All too often, the police take a lot of unjustified guff. But once in a while they are flat-out wrong -- and that's exactly what they were in the case of Catherine Letteney.
Catherine is a 14-year-old freshman at Largo High School. Largo High sits very near Maryland Rte. 202, which is a busy, four-lane highway.
But like teen-agers everywhere, many Largo students trust their legs more than their better judgment. Largo students are forever dashing across 202, against the light and right in front of briskly traveling traffic.
Properly, the Prince George's County police decided to do something about this. They stationed a police car at the most popular jaywalking spot near Largo High. However, the car they chose to put there was unmarked.
One day after school, Catherine Letteney jaywalked across 202. The officer inside the unmarked car saw her do it and motioned her over. She refused to go.
The officer repeated his hand signal. Catherine said nothing and kept walking along 202. The officer started the engine, pulled up alongside Catherine and ordered her into the car.
Catherine again refused, so the officer parked and got out. This time, Catherine did stop -- because she could see the officer was in uniform, which she couldn't see for sure while he was in the car.
The officer wrote her a ticket. Then, perhaps recognizing that he had given Catherine an unnecessary case of the willies, he drove her to her home in Upper Marlboro.
Now, nobody is disputing that Catherine did something wrong -- including Catherine. But as her father, Ronald, put it, "Here was a strange man in a car inviting a young girl to get in. It's what parents have been telling kids not to do all their lives."
Couldn't the cops have stationed a marked car outside Largo High? Shouldn't they have? I think the answer to both questions is plainly yes. But Cpl. Bruce Gentile of the Prince George's County police information office doesn't see it that way.
"The point is to make an impression," said Cpl. Gentile, "and if a marked car is parked right there, nobody is going to do anything."
Here's the trouble with that reasoning: Assigning an unmarked car to Largo High School jaywalkers certainly protects the police department's ability to write tickets. But it does nothing to protect Largo High students or passing motorists.
As Cpl. Gentile says himself, no one would dare to jaywalk if a marked cruiser were sitting in front of Largo High. But isn't that exactly the result we want? Isn't the point to prevent jaywalking, and therefore to prevent deaths and injuries?
If the police want to "make an impression," they can appear at an assembly and warn students that tickets will be given to jaywalkers. Or they can give written notices to students that say the same thing. They shouldn't be scaring 14-year-old girls for no reason, whether they're jaywalkers or not.
Here's a heartfelt hurrah for Charles D. Goldman. He has just proved that the old motto, "Sue the so-and-so's," works just as well on mayors as it does on so-and-so's.
Brother Goldman is a lawyer, and he had some work to do at his office on a recent Saturday. But Saturday is nothing like weekdays when it comes to finding a parking space near 14th and K Streets NW. A vacant metered space only a block from his office took Charles mere moments to find.
The sign beside the space plainly said that the meter needed to be fed only between Monday and Friday. But when Charles returned to his car a few hours later, he had himself a $15 ticket.
A few days afterward, Charles went over to the traffic violation bureau to do battle. But the lines were five hours long. That was far more time than he cared to spend.
So, calling upon his legal training, Charles sued Marion Barry for the value of the ticket, for the five hours of his time that it would have cost to fight it and for court costs.
It took a month to arrive, but the response from John E. Touchstone, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, was delicious nevertheless.
Touchstone's letter said that Charles was right -- that the sign beside his parking space did not apply on Saturdays. "I apologize for any inconvenience this matter has caused you," the letter ended.
Inconvenience? Quite the contrary, Brother Touchstone. "This matter" has conveniently shown all of us how to beat an outrageously erroneous parking ticket -- for only 22 cents.
John Marshall of Alexandria says he has figured out a foolproof way to keep his spirits up.
He stores wine in his attic.
The days dwindle down to a precious few -- to one, as a matter of fact. Our annual campaign on behalf of the hospital that helps sick kids ends tomorrow. I'll publish semifinal totals this Saturday -- and "final-final" totals on Tuesday.
Are we on course for a record? It's still too soon to say. But it's not too soon to say that there has been a pretty steady flow of checks over the last few days of the campaign. Have readers been heeding my nudges? It looks that way -- and for that, I'm very grateful.
If you are one of those who still hasn't contributed to the campaign -- and who's nudgable -- please be a last-gasp giver. The need never wanes. Thanks in advance.
Here are the most recent group contributors to the campaign:
The Instructional Aide Association of Alexandria ($25).
Girl Scout Troop 1203 of Vienna ($30).
The Floor Managers' Division, U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home ($51.65).
The entire gang in the composing room and the Style section of The Washington Post ($1,950 donated through the annual Cookie Orgy, with special thanks to Mary Reider and to all those who did the baking).
The faculty and staff at Jefferson High School ($338.50).
Friends of Bill McGinty at The Boeing Co., Rosslyn ($50).
The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Hannah Thompson ($480 in honor of this 90-year-old woman who now lives in Windsor, N.C., but who spent most of her life helping to run a dairy farm in Northern Virginia).
Messiah Lutheran Church of Germantown ($36.36).
The Office of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House ($155).
Members of the Northern Virginia Chapter, National Association of Industrial and Office Parks ($110).
The staff at the Bel Pre Branch of Suburban Bank ($36.70).
The West End Ladies Bowling League from Glenmont Lanes ($17.50).
Capitol City Glass Co. Inc. ($590 in lieu of exchanging Christmas cards, the 10th year in a row this gang has raised funds that way).
Employes in the Arlington office of M. Rosenblatt & Son Inc. ($210).
West Springfield High School ($100).
And the Office of Budget/Comptroller, General Services Administration ($226).
Many thanks to each and every one of you.
O CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.