5 Aug 2010

When police are useless

We were nearly the victim of theft in Bocas (a gringo-dominated set of islands in Panama), but others have not been so lucky.

We were surprised to be awoken at 4am by a man on our first floor balcony. Since we were above the ground floor, we had not thought it necessary to close our balcony doors. Unfortunately, the [name omitted] hotel staff had left a ladder in the yard that the thief had used to climb up to our room.

Thus, I found myself, naked, confronting a man who was bigger than me and interested in robbing us. We yelled for the Police and made noise. The man prayed that we not bother him, climbed down the ladder and walked -- SLOWLY -- out the side-gate of the hotel, closing it behind him. (I tried to toss him off the balcony as he went over to the ladder, but his grip was too strong.)

The only person who responded to my cries for help was the hotel manager. As we stood in the street and talked, a police car drove by. We waved for it to stop, but they only looked and carried on.

In other thefts, people had gone out, leaving their windows open, and returned to find their rooms ransacked.

If there was a CSI: Bocas, then it would show the police asleep in their hammocks. If they are awake, they are watching TV. Seriously. Others told me about people getting stabbed or killed. The police ask for gas money before they will come and investigate. If you are being robbed and catch the thief, the police will release him ("nothing stolen"). If the thief gets away, then there's nobody to arrest. There are two ways to deal with thieves. They both ignore the police and rely on small-town dynamics:
  1. Go to the local bar and offer a reward to get your stuff back, no questions asked. 
  2. Get a video or photo of the thief and "let it be known" that they will be killed if they try to steal again/do not return the stolen items...
Bottom Line: When the police fail, you have to take care of yourself.


  1. Man, that sucks big time. Thank God I live where I do, no joke.

  2. DR emails: "David, it always seems to be one extreme or the other. Either the cops are overly officious or they don't give a crap. A dead body could be lying in a vacant lot (such as in post Katrina N.O.) and the police just nod and go their lackadaisical way, or the officers want to arrest you for asking a question (I think they get extra credit for the number of arrests). What's with this treatment, anyhow? You are all too correct about handling transgressors on your own terms. From Hill Street Blues: "Be careful out there" - and carry a bigger stick."


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