March 29, 2013

On the evening of March 12, I stepped onto the Metro at the U Street Station in the District, headed home to Virginia. Only two other people were in the car, a young man and a boy about 12 years old sitting near me. At the first stop, when the door opened, the boy exited first. Then the man screamed at me as he walked by, slapped my hand and took my phone.

I am still not sure how I made it out of the door before it closed, but I chased the man up the escalator and saw him fleeing the station. I knocked on the window of the station manager’s booth and pointed toward the running man, telling the attendant that my phone had been stolen. This is where the important part of my story begins.

From that moment on, I was surrounded by competent, focused and thoughtful professionals. The attendant contacted transit police, and an officer arrived in minutes. She also called in another attendant, who stood with me and answered my questions. I had my iPad with me, and the officer used it to track my phone for some time, until it disappeared from the screen.

D.C. police arrived, and I watched an investigation unfold. The communication and coordination of efforts was seamless, and ultimately a suspect was detained. They spoke to me about the growing problem of these kinds of thefts and the importance of eyewitnesses to stopping them. They explained the identification process and how I would be protected if I agreed to participate. Ultimately, it was my choice to make an identification. I was informed, but I was not pressured or pushed in any way.

I agreed to try to help, and the rest of the evening was like something out of a television drama — riding in a police car, viewing a handcuffed man — the same man who had accosted me on the train — standing under a streetlight. After we finished, the police took the time to drop me at a Metro station closer to my home.

Being drawn into this process was stressful. Days later, when the dust had settled, I had questions and felt a little anxious, so I called the transit officer who had given me his card. I was met with a level of compassion that both surprised and moved me. In the end, I didn’t get my phone back, but I got something that could turn out to be more valuable if I need to rely on it: confidence in the workings of law enforcement and the judicial system.

Theft will always occur, bad things will always happen. But this experience has shown me that when they do, in the very heart of the District, there are strong, skilled and sincere people there to help. I feel safer knowing that they are there. I am writing to share this reminder — and to say thanks to the people who stood with me that night and stand with all of us every day.