Maybe by now, a detective has reached the woman and arranged to return her jewelry. Then again, maybe not -- and perhaps that should be "probably not," given the police department's performance over the last two years. We might call it dismal. We might also call it unforgivable.

The saga begins early in 1984, when a Georgetown jeweler disappeared with jewelry belonging to several of his customers. He was soon caught, and some of the stolen jewelry was recovered and seized by the police as evidence. Among the recovered items were two rings belonging to a woman who lives in American University Park.

Because the rings had belonged to the woman's mother, they had great sentimental value. The woman was delighted to hear that they had been recovered. She asked when she could come down to police headquarters and pick them up. Not until the prosecutor decides whether or not to prosecute, she was told.

Months went by. A year went by. Nearly two years went by. The woman says she called the check and fraud division at least a dozen times. On each occasion, she was told that even though she had a receipt proving that she owned the articles in question, they could not be released because they might be needed as evidence.

Finally, a compromise was struck. The police agreed to photograph the stolen jewelry and return it to the woman. They say that all she needs to do is to call check and fraud detectives and make an appointment to pick up her valuables.

But it's worth noting that this compromise was offered only after a certain typist began sniffing around the story. And it's worth wondering why it takes a government lawyer nearly two years to decide if a crime is worth prosecuting.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clendon Lee told researcher Michelle Hall that "there is a balance to be struck between holding evidence in the interest of effective law enforcement and yet trying not to inconvenience anybody." Lee said that detectives had been trying to reach the owner of the stolen rings "for some time." Lee said that as soon as an appointment is made, the rings will be photographed "and she can take them."

How often do officials offer to photograph evidence so that a crime victim can reclaim it? Other sources in the U.S. attorney's office say there's no hard and fast rule. "It depends on the item, the case and the owner," one prosecutor told me. "I'd say it's a compromise that's offered some of the time, but not a lot of the time."

So dozens of crime victims who don't have enough gumption to call a newspaperman are still waiting months and years to get their stolen goods back. That's as unfair as it gets. The "photo compromise" should be offered to everybody. It's the least our officials can do to keep the sting of crime from stinging longer than it should.

Usually when I hear Good Samaritan stories, the beneficiaries have a lot of trouble describing the angel-on-earth. "Oh, gee, just an average guy," they'll say. Or: "I don't know, suit, tie, late forties." Or: "You know, I just can't remember."

On Jan. 3, Ina Balsham of Fort Washington was helped out by a guy you couldn't miss in a pea-soup fog. He wore shorts and a sweaty T-shirt, and he was carrying a soccer ball.

The problem was that Ina had left her car keys in the pocket of her raincoat. Then she locked the coat in the trunk of her car, which was parked on 15th Street NW, near the Commerce Department.

Ina had just started imploring the heavens for help when along came our soccer star. It took him 45 minutes, but he removed the back seat, loosened a panel behind it, reached in and voila! Then, without leaving so much as a silver bullet, he vanished into Commerce.

Ina says the only clue to his identity is that the sweaty T-shirt bore the name of "some Virginia school or other." Here's hoping you see this, Mr. Dribbler. You may not dress very warmly, but you have left a few warm feelings in a certain Fort Washington home. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

Into the home stretch of our annual fund-raising campaign. Have you made your contribution yet? These groups have:

The Accounting, Settlement, Fleet and New Car Sales Departments at Ourisman Chevrolet ($130).

The Office of Development and Engineering, Central Intelligence Agency ($425).

The Navigation Systems Analysis Section, Flight Dynamics Division, Goddard Space Flight Center ($35).

Naval Sea Systems Command, Code 501 ($140.20).

Customers and staff at Optical World, Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax ($273).

Employes of Pier One Imports, Hyattsville ($40).

The gang at Tri-County Properties, Dumfries ($65).

The Thursday Afternoon Ladies Bowling League of Centreville ($44.75).

Cissel-Saxon Post No. 41, The American Legion, Silver Spring ($100).

The RMS Coffee Club at Goddard Space Flight Center ($25).

The Seabrook Carolers ($75).

Employes of the American Gas Association ($1,086).

The Capital Saxophone Quartet ($40).

Staffers at Oakton Giant Food Store No. 128 ($80, courtesy of manager Edgar Best and assistant Paul Gray, who said, "Don't buy us Christmas presents; give to the kids instead.").

The coffee fund at Green Thumb Inc. of Arlington ($45).

Associates and staff at Giant Food Store No. 95 in Calverton ($250).

The Department of Energy's Biofuels and Municipal Waste Technologies Division ($40).

"The Ladies of the Children's Department" at Lord & Taylor, Falls Church ($100).

The judges of the U.S. Claims Court ($525).

The troops at the American Newspaper Publishers Association in Reston ($904).

The employes at EPA's Office of Administration ($210 left over from a holiday party).

The Dixie Teen Twirlers ($81.50).

The Wakefield Ladies Club ($15).

Alexandria's Shooter's Hill Carolers ($145).

The CIA's Psychological Services Division ($132).

The Speckled Trout Association at Andrews Air Force Base ($150).

The Mount Rainier-Brentwood Lioness Club ($50).

The Bank Women's Club of Washington, D.C. ($150).

The Federal Highway Administration's Office of Highway Safety ($379.50).

"A select group of CIA administrative officers" ($115).

The Department of Pharmacology, George Washington University School of Medicine ($80).

The coffee fund at the Lanham facility of National Advanced Systems ($216.15).

Ray-Tone Associates Inc., of Silver Spring ($50).

The Dunbar High School Class of 1933 ($52).

The Planning Board and staff, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission ($1,146).

The Brown Bag Bridge Club ($25).

The Association of American Foreign Service Women ($500).

And the Helen Pardoe Circle ($125).

Good show! Thank you, generous givers.

TO 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. The campaign ends on Jan. 24.