Police Blotter

Spotting and avoiding precrime

In the Steven Spielberg science fiction film Minority Report, Tom Cruise portrayed a policeman in the future where technology helps detect crimes before they happen — precrime. The police don’t arrive after a crime has been committed and try to capture the criminal; they arrive before it happens and capture the person who is going to commit a crime.

That’s fiction, but most people have the ability to see that something bad is about to happen and that they should either report it, intervene, or get help. And then there are people who lack that common sense.

On a recent weekday morning in March, a BART commute to downtown became something out of the ordinary when even before the train doors opened at a station, the passengers inside the train could hear someone yelling in the crowd of people waiting to board. The door opened, and among the people boarding the train car was a skinny man with disheveled hair. He walked in a few steps, looked at a man standing harmlessly near the door, and spat at him (missing his feet by inches). The spitter then walked farther in the car and loudly said something about, “Yeah, I spat at the man.” The doors closed and the train moved on.

The ride became uncomfortable for everyone around the disheveled man, because he kept talking loudly, criticizing all of the people around him or inside his head, using derogatory words for homosexuals and eventually talking about how black people don’t bother him except for some unnamed person who somehow annoyed or insulted him.

Through most of this, people around him or within earshot of his offensive proclamations acted like they ignored him, keeping their eyes to their smartphones or newspapers, or assumed that mid-distance stare at nothing people in elevators and subways do. Some of them no doubt just didn’t want to get involved with a troublemaker, but at least some of the others knew enough that this was a clearly disturbed person who wasn’t going to change his views if he had a nice talking-to regarding racial or gender relations. To wit: Someone who is mentally ill is not likely to respond to such intervention the same way as someone who is not mentally ill; furthermore, responding to that person’s statements as if they were made by someone who was not ill is wrong — how much control over his actions and statements does a clearly disturbed man actually have?

So it would have likely continued if there hadn’t been one man on the train who didn’t have that common sense. Slowly working his way through the car from the other end, this man did not appear to be mentally disturbed, but he was clearly disturbed by what the first man was saying and shouting. So the second man argued back, as if he was going to talk sense into the first man.

What happened instead was that the first man became even more agitated and stood up in the central walkway of the train car to confront the second man, who was now just a foot or two away. Their voices rose and they were sounding more and more like within seconds one would take a swing at the other. At this point, many of the people sitting or standing nearby began to move away and even change to other cars. Special note should be made of the anonymous young woman who helped an older woman who was seated right next to the first man slip away. As your humble correspondents joined the exodus, we spotted one of the other passengers using the emergency call button to alert the train’s driver.

No police came, at least during the next two station stops, so we can’t report whether a physical fight ever broke out or if the guilty parties were apprehended. But any student of precrime should have been able to spot that this was a bad scene developing and recognize the need to get away and get help.


Jan. 1, 7:26 a.m.
2626 Filbert Street

Officers responded to a report of a possible burglary in progress. One officer detained a vehicle she believed might be a getaway vehicle. Another officer spotted a subject on a second-floor landing of the building. He fled and she chased him, but he managed to get away when he jumped from a backyard gate. Despite his effort, he was detained minutes later by other officers, who searched him and found common burglary tools and methamphetamine.

In the detained vehicle, officers found possible stolen property and a loaded sawed-off shotgun. A records check showed the vehicle to be stolen.

The subject was transported to Northern Station and booked, but the suspected getaway driver was released.


March 17, early morning
The Wharf

Officers were dispatched following a report of a threat at a Wharf hotel. The suspect demanded a free hotel room; when the desk clerk refused, the suspect pulled out a gun and threatened to harm the employee. The suspect then fled to North Point and Columbus, where officers attempted to detain him. The suspect was very violent, punching the police officers; several of the officers were punched in the face, but eventually the suspect was taken into custody. Three officers went to the hospital for treatment.


March 17
2400 block of Leavenworth

Officers responded to a report of an auto burglary on St. Patrick’s Day. The victim’s car was broken into and his garage door remote was taken from the vehicle. The suspect returned in the middle of the night with the remote and accessed the garage.

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