Law & Order: A Necessary Process?

May 6th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Are we obligated to report all crimes to the police?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

A stranger steals your personal property. Instead of reporting the theft to authorities, you confront the suspect yourself. Your possessions are returned. You bypass the inconvenience of a police investigation and court appearances, and the offender goes without punishment. 

But did you also bypass a responsibility to work within the justice system? 

A Florida newspaper reporter observed just such an extra-judicial bartering session between a victim and a thief at the scene of the crime, which, ironically, was a Tampa courtroom. 

The victim--whom the reporter referred to as “Pinstripe Suit”--was 52 and in court for a case involving her son. She briefly stepped out of the courtroom, leaving her keys and cell phone behind. When she returned, the keys and phone were gone, and Pinstripe’s seat had been taken by a 25 year-old woman wearing a red velour sweatshirt. 

“Red Velour Sweatshirt”, as the reporter dubbed her, denied having seen Pinstripe’s possessions. So Pinstripe walked to the back of the court room, borrowed a cell phone, dialed her own number, and followed the sound of her buzzing phone--in Sweatshirt’s pocket. 

Pinstripe plucked the phone out of Sweatshirt’s pocket. Two sheriff’s deputies watched but did nothing. 

According to the reporter, Pinstripe then leaned over Sweatshirt and whispered, “I am going to have you arrested if you don’t give me my keys.” 

Sweatshirt replied, “I don’t have them.” Pinstripe then parked herself on the seat next to Sweatshirt and waited. And waited. Until finally Sweatshirt pulled a gold Lexus keychain from her other pocket. She dropped it into Pinstripe’s lap and said, “I have enough problems already.” 

Noticing that Sweatshirt had started to cry, Pinstripe hugged her and said, “Everything will be all right. Bless your heart.” 

Afterwards, Pinstripe told the reporter she didn’t turn Sweatshirt in because she didn’t want her to go to jail. 

Sweatshirt already had one arrest for theft, at age 16. Now at 25, she was in court fighting her second arrest, a child abuse charge. 

Tell us what you think: Did Pinstripe do a favor for Sweatshirt, or a favor for herself? Was this an act of kindness, a disservice to the justice system, or something else? In similar circumstances, what would you have done?