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Unexpected call after visit to Northampton police station

Northampton Police Lt. Jody Kasper answers questions from the public in the Ready Room of the new department headquarters on Center Street during a grand opening and reception on Saturday. The screen behind her is a live feed monitoring the on-duty force at the moment.
KEVIN GUTTING

Northampton Police Lt. Jody Kasper answers questions from the public in the Ready Room of the new department headquarters on Center Street during a grand opening and reception on Saturday. The screen behind her is a live feed monitoring the on-duty force at the moment. KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

On the Saturday before Christmas, I joined the crowd at the open house at the new Northampton police station.

The visitors were greeted warmly by the officers, all looking spiffy in their uniforms, as befit their beautiful new quarters. We roamed through areas that most of us never expected to see again. The big attraction, of course, was the booking area and the holding cells. The facilities looked appropriate to their purpose, with neutral colors and smooth, easily cleanable surfaces, but offered nothing that made me want to spend more time there. Given that I had not been the most law-abiding of teenagers, I was fortunate that this was my first visit to this part of a police station.

I drove home to my peaceful, neighborly, nobody-locks-their-doors condominium community in Northampton, left my car in its usual spot, just 30 feet from my front door, and enjoyed a rare free afternoon. I tackled a few long-neglected cleaning chores, such as scrubbing fingerprints from the light switch plates. After supper, I settled down in my easy chair with a novel and my cat on my lap.

The ringing telephone interrupted the tale. The Caller ID said Greenfield Police Department. Must be a wrong number, I thought

“Do you own a 2009 Toyota Corolla?” the caller asked.

I did. It was right outside where it belonged. Wasn’t it?

“We’ve just picked it up in Greenfield.”

I walked to the window. My car wasn’t there.

“Was there a key in it?” the officer asked.

Darn. There was. Hidden in the glove compartment.

How could somebody have taken my car without my seeing or hearing a thing? But I’d had the radio on all afternoon — and while I was cleaning the switch plates, I realized I’d also inadvertently flipped the switch for the motion-sensitive outside light to the off position.

The Northampton Police Department sent an officer to my home to take a report. He was as neat, courteous and reassuring as the ones at the station had been. I had no suspects to suggest (my days of dubious boyfriends being long past). The officer’s informal suspicion was that one of the local characters that the department deals with often had needed some transportation, gone rifling through cars and gotten lucky. He told me that most thefts in our area seem to be just such crimes of opportunity. Someone will try a door, and if it’s locked, won’t pursue the matter further. But if it’s open, the opportunist will come in and see what you have that might be of interest.

The next morning, a kind friend gave me a ride to the Greenfield police station. After I’d identified myself, another courteous officer led me to my car, now safely tucked between two cruisers. He said they had spotted the car being driven erratically, but it had eluded them. Shortly thereafter, it had turned up again, abandoned in a backyard. The stuff from my glove compartment was still scattered over the floor, evidence of the thief’s hasty search. Most disturbing, he had kept the key.

By noontime, my car was back in front of my house, little the worse for wear after its unexpected journey.

I’m locking my doors now, though I’m still in the process of training myself to remember. I’m keeping The Club, an anti-theft device, on the car’s steering wheel, at least until I can convince myself to go to the expense of changing the locks. And I’m reflecting on my own long journey, from a rebellious kid who feared and distrusted the cops to an adult who sincerely appreciates them. I just hope the punk who took my car will get on the same road eventually. And I hope he got home for Christmas, or wherever he was going.

Norma Sims Roche lives in Northampton and is attending the winter 2013 session of the Citizen Police Academy.

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