I'm badly behind on my paperwork at work. The state has a new accident report format that I need to try to master, for a hit-and-run that I caught. (For Gender, you don't put in "M" or "F", you put in a "1" or "2." How non-intuitive could you get?) I've got a DWI to put away, and an Identity Theft to investigate and type up. Those warrants need tending to, as well. Tonight's my night off, and I'm seriously thinking about sneaking in to just knock some of that paperwork out, so that I can get back to patrol. In a larger department, the cases would be handled by CID, or typed up by a secretary. But in a smaller department, we do it all, including walking the case up to the district attorney. It's somewhat gratifying, at times, but sometimes it's overwhelming, when you find yourself the victim of your own success in finding cases, and your own demands in filing them correctly.
This paperwork got put on hold the other night when I answered a Theft In Progress call. Some guys were stealing Bermuda grass sod from a pallet in front of a newly-constructed house. I found their little truck driving away a few blocks away, and stopped it. They were painters, who had been working on this and three other houses in the neighborhood, making them ready for move-in. The grass had been delivered that night to the house, with the yard all tilled and prepped for a landscaping crew to lay it out the next morning. They were working late, and had houses in nearby Big City. They took about 25 pieces of the sod. We called their supervisor, and his supervisor, and the building superintendent, and all said that they couldn't take the grass. They went to jail.
At the jail, I was putting together their probable cause affidavits, when a young DPS Trooper walked up to me. "What've you got?" he asked, just out of curiosity.
"Sod theft," I answered, not a little enigmatically.
"S.O.D.? Now, what's that an acronym for?" he asked, thinking that I was throwing jargon at him.
"Nothing. It is grass, with the roots, clinging to a layer of dirt. It is sold commercially in half-yard and third-yard squares, to lay out a nice quick lawn for a new house. In this case, it's a type of Bermuda grass sod that runs about $150 a pallet. Each pallet holds about 165 pieces. These guys took about 25 pieces," I let him in.
"But that's only...." he rolled up his eyes to do the math.
"Around $20 worth of grass. Yeah. I know," I said. Trust me-- I had already played out the cost-benefits of this arrest in my own head.
"Then why didn't you just..."
"Cut them loose with citations for Theft Under $50?" I finished for him. "Well, for one thing, none of these guys are U.S. citizens, none have affirmative identification, and I have no way to prove who they are or to hold them accountable to respond to their citations. They could give me any name. Secondly, we municipal officers have been dealing with a lot of construction site thefts. We might, maybe, catch one in ten. When we do catch them, they go to jail. Theft of $2,000 worth of supplies, or Theft of $2.00, you're going to jail. We're tired of it, the builders are tired of it, and the citizens are tired of it." (Thieves cost a city in man-hours spent on the investigation, in other ancillary thefts, and in a general loss of the feeling of security that a neighborhood feels.)
The trooper nodded, and walked over to my prisoners.
"You know, you can grow your own grass, right?" He chuckled. "You didn't even steal the kind most people want!"
He laughed. "Grass! That's a first for me."
I smiled, but didn't laugh. It wasn't a first for me. And it had put me even further behind on my paperwork, just for three Class C offenses.*
*Or maybe not. I just checked, and they all three got ICE holds put on them.