And we wonder why visitors to Hartford sometimes can't leave fast enough.
It'd been a pretty good night for Raja Tarabishy and his friends, who had celebrated Halloween at a couple of downtown clubs and were just leaving One Eleven Lounge on Allyn.
But then his girlfriend was pickpocketed while standing in the middle of a crowd on the street. Witnesses spotted her discarded wallet, but her money, credit cards, license and birth certificate were gone.
Tarabishy ran over to a nearby police officer patrolling the area, who told him there wasn't much he could do if they couldn't identify a suspect. He handed Tarabishy a card and told him to call the number on it. Another officer would come to take his report.
Tarabishy did as instructed. But after about half an hour and no officer, he, his girlfriend and another friend decided to ask a few more passing officers if they could help so they could leave. No can do, they all said. There were too busy dealing with serious crimes.
While waiting, Tarabishy and his friends saw a car hit another parked vehicle before taking off. Again, Tarabishy says, he called the police department, informing them that he was waiting and adding that he had just witnessed a hit and run nearby.
"Tell the officer when he gets there," he was told.
And so they continued to wait. The streets got quiet and they debated whether they should just take the loss and call it a night.
Just a few minutes later, another incident made the decision for them: Gunshots rang out from across the street. They dove for cover under a nearby truck.
Enough was enough; they hailed a passing cab and headed home. But not before making yet another call to police, telling them about the gunshots, reminding them of the previous calls and letting them know they were done waiting.
And once again, the same line: "We'll send an officer out."
After witnessing three crimes within a few hours, I have one question for the Hartford police, a frustrated Tarabishy wrote to The Courant when he got back home: Where were you?
Sounded like a fair question to me, so I called the police department to find out.
Hartford police spokesperson Sgt. Christene Mertes was refreshingly sympathetic. "There's really no excuse," she said, before offering a few.
It was a busy Halloween night. Lots of calls and arrests, including several related to gunshot incidents. So a theft where the criminal is long gone gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list.
Look, I get all that. Makes total sense; on a busy night with way more pressing calls for police to deal with, a stolen wallet just doesn't rank.
But what doesn't make sense to me is why any number of the officers Tarabishy talked to couldn't just take a minute to take his report or perhaps, more realistically, just level with the guy and tell him, "You know what, buddy, I feel your pain. But we're slammed tonight so either go report it yourself at headquarters or follow up by phone in the morning."
There, done. Instead, they leave him waiting on a street for hours.
It may seem like a small thing but this isn't just about a stolen wallet. It's about basic service and the bad impression it leaves on those working in, living in or visiting Hartford. And it goes back to the whole concept of community policing, which Hartford has long said it would embrace but seems to have a hard time executing.
These quality-of-life crimes are what shape the image and perception of a city.
You may not be able to stop every pickpocket — but you can't leave people standing on a street corner in Hartford waiting for a police officer who in Tarabishy's case showed up more than two hours after his first call.
A few minutes after my call to Sgt. Mertes, another Hartford officer called Tarabishy to apologize.
Nice, but talk about too little too late.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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