County police and a broken door
We reporters try to hold our government accountable and write stories when our officials make mistakes. For the most part, the officials begrudgingly concede when they've done wrong but wish we'd write more stories about when they do right. The public often thinks we go too easy on the people we cover.
But the roles were reversed for me this week when I wrote Eduardo Perez and the cops in Baltimore County breaking down his door. I read his letter to me, confirmed the facts with the police and concluded they had rightly broken his door but should pay to fix it. The county police chief and the county executive also agreed. "This one was so clear-cut," county spokesman Donald I. Mohler III told me.
Such frank admissions can take the sting out of a good story. And indeed, I went out of my way to say the Baltimore County police did the right thing, that the county erred by at first denying Perez's claim and but promised to get him his money, and I quoted Mohler saying government should "work for the people and not be a roadblock."
The next day the county police spokesman praised me for not making the county look worse.
Then I heard from two readers who thought I went after the wrong people.
Here's the background. Perez, who is retired and volunteers at a church and a hospital, returned home in January to find the police inside his condo in Owings Mills. A neighbor had heard a woman scream for help and pointed police to Perez's front door. They broke it down to get inside, only to discover the screams came from another apartment. In there, they found kids playing.
Who should pay for Mr. Perez's door? The cops did nothing wrong in trying to save a woman from being attacked. The neighbors simply made an honest mistake? Here's what two readers told me:
I think the people that reside in the apartment where the alleged “attack” took place should pay for the door.
This does not make sense to me. What would make sense is to have the teenagers or those responsible for the teens foot the bill to have the door repaired. It would be an education teaching responsibility, culbililty and civics. The resolution only paid for a door for the non-responsible person. The police weren't responsible but neither were the taxpayers. The teens were, so they or their guardian should make restitution. That would be common sense.
I would agree if the kids were screaming rape as a practical joke, but the kids were simply playing -- though loudly -- drawing the concern of a neighbor. And even if it was a prank, could the county send them or their parents a bill for Mr. Perez's door? In a perfect world, yes, the parents would scold the children, write Mr. Perez or the county a check and take it out of the kid's allowance for life. But we don't live in a perfect world.
And you know as well as I do what would happen. The parents would refuse to pay the bill, arguing the cops were negligent in breaking down the wrong door. Five years from now, we'd still be in court and Mr. Perez, the real victim in all of this, would never see any money, while the county and parents tried to pass the buck.