Letter: Police need to give prowlers greater priority than artists
Bruce Kevin Bates
I would like to inform you of my greatest displeasure with the response time of the St. Augustine Police Department this evening.
At 7:47 p.m. Sunday evening, I called 911 to report a suspicious person in my neighborhood. A man in his prime rang my doorbell and told me that his car had broken down, and he asked me to call him a cab.
I asked him to wait outside, and then watched him from my front window as he crawled into, and crouched behind, the bushes in front of my front window. He keep poking his head up, looking at the street, then ducking back down as if he was hiding from someone.
- Red flag #1: there was no car broken down on the street.
- Red flag #2: he asked for a cab, instead of a tow truck.
- And the biggest Red flag of all, he is crouching down behind my front bushes trying to stay out of sight.
I described the person in detail and explained all of this to the 911 dispatcher, and she said that she would send someone to check it out.
After hanging up, I went outside and the guy came out of the bushes. I told the guy that all the cab companies were busy right now, but to hang tight and I would keep trying. I asked him why he was behind my bushes and he said he was just trying to keep cool and stay out of the sun (which was about to set at this point).
After going back into my house I watched the guy quickly walk back to the street and watched as he eyed my neighbor who was playing with her two young toddlers outside, in front of their open garage. I lost sight of the guy, so I and went out to tell my neighbor to take her kids back into her house and lock her doors, and, I wanted to see if this guy was still on my street.
At about this time another guy in a white F250 truck came driving down the street slowly, talking on his cell phone, and he appeared to be looking for someone. I stopped him and we talked. He informed me that he was looking for a guy who stole $40K in cash and jewelry from his mother’s house this morning around 10am. Apparently the guy in the F250 was on the phone with 911, but I didn’t know that at the time.
He informed me that he had just seen the suspect and that suspect was currently at my neighbor’s house across the street (next door to where the girl with the toddlers are).
I called 911 again at 7:55 p.m. to update them that we had found the guy, and that he was suspected of robbing $40K in cash and jewelry from the home of an elderly woman. The dispatcher informed me that squad cars were on the way, and she asked if a guy driving an F250 was there. I told her yes. That’s when I figured out that the F250 guy was on with 911 also.
At about this time the suspect trotted quickly across the street to my next-door neighbor’s house. My next-door neighbor is an elderly gentlemen who is in poor health. Luckily my neighbor was not home at the time, and after waiting a minute for someone to answer the door, the suspect left. The suspect then spotted me and the guy in the F250 looking at him and he took off running down the street. He ducked into the front yard of my neighbor who has two young daughters, one of whom is sight impaired (legally blind), and the other who is 12 years old. At about this time, their mom was coming home in her car and I stopped her and told her not to go to her house because the suspect was either there, or at the house next door. She immediately called her husband who was home and told him to lock all the doors.
Luckily, for her and her two girls (and her husband), the suspect was hiding behind the house next door to them, and the owners were not home at the time. The guy from the F250 had gotten out of his truck and had pursued the suspect and he had seen him run behind the house. The F250 guy went around to the left side of the house and I went around to the right, but I was blocked from entering the back yard by a chain link fence. STILL NO SIGN OF ANY POLICE AT THIS POINT.
My neighbor has a chain link fence around his back yard and I could see the suspect darting in and out of a corner of the back of the house. He was throwing stuff at the F250 guy, yelling at him, and then running back to hide in a corner in the back of the house. Dispatch asked me, I believe for a third time, if the squad cars were there yet. I said no, and I repeated for a third time that we were “at the very end of Park Terrace Drive at the cul-de-sac.” And I asked “what the hell was taking so long?”
At this point the suspect started to run again and the F250 guy made it through (or over) the chain link fence and into the back yard. He tackled the suspect and they became physical at this point. STILL NO SIGN OF THE POLICE. No sirens, no lights, NOTHING. ZIPPO. The F250 guy is very lucky that the suspect did not pull a weapon on him.
I yelled at the F250 guy not to let him go, that the police “said they were on the way.” It was dark by now, but I could still see that the F250 guy had the suspect in a headlock and that the suspect was fighting with him to get away.
It was not until 8:07 p.m. that police arrived, and took custody of the suspect about a minute thereafter. A full 20 minutes had passed since my first phone call. And 12 minutes had passed since my second phone call.
I guess we should all feel lucky that the suspect was (to my knowledge) not armed, and luckier still that he did not feel desperate enough to break into any one of these homes and take one of my neighbors hostage.
For the record, I live not too far from our City Commissioners Leanna Freeman, Todd Neville, and Nancy Sikes-Kline, and closer still to our City Manager. Some of the Whetstones (of chocolate fame) live a stone’s throw away, as does Mike Davis (construction co. and state politician) and David Nolan (writer and historian) who both live a couple doors down, and all of whom live within earshot of my grandchildren when they are out playing on “our” street.
I wonder how the headlines would have read if one of these more “notable” people had been killed or injured, or taken hostage by a desperate criminal, and the St. Augustine Police did not respond to the call for 20 minutes?
Every other night there appears to be at least 20 or more sheriff’s deputies working traffic at the Amphitheater, less than 1/2 a mile from my house. I guess there were no concerts this evening. And I live just two-and-a-half miles from the City’s Police Headquarters. But I’m sure they have a good explanation.
How ironic it is, that if I were to take out a sketch pad and sit in the City park, or on any one of the 41 public benches on St. George Street and sketch the beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, I would be surrounded by police in less than five minutes and treated like a felon, threatened with arrest, and possibly face jail time, just for creating art?
It is apparent that in St. Augustine, and based on the latest response time of the City’s Police, that artists are treated more like a threat to society, than are the actual felons. How you will be remembered as part of St. Augustine’s history, well I guess that is still up to you.
I guess it is just a matter of where your priorities are.