Natatia Bledsoe is the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
On Sunday of this past weekend my husband and I witnessed a crime in our neighborhood. As crimes go, it was a very minor thing. But the incident is a good illustration of how to be a good witness and help the police in discouraging criminal activity.
My husband and I are relative newcomers to living in Fredericksburg, having moved from our farm in Orange County to our home in the city about 18 months ago. The transition for us was pretty shocking, since the view from the windows of our Orange house consists primarily of cows and corn.
Nearly every day, Mark and I walk our dog “Hank” all around the streets in our neighborhood of College Heights. Because of this routine, we have come to recognize most of our immediate neighbors (at least by sight), the cars they drive, their kids, and of course their dogs. We know that one neighbor prefers to sleep in and keeps later hours at night, and we know that another neighbor has an adult daughter who comes home on the weekends.
We’re not simply being nosy. These are just various details about our neighbors that we have absorbed without much thought. What makes these details important is that they allow us to notice when things are out of the ordinary.
On Sunday morning shortly before 9am, Mark and Hank walked out to the street so Mark could retrieve something out of his car. Mark came back inside but Hank preferred to spend some time on the front lawn squirrel watching, a favorite activity.
We were standing just inside the glass of our storm door, watching Hank watching squirrels, when a maroon Saturn appeared from down the street and rather abruptly parked in front of the house directly across from ours. Neither of us recognized the car, and because of this we took notice.
As we watched, a teenaged girl shot out of the passenger side of the Saturn, jogged into our neighbor’s front yard and grabbed the two newspapers lying there, then turned to trot back to the car.
Mark burst through our front door and strode into the street, challenging the young woman: “Ma’am is that your newspaper?!!”
The girl dove into the Saturn’s front seat, the driver of the Saturn shouted something about the neighbors being on vacation (we knew that wasn’t true), and the car sped off. Mark stood in the middle of the street and memorized the license plate number of the car, repeating it to himself as he walked back into the house. I wrote down the tag number. Mark paced the floor in our kitchen, mad as a hornet. Hank continued watching squirrels.
We debated whether or not to call it in to the station. As I mentioned, it was a petty crime. But it was also so blatant, and downright rude. We considered how disgruntled we would feel if we woke up and found our newspaper missing. We briefly discussed how our sense of ownership and responsibility extended beyond the walls of our own castle and now included our neighbors as well.
Mark called in to the non-emergency number of the police department and gave the dispatcher what information we had.
What did we know? We knew the car was a maroon Saturn sedan and (very important!) we had the license plate number. We knew the theft had been committed by an apparent teenaged girl who was wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants. We knew the driver of the Saturn was another female who was an adult, possibly the mother of the girl, given the age and general appearance of the two.
We knew our neighbors were most likely not on vacation, since we had seen them the evening before and all of their cars were in the drive. We knew that someone had just swiped the Sunday editions of the Free Lance-Star and the New York Times from their front yard.
Did any of this information make a difference? Yes.
The police officer who responded discovered that even though the license plate number of the Saturn was registered to an address outside of Fredericksburg, the name on the registration was contained in the Records Management System (RMS) of the police department. We maintain name files in RMS for anyone who has been a victim, a witness, a suspect, or an “involved party” to a crime. The owner of the Saturn was in RMS with an associated City address.
The officer responded to that address and found the Saturn’s driver. The details of that exchange are not particularly important to this story, but a short time after we witnessed the newspaper heist, the papers were returned to our neighbor by the apologetic offenders.
I think the neighbors were a little surprised that we had called the police – they didn’t even know about the unfolding drama until the police officer knocked on their door – but I hope they weren’t offended by our interest and concern. Here’s a message to our neighbors if they care to return the favor:
If you know we’re out of town and you see a party going on at our house, please do call the police. Hank’s not allowed to have friends over when we’re not home.