In two recent columns, reference was made to the four holdups perpetrated in a single night in a National Airport parking lot. There was special concern for one victim, John Forrister, who had trouble getting his car back after the robber took it.
The FBI was checking the car, its components and its contents for fingerprints.
At hand now is a response from the FBI's Lawrence Karl York, special agent in charge. He writes:
"In your March 7 and 10 columns, you wrote about an FBI investigation of the 'plight' of a victim whose automobile was stolen.
"You were correct in asserting that the FBI removed the vehicle's rearview mirror and side mirrors, radio knobs, cigarette lighter and several other items found in the car at the time of its recovery.
"Any of these items could contain the latent fingerprint impressions of a suspect implicated in the three robberies and one kidnapping at National.
"These items were removed from the car to be submitted to the FBI's Identification Division for 'dusting' and chemical examination. For your information, many of the items removed were made of paper and other material which could not be 'dusted' but must be sujbected to several chemical analyses in order to develop latent fingerprints.
"FBI agents routinely remove items such as automobile mirrors in cases of this type for submission to the Bureau's Identification Division since they can be processed there by experts under laboratory conditions.
"The FBI agent handling this investigation was certainly aware of the need to solve the robberies and kidnapping; therefore, he took every proper precaution to secure any item from the victim's car that could possibly contain a fingerprint. One partial latent fingerprint could solve the crime and possibly prevent other violence.
"These laboratory examinations do take time; and regrettably citizens are occasionally inconvenienced when their property, after being stolen and recovered, becomes evidence.
"The FBI considers the series of robbery incidents and one kidnapping at National Airport to be a serious matter and one that calls for swift identification and arrest of the subject before someone is seriously hurt or killed.
"I am certain that your readers understand that in this case the FBI is attempting to solve a crime and is not purposely trying to deprive the victim of his automobile.
"Your readers might be interested to know that a federal arrest warrant has been issued for the suspect in this matter."
Special Agent York, permit me to make a few comments about your letter.
It never mentions John Forrister by name. To the FBI, he appears to be more a case number than a person.
Also, I wonder what Sigmund Freud would make of your putting quotation marks around the word "plight" when you refer to the (so-called?) "plight" of a victim whose automobile was stolen after he was held up.
If I were to deprive you of your private auto for 10 days, would you consider your plight genuine, or would you put quotation marks around the word?
I know about the paper items you examined chemically.That was good, routine police work.
But it has nothing to do with the treatment accorded John Forrister.
His rear-view mirrior wasn't made of paper. It didn't have to be subjected to chemical analaysis. It could have been dusted for prints in a few minutes and returned to him, so that he could resume legal use of his auto. If the FBI had been geared to think about "the victim" as a living, brething human being, it could have kept the paper items, the cigarette lighter and the radio knobs until its laboratory was finished with them, and could have given priority to the victim's predicament.
In short, I think the Bureau would make more friends if it developed a sharper awareness that it exists to serve the public rather than its own convenience.
In stolen car cases, it should be standard practice to dust the mirrors quickly and return the car quickly. It would also seem appropriate to set up a procedure designed to stop the City of Alexandria, or any city, from charging a victim a storage fee for keeping his car on its lot at your order.
Some day another automobile may be stolen somewhere in America, and you may again be called upon to protect the victim of a crime. I trust that my suggestions will help you discharge that duty in a more sympathetic and caring manner.
If you don't shape up, one of these days you're going to grab a vehicle that was stolen from a lawyer, and he is going to give you so much flak about depriving him of his property without due process of law that you'll wish you had entered the ministry, as your mother wanted, instead of the FBI.