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Sunday, December 13, 2009


Steve Cole reports:

One morning in mid-December, we arrived at work to find a crime scene literally on our doorstep, well, in the parking spaces six feet from the door. There was a pile of broken automobile glass (including some fairly large pieces over a foot across) and skid marks of someone driving out very fast. It seemed obvious to us that somebody had broken into a car the night before. (There is a bar next door, and cars are parked near our building until 2am every morning. Fairly often, we get to work to find a car left overnight by someone who had too much to drink and got a ride home by some other means. We don't mind the bar, which is run by a nice couple. We use some of their parking during the day and their customers use our parking at night.)

The obvious thing to me was to mention this mess to Mike and Eric (our employees) and tell them to wait until it warmed up a little, then go shovel the glass into a trash barrel before it damaged somebody's tires. They both saw the glass when they got here and parked down the row in front of the bar.) What may have been less than obvious to many people was that it's not a good idea to go clean up a crime scene until you know for a fact that the police are done with it. I went and found the non-emergency phone number (no point in bothering a 911 operator) and asked her to figure out if the stolen car had been reported and were they done with the crime scene. I was transferred to the detectives office where a nice detective lady hunted down the incident report (due to the marvels of modern computers, this took less than a minute). She then called the officer in charge of that crime, found out he was done with the scene, thanked me for being a responsible citizen, and told me to go ahead and clear the place up.

I knew to do this not from watching TV (although one would assume a reasonably intelligent grownup could figure this out the first time a television detective complained about his crime scene being cleaned up) but from the military police training I had in the Guard. I wish every citizen was required to be taught these things. When you find a crime scene, call the police, and ask them what to do. (I found a stolen purse on our doorstep a month ago and called the police to come collect it.) Don't mess with the crime scene; at most, stand there and tell others to stay away until the cops arrive. If you do innocently mess with the crime scene (or do so deliberately for reasons that made sense at the time), tell the cops exactly what you did. (They may have to fingerprint you for elimination. My prints are on file from the military, so I could skip that part when I assumed the purse had been dropped and carried it inside.)

Don't fear the police, but don't tell them how to do their job or ask them to tell you what happened. It's none of your business what happened, and you don't know how to do their job. Just tell them what you saw or found and ask them what to do with it.