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The Return of the Pink Rambler

Advice Goddess Amy Alkon, whose writing is always good for a laugh, has a disturbing piece on her site about how useless the police were when her car was stolen. On one occasion, a friend spotted her car and, when she rang the police to tell them exactly where they could find it, she was fobbed off by a disinterested operator who read from a script and did not send officers to retrieve it. Later, when the man she knew (and the cops strongly suspected) had stolen her car was known to be at home, Alkon called the LAPD and told them exactly where they could pick him up. The police receptionist told her that no detectives were around, and that she’d have to call back the next day to speak to anyone who could help her.

In the end, Alkon had to get her car back from the thief herself, using good old fashioned shame and hostility. She even enlisted her mother in trying to guilt him into returning items that were in the car when he stole it. But few will be surprised at what the real consequences were for the thief.

Fred still hasn’t been arrested. The case was knocked down to a misdemeanor and so the police can’t go into his house to pick him up…So far his punishment has amounted to being forced to disconnect his phone, probably because he couldn’t take the telephone harassment from me and, especially, my mother. Still, I don’t regret the experience. I had great fun moonlighting as a private detective, I gained newfound faith in humanity, thanks to the Rambler nuts and the other near-strangers who went out of their way to help me, and I’d learned a surprising little lesson: In Los Angeles, crime pays.

Of course this state of affairs is not confined to Los Angeles. Everyone seems to know someone who has been similarly screwed over by police bureaucracy and incompetence. I know some good cops. But pieces like these make it all the more puzzling to me that so many people trust the police so unquestioningly, both to serve and to protect. Do they genuinely believe that the system is stacked in their favour, or is it something people tell themselves in order to feel secure?

13 comments to The Return of the Pink Rambler

  • Julian Morrison

    Realistically? They don’t think about it, at all. “Police” is a category of “people who solve and prevent crime and catch crooks”. If there is a crime, there will be police, and they will try to solve it. To most people that’s like saying “if it’s raining the pavement will be wet”. A therefore B. Superstition, basically.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I feel it has less to do with big government inefficency than sheer PC-ness and liberalism infecting the judicial system.

    The decrease in punishment severity is a huge factor in the increase in crime rates. If you start caning your criminals, I can guarantee a massive drop in crime rates. But that would never happen in an ‘enlightened and benevolent modern society’.


    To have efective crime deterrance, there are two important factors: the efficiency of the police, whether public or private, as well as the punishment meted out. Obviously, private police firms have much more incentive to actually work at their jobs, but it’s not inconceivable to have a public police force do the same, with lots of performance and crime resolution rates to prod them into working hard.

    As for punishment, it’s more a reflection of the society which the crime takes place in.


  • Shannon Love

    I can’t see this story happening in Texas.

    If I called the cops up and told them I knew the location of the person who stole my car, I assume they would tear out for the location like a bat out hell. They wouldn’t be so be trying to find my car but rather to save the life of the thief.

    I wouldn’t have to resort to moral suasion to recover my property. Direct threats of violence would work fine and no jury would convict me for using as much force as necessary.

    I think it’s largely a matter of attitude towards ones rights as human being. If people believe individuals have a right to property and personal security then the police just become a form of connivence for protection and recovery. The moral right resides with the individual. The individual gets to recover their property by virtually any means whether that entails the police or not.

  • Verity

    What Shannon Love said.

  • llamas

    Here we go again.

    Shannon Love wrote:

    ‘I wouldn’t have to resort to moral suasion to recover my property. Direct threats of violence would work fine and no jury would convict me for using as much force as necessary. ‘

    I don’t know where all these Texas residents get the idea that Texas law allows the unlimited use of deadly force against any bad actor.

    Before you get yourself into a bind for acting on your belief, you should know that, in a case such as the one you describe, Texas law allows you to use only that force which is reasonable and necessary to recover your property. (TPC 9.42). And you don’t get to decide what is reasonable and necessary – that is defined in TPC 1.07 by an ‘ordinary and prudent person’ standard. In the case of car theft, there is also the limitation placed by TPC 9.42 on the use of force to recover stolen movable property, namely, that it may only be justified in ‘fresh pursuit’, or immediately after the crime is committed. In other words, you have no justification in Texas law to go to the thief days after the theft of a car and use deadly force to recover it from him.

    If you did as you described, or as was described in the instant case, you might be able to persuade a jury that your use of deadly force was justified, under a ‘normal and prudent person’ standard. Or you might not. It is not a statutory slam-dunk. But you would have a very hard time indeed getting around the ‘fleeing immediately’ or ‘fresh pursuit’ standard, which is a statutory part of the law and which you can’t persuade your way out of.

    I know that you believe that you have, or should have, these moral rights, and I’m not going to argue your beliefs with you. But you should be aware that Texas law does not confer upon you the rights that you think it does, or that you think it should.



  • R C Dean

    True story: My wife’s car was stolen when we lived in the Chicago ‘burbs (really, Kim!). It was recovered more or less by accident almost a month later, covered in fingerprints.

    After the police went over it for evidence and gave it back to us, we found a photograph of a teenager under the seat, which we gave to the cops.

    Even with prints and a picture of (at a minimum) an associate of the perp, nothing was ever done.

    I left Chicago shortly thereafter.

    llamas is right – in Texas, you shouldn’t threaten deadly force to recover your car.

    You should use it. Just make sure to leave a throw-down next to the body so you can claim self-defense.

  • llamas

    R C Dean wrote:

    ‘in Texas, you shouldn’t threaten deadly force to recover your car.

    You should use it. Just make sure to leave a throw-down next to the body so you can claim self-defense. ”

    There’s an old joke about an old millionaire and a Pretty Young Thing. The old millionaire sidles up to the Pretty Young Thing and whispers in her ear

    ‘So tell me, Gorgeous – would you sleep with me for a million bucks?’

    ‘Why, you naughty boy, yes, I think I would!’ she replies.

    ‘Well, then’ says he ‘would you sleep with me for 20 bucks?’ says he.

    ‘No, of course not, you dirty old man! What do you take me for?” she cries, outraged.

    ‘Well,’ says the old man ‘we’ve already established what you are. Now I’m just negotiating the price.’

    So, tell me, R C Dean – just how much evidence are you prepared to fabricate, or to suggest others should fabricate, to avoid the law and the consequences of what you do?

    For example – if you are involved in a traffic accident, and you don’t think it’s your fault – would you drop an open liquor bottle into the other guy’s car, and make it look like it was his fault?

    Bear in mind that injured outrage is bootless – you’ve already established what you are, now I’m just trying to understand your limits.



  • R C Dean

    I can only assume that llamas is playing along with my little joke.

    Discussion boards can be awfully opaque to humor.

  • At least she got her car back, which might not have happened if the LAPD had recovered it.

    A few years ago my Mac laptop was stolen from a friends car while it was parked in Century City. The next day I called the LAPD to file a police report, gave the cop my laptop’s serial number, how to contact me, etc. Fortunately it was insured, and everything important on it was encrypted. My insurance paid off promptly, and I had a replacement laptop in about a week.

    A couple of months later, out of the blue, I got a call from a guy asking if I’d had a laptop seized by the police. I told him no, but one had been stolen–I gave him the serial number, and sure enough, he had my laptop. He’d bought it at a police auction! The cops had recovered my stolen laptop, then turned around and stolen it themselves.

    If it wasn’t for the buyer seeing my website bookmarked in Internet Explorer, and finding my resume (with phone number), I would never have known what happened. As it was, he actually lived fairly close to me, so I went over with my new laptop and a Firewire cable, and recovered most of my missing files.

    I decided based on this experience that in the future I wouldn’t bother filing any police reports for stolen property unless it was necessary for insurance purposes.

  • Shannon Love


    I am quite familiar with Texas law but I am basing my argument on culture not formal law.

    Shooting someone in cold blood while trying to retrieve stolen property would get me sent to prison I am sure. Killing someone because they were threatening me while I was trying to recover stolen property most likely wouldn’t. Regardless of the actual law, cultural concepts about the morality of self-defense of one’s person and property would effectively nullify the jury in the latter case.

    I do know for a fact that the police would assume something bad might happen if a victim sought out the perpetrator. The police would not assume that the victim would remain passive, especially if the victim had already made a good faith attempt to get the authorities to handle the problem. The regions culture would give the victim the moral, if not the legal, to recover their property by any means short of cold blooded murder.

  • Jimmy Espy

    My wife and I recently went to Chattanooga to see a movie.
    While we were in the theater, some dirtbag punched a hole in my passenger door lock, got in the vehicle and ripped the covering off my steering column so he could “hotwire” the motor, which he did. However, the a-hole couldn’t break the steering column and, unable to steer the vehicle, decided to scoot away, leaving the motor running.
    I called the police and they promised to send someone out as soon as possible. The promise wasn’t very convincing and sure enough well over two hours passed and no cop showed. We called back and were told they were “very busy.”
    At this point we called AAA … a private, for profit company.
    Fifteen minutes later the AAA man arrived and fixed my steering wheel good enough for me to drive back home.
    We waited another 30 minutes, but the police never showed.
    All this and the movie sucked.

  • llamas

    R C Dean wrote:

    ‘I can only assume that llamas is playing along with my little joke.

    Discussion boards can be awfully opaque to humor.’

    Indeed. You got me. I took you at your word. My bad.

    But you can understand my doing so, I think, when sentiments such as those which you expressed are a commonplace here, and put forth by those who are not joking.

    As, for example,

    ‘The individual gets to recover their property by virtually any means whether that entails the police or not.’



  • Surely that’s better than failing to recover your property because the police have decided it’s not worth the bother, llamas?

    Not that I’m advocating the use of private force to recover personalty whilst on other person’s realty, but I can guaran-damn-tee you that if I ever find the person who stole my bike last week on my property again, he’s going to experience a radically violent reeducation on private property rights. And I’m pretty sure that Mississippi isn’t going to care much if I do.