.)
I asked her why she became a cop. Well, she said, she had taken some courses in police subjects in college, and become interested. She liked being outdoors. She liked working with people. She didn’t want to spend her life in an office. Things were always happening. These are common answers.
Anyway, it was a bad night for nuclear terrorists. No matter what remote alley we drove down, there were no drug deals going down. Not a whole lot was happening.
Part of the reason is the sharp drop in crime over the last few years. I don’t think anyone really knows why this has happened. Police chiefs like to say that better policing accounts for it, but I don’t think so. As best I can tell, cops don’t cause surges or reductions in crime any more than surfers determine how big waves will be. They just ride them.
When I linked up with her, Burton was working on a van theft. Somebody owned a huge white van, the kind that has been made into a hotel room: Television with DVD player, stereo, everything but a golf course. The owner had let a woman drive it, or move it, or something, and she had disappeared in it. It ended up in an alley in Alexandria.
It wasn’t a big deal, but after she straightened it out Burton ended up spending over an hour on the paperwork. This is the bane of a cop’s life. Depending on the jurisdiction, arresting a drunk can take an officer off the street for an easy two hours. Some of it is necessary. Some is lousy software: The cop has to enter the same information over and over on many different forms. Some of it is bureaucratic stupidity.
Finally we got a call: Somebody was throwing rocks at a pool party. We got there. The neighborhood was white and fairly prosperous. We parked and went around the side to the backyard, where a poolside party was going on. A quiet fiesta. Grownups, not kids.
The lady of the place came over and said that somebody had been throwing rocks over the fence. She was upset because someone might have been hurt. She produced one of the rocks, about the size of a bird’s egg. She suspected the neighbors, because that’s where the rocks had come from.
Another lady cop, Dara Small, was also there. We all went back to the cruisers, drove around the block to the front porch of the neighbors’ house to investigate. A woman and an approximately eight-year-old boy answered. No, the lady said, entirely truthfully I think, she didn’t know anything about it.
If you want information, go to the source. Officer Small just asked the kid. “Hi, were you throwing rocks?”
The kid’s head went slowly up and down. Uh, yes.
Now, this kid was not a repressed killer who would end up working in a chocolate faction in Milwaukee and cannibalizing people from gay bars. He was just your basic kid. He apparently had discovered that if he tossed rocks over the fence, they made a neat splash. He didn’t know it was a bad thing to do.
But he was beginning to suspect.
Officer Small told him approximately, look, you could hurt somebody doing that, so maybe it isn’t a good idea, and a good idea is “not to throw rocks unless you can see where they’re going to land.” It was more an explanation from a range officer than a chewing out. The kid listened with wide eyes. Yes, he understood.
My guess is that he was successfully rehabilitated.
It was the closest we came to a nuclear terrorist. Crime isn’t what it used to be. Where was Al Capone when I needed him? We went back on patrol.