Thief chaser: long on guts or short on street smarts?


The Cindy Belcher story -- 42-year-old woman sees man stealing laptop computer and cellular phone from her van near Hopkins Hospital, she screams and chases man until man returns stolen items -- rang so many bells out there my head hurts. This columnist asked for and received dozens of responses via electronic and voice mail. The verdict was split: Half of the readers who responded thought Cindy was foolish for chasing the guy, half are ready to give her a medal.

Predictably, many thought she never should have left her valuables in her vehicle. First, we'll hear from the scolds.

Paula Sloane: "Heads-up to Cindy Belcher: Girlfriend, if your cell phone and laptop had been in your trunk where they belong, Dan would have written about someone else in his Jan. 29th column."

Madelaine Fletcher: "This is a basic city survival skill most people should know by now."

Mary Roby: "Let's try to be smarter from the start so the whole other issue of confronting a criminal won't need to happen."

Anna Leonhardt, e-mailing from Ellicott City: "It took a lot of courage to follow that man into the alley, but a little street smarts before she left her car probably would have avoided the whole thing."

Jack Purdy: "The adrenalin rush was understandable, but it was a mistake to leave the cell phone and computer in plain view."

(Note: Cindy doesn't have a trunk. She drives a van. When Cindy first told me the story, she referred to her vehicle as a car; that's why I used the term. For the record, she says she covered her laptop and cellular phone with maps before leaving the van.)

A lot of readers felt Cindy took too great a risk.

"She could have lost her life," said a caller named Jim.

Roy Michaelson: "A computer and cellular phone can be replaced in one shopping trip. What would her family have done had she been injured or killed for a few hundred dollars worth of electronic equipment?"

John Heavener: "I hope she realizes that next time she might not be as fortunate. I would hate to read about someone that died to protect their cellular phone."

A caller who described himself as a city police officer said: "Remind Cindy that just the other day a Korean businessman chased a robber out of his carryout, saying, 'I want my stuff back,' and he was shot to death. She was a very lucky lady."

A male caller: "This is the city that bleeds, and she didn't know how that guy was. He could have been high. He could have been crazy. He could have been packin' a piece."

And there was this message from an anonymous woman: "What Cindy Belcher did was very brave, but very stupid. Nothing of material is worth your life. I should know. I lost my father and my nephew."

Rick Spencer: "The particular criminal element we seem to be dealing with in our Brave New World is happy to kill for 52 cents . . . . Even if one is so angry that one is willing to actually risk a lot (personal safety) to change things ('Think globally, act locally'), that appears to be impossible (with) our revolving-door criminal justice system."

Ralph Pratt, an Army man and wrestling coach: "I would do the same, but I'd also be ready to duck and to run the other way should [the criminal] show a gun."

Then there were all those readers who admired Cindy's gumption.

An anonymous woman: "Cindy's husband, Mike, was right. She had to trust her judgment. You tell her I said, 'You go, girl!'"

Debbie, in Union Square: "Atta girl! Let's have less fear and more action. Those guys are always surprised when something like this happens, and they take off."

Jay Dullaney: "People are sick of being victimized."

From e-mail: "Good for her! The bums own the streets... and the time for taking them back is long past."

From the Goodman family: "Maybe if there were more Cindys in this world these creeps would think twice."

Norma Wood: "Hurray for Cindy. Everyone will say she was foolish but unless you've been in those shoes don't criticize. You might have done the exact same thing."

Wally Knapp: "While I have never been faced with her situation, I hope I would do the same thing. If criminals never really know who will put up a fight . . . well, this may serve as a form of deterrent."

Jackie, on e-mail: "Good for her!! She is probably one of the many who are tired of being victims or hearing about the plight of victims. People need to take a stand for what is rightfully theirs. It's not the computer and the cell phone they are stealing. It's your spirit, pride and faith in humanity."

John, on e-mail: "We won't solve the crime problem until we retake personal responsibility and view the police and courts as there to help us, not do it for us. When we do that we can in good conscience demand that they help us. I commend Ms. Belcher."

A male caller: "She needs to enter the Baltimore City Police Academy. We need more like her on the street."

A man who called himself Pastor Carl: "I'm on the street every day in East Baltimore. I would do the same thing. We need to stop the thieves and robbers from taking our streets. We need to defend our sidewalks. It is worth dying for."

Doug, on the Eastern Shore: "I would rather hold my head up high than cower under the pressure of these slime buckets. Perhaps the criminals will start to think of a new profession if they realize that people will get involved. I salute Cindy Belcher for not being a victim."

Michelle Kermes, Waverly: "Great. . . We need to empower ourselves to take our space back."

From Kelli Edwards: "It's nice to see the victim WIN for a change! You're right to say it's dangerous to do what she did, but it's still nice to read a story like this with a happy ending."

A woman named Sylvia, who described herself as a mugging victim: "The kids who robbed me not only took my bag, they took my freedom away from me. They turned me from a mature, self-confident, traveling woman to a frightful, fearful, scared-to-death person. I wish I had done what Cindy Belcher did. She at least did something, and I'm sorry I did not."

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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