Pumpkin punks, you're on camera

The Baltimore Sun

Two hours after Scott Finman put three pumpkins on his front steps in Wyman Park, neighborhood miscreants had stolen two and smashed them to the sidewalk - the latest in a string of pumpkin-pilfering and flower-pot-breaking to sweep the tranquil community.

But unlike other residents who can do little but curse the kids and sweep up the wreckage, Finman could turn to the videotape. He had installed cameras over the front and back entrances to his home, and they captured the crime as it happened.

What came next - after Finman posted the video online and asked for help in identifying the perps - is a study in community activism at its best (or maybe worst, depending on how seriously you take these kinds of things).

The 10-second video shows, in broad daylight, three young boys walking up to Finman's steps on Beech Avenue.

One of them puts his hands around a large pumpkin before reconsidering and grabbing a smaller one. Another boy also grabs a small pumpkin. Moments later, he flings it to the ground, where it bursts.

The other pumpkin was smashed just outside of the frame of the camera, after the boys casually walked away. Neither guilt nor shame registered on their innocent young faces.

Finman, 21, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at Johns Hopkins, called police.

But they said there was nothing they could do unless Finman could identify the boys. So Finman posted the video online and alerted the Wyman Park Community Association e-mail listserv.

"It's that time of year again. No more than two hours on the doorstep, and my pumpkins are no more," he wrote. He linked to the video and added, "If you recognize these kids, let me know and I'll have the police follow up on it!"

A flurry of e-mail messages followed. Some suggested printing out a frame from the video and showing it to elementary school crossing guards.

Others showed the video to their own children, and several people said one of the boys resembled a certain third-grader at Hampden Elementary.

One e-mailer wrote, "Maybe Tuesday morning there could be an announcement at Hampden Elementary School: 'Halloween has been CANCELLED, ask [the boy's name] and his little buddies why.' Just an idea."

The Sun is not identifying the suspect because he has not been charged with a crime. In any case, Finman's e-mail correspondents knew only the boy's first name. He is considering calling the school to inquire.

Residents of Hampden and Wyman Park say nuisance crimes are common enough, and they blame a lack of recreational opportunities for children. But they expressed just a little glee that a few of the troublemakers had met their match.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe he caught these kids. That's so awesome,'" said Lisa Meyers, who has lived in the area for all of her 38 years.

"I applaud Scott for taking the initiative."

Finman moved to the neighborhood about a year ago, and within a few weeks his 1996 Jeep Cherokee was stolen.

He says that he hasn't replaced the poached pumpkins. But the big pumpkin at the top of his steps remains undisturbed.

"I guess he liked the other one better," Finman said. "I suppose because it's flat, it's not as appealing to smash."


See the pumpkin destruction surveillance video at baltimoresun.com/pumpkin.

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