Many details will have to be omitted from the letter that follows because it begins with this request:
"Please do not publish my name or any facts or comments that would make me identifiable. I want to be able to speak frankly."
Fair enough. We'll put the remainder of the letter through a scrambler, and what comes out is: "You have been critical of the FBI because it took a long time to return a stolen car to its owner. I think your criticism has been a bit harsh and narrow.
"During my police career, I have commended FBI personnel and I have criticized FBI personnel innumerable times. In this instance, I must come to the FBI's defense.
"The police department for which I work still processes every recovered stolen car. We look for latent prints and other evidence because we know that cars are often stolen by people who are also involved in more serious crimes -- including drugs, robberies, rapes and homicides.
"However, many police departments, in the Washington area and elsewhere, make no attempt to apprehend those who steal autos. No identification work is attempted, therefore no evidence is discovered. There are just too many stolen cars for them to cope with.
"Criminals don't confine themselves to one type of crime. Apprehending an auto thief may also solve a counterfeiting case, a series of burglaries or crimes of violence. Obtaining evidence that puts an auto thief in jail may save the lives of several innocent victims he might otherwise have harmed.
"In the case you wrote about, there were kidnapping charges in addition to the four robberies. The FBI takes a very serious view of kidnapping, and was obviously intent on keeping the car and its contents as long as was necessary to complete its search for evidence.
"I can understand how this would be an inconvenience to the owner of the auto. I am sure the FBI can understand it. I don't think the FBI should be criticized for trying to be thorough in this case. I am very discouraged to know that so many autos are being stolen that some law enforcement agencies have thrown up their hands and stopped looking for evidence in recovered vehicles. Inasmuch as the FBI was doing what needed to be done, I think you were somewhat unfair in your criticism."
I don't think I was unfair.
If I thought the column was unfair, I'd have thrown it into the wastebasket and written a different one.
If I was wrong, I apologize. I've been wrong before. I'm afraid I'll be wrong again.
I am in complete accord with your views on crime and law enforcement. I share your feeling of gratitude that there is an FBI and that it so often does its work well.
What I criticized was what appeared to be a lack of empathy for the victim.
For space reasons, I had not been able to tell the whole story: lawmen who referred calls of inquiry to other lawmen who day after day said they didn't know but would call back, but never did; and when the victim called again they still didn't know, hadn't done anything to find out, or imperiously gave out precise information that later turned out to be totally wrong.
In this sequence, it appeared to me that it would have be an act of simple courtesy for the FBI to process the rear view mirror first (the body of the car was finished) and let the owner have the use of the car while tests of knobs, handles, cigarette lighters and paper documents proceeded at a slower pace.
I wasn't criticizing the police work. I was just reacting with disappointment to our inability to give adequate attention to each of the shocking number of crimes committed each day.
Once a police chief decides he doesn't have the manpower to cope with so many crimes, it's easy for his organization to fall into the habit of saying, "Sorry, but we can't think of you as a human being; we must think of you as a series of holes in an IBM punch card. Next case, please. Who has Number 5342BJ645KV29?"
At that point, we might as well admit we have lost, and the bad guys have won. Even if police catch the guy who pulled the four holdups, there will be four others who won't be caught, eight who will be caught and sent to St. Elizabeths for observation (and will simply walk away in a few days), 10 who will be sentenced to wrist-slapping under the Youth Corrections Act, 15 who are juveniles with rap sheets as long as your arm, and 25 who will be sentenced to death plus two consecutive life terms, but will be back on the street in four years and three months.
P.S.: Another of my complaints was that the FBI ordered the recovered car held on a City of Alexandria lot at the owner's expense, so that eventually the storage fees could have amounted to more than the value of the used car. Then there was the case in which the FBI removed a fender from a car and held it for evidence until . . . But that's another story, isn't it?