And the more earnest, self-conscious residents of Washington struggle with how seriously to take what some dub this “First World problem.”
First, let’s get to know our suspects.
There’s the legendary flower thief of Northwest Washington, a small, leather-faced man who looks like an old Vincent van Gogh and routinely gives some Mediterranean country as his place of residence whenever police stop him. (He is actually homeless and either stays in a shelter or behind a local rec center.)
For nearly a decade, he’s been cutting the priciest blooms — hydrangeas, peonies and lilac — and selling them to local florists and restaurants. Occasionally, someone snaps a photo of him, and it is circulated on neighborhood e-mail forums.
Then there are the loserboys who need to bring a flower to a girlfriend or a mama but don’t even have the cash for stop-light roses. They prey on the porches of Capitol Hill, the gardens of Northeast Washington and even a few cemeteries, treating them like walk-up florists, especially before Mother’s Day.
“I have not planted the flowerpots yet at my house and I never do until after Mother’s Day,” said 5th District Commander Andy Solberg, who lives in the 4th District and has learned his lesson after battling flower thieves for years.
“They’re for MY family, not that other guy’s!”
And we also have the unscrupulous professional gardeners who steal plants and trees right out of the ground and resell them or use them in their crooked landscaping businesses. Never buy that flat of geraniums off the back of that guy’s pickup truck.
It’s easy to get cynical about this crime spree. A snarky Tumblr, Cleveland Park Complaints, that compiles the most cringe-inducing posts from the tony neighborhood has been buzzy all week.
But not Commander Mike Reese, the lawman in charge of the bucolic, azalea-filled 2nd District.
“If you’re stealing, you’re stealing,” said Reese, who reminds himself of this when folks get all aflutter over a denuded hydrangea bush.
“We can’t ask the community to communicate, to tell us stuff, and then, if they tell us about these flowers, we can’t look at them and say: ‘Flowers? Really?’ ” said Reese, who growls a little bit when he talks and actually won an award called “Cop’s Cop.” He’s known for his heroic capture of a violent sexual predator and the takedown — on his birthday — of an armed drug dealer.
So the beefy commander summons how he felt when the grape hyacinths blooming outside his Bloomingdale home were all lopped off: Furious.
So he went all-out on Flower Man. His lieutenants were briefed on his description. Everyone saw the photograph that one of the residents took of a man walking down the street with a big armload of lilac.