A recent article about car theft hit a tender spot for me (“As cars get smarter, thefts plummet,” Aug. 25). Yes, it’s reassuring that cars are getting smarter and that thieves are moving on to bigger game.
Unfortunately, the St. Paul police are failing the test of improvement in two ways: deterrence and customer service.
The fact that St. Paul leads the metro area in the number of thefts per 10,000 residents should be cause for concern. What are the mayor and City Council doing to make Minnesota’s “most livable city” to not also be the car theft capital of the state?
The reason for pressing the question is personal experience.
Parking two blocks from the downtown library, I was on a simple exchange mission in our 2000 Toyota Avalon. Securely locking the car (which boasts 265,000 miles of road-weariness), I dashed off — only to return to an empty parking spot. I did the usual old-guy thing about losing my mind and decided to go street by street on a hunt. Failing at that, I flagged down a squad car with two officers.
The driver cracked his window 2 inches. Here the inanity began.
“What’s the VIN number? License plate number? (Stuff a 68-year-old guy just doesn’t carry around in a head that is freezing because he left his winter cap in the missing car.)
Since the car was registered in my wife’s name, the officers needed her date of birth. I got the month and day right but flunked the year. Recognizing a deranged person, they took my phone number and drove off.
Two days later, I got a call saying that the car had been located.
Great, I said. I’ll come right down.
Sorry. It will be towed to the impound lot.
I argued, to no avail. So I got a ride to the impound lot.
This is the ugliest place in the city, guarded by five not very friendly people. At the counter, from behind 2 inches of Plexiglass, the man said I owed $146. No checks.
I shook my head in disbelief. Why do I pay to get a stolen car back?
“Look, guy, we don’t make the rules. Talk to the mayor or City Council.”
I walked out to my old beater, feeling like a Soviet citizen who had to pay for the bullets for an old friend’s execution.
Paul Olson, of St. Paul, is a former president of the Blandin Foundation. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.