It’s safe to presume that when many of us begin our days, we don’t anticipate being a victim of crime. Rather we go about doing the things we do and expect to end our day on an uneventful note, our beliefs and attitudes largely intact. We are blissfully unaware that we are being stalked, that danger hovers nearby — or at least I was.
It’s a sunny afternoon in June, and I’m sitting on a bench outside Starbucks, relaxing. A few feet away, while I sip my cup of coffee, a criminal patiently waits for the opportune moment to strike.
The criminal is a predator, and I am the prey. In less than a second, he swoops down, shattering my privacy and sense of safety. He grabs the expensive electronic device from my hands, which I held lightly, while composing a review of another experience, now lost, along with so much more. My earphones dangle, disconnected from my iPhone, and I know what has happened. I am in shock, feeling acutely violated.
He starts to run, of course. And I make an attempt to respond. As he turns the corner of this strip mall, I run and shout at him — “You [expletive], give me my phone!” — and the horror of losing my phone, losing everything I have on it, for it’s not merely a phone, hits me like a brick: I’m never going to see it again.
Still, I shout for someone to call 911 — and someone does; there are witnesses to this crime. Within minutes, three squad cars appear at this relatively safe strip mall in Towson, across the street from the big mall.
The first officer to respond remains behind with me as I absorb what has just happened, my horror increasing exponentially as I explain it. That customary boundary that keeps others at a safe distance, so essential to our personal integrity, has been grossly violated. The sudden intrusion is demoralizing, terrifying.
The other two officers swiftly assess the nature of the crime, get a description of the perpetrator and jump in their cruisers, sirens blasting as they begin the chase. Now the predator has become the prey.
He must hear the sirens. He likely picks up the pace, while I wait with officer No. 1.
A constant stream of information is exchanged over the radio, and the sense of unease that comes from knowing I was targeted in a crime grows. Still, I couldn’t help but express my extreme admiration for the officers’ incredible skill and professionalism.
“I am so impressed with the response,” I said. “I never expected it.”
I had expected something entirely different: a police report taken and a dismissive “We’ll let you know if anything turns up.” I never imagined there would be an active pursuit of the criminal.
I also never thought he would be apprehended.
But I was wrong.
By this point, he was probably scared — and rightfully so. He does not know that Precinct 6 of Towson, far from treating this as a minor crime, has escalated its pursuit, and a K-9 unit is scouring the ground for the criminal’s scent.
They do capture and arrest him. He is a juvenile, four months shy of 18. At first, he denies guilt, but with CCTV cameras posted at the mall and several witnesses, that defense proves futile. Eventually he is persuaded to tell the officers where he dumped the phone. I get it back at the precinct, several hours after the ordeal began.
It could’ve been worse. I realize that. It could’ve been an armed robbery, instead of a kid who made a poor choice because “he needed the money,” according to the police report.
I also know that it’s fashionable to bash cops while ignoring the incredible job and danger they place themselves in to protect the public. They don’t get enough credit for that. They get derided as bad, but they are not. Cops are resilient.
And on this day, they are my heroes.
Betty Barkas Hood is a writer based in Baltimore. Her email is email@example.com.