Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Being Suspected of Breaking and Entering can be Surprisingly Entertaining

In the middle of the night, a friend of mine and I were walking through a somewhat bad area of town carrying a computer. One might wonder why we were doing that. So did the police.

One of my only potentially serious run-ins with the police is something I consider a rather funny story about really improbable coincidences.

It was a few years back and at the end of a period of hard exams at the university. As usual after exams we wanted a way to relax, and this time we opted for nostalgia and nerdiness. We decided to have an old fashioned LAN-party at my friends place; gathering up some people and their computers to play games together. I know; we’re just the epitome of cool.

As is common for such events we totally messed up our sleep patterns, and when we decided to stop playing it just happened to be very early morning.

A friend was going to drive me home, so he and I were walking to his car, carrying my computer. We didn’t have to walk more than a few hundred meters to his car, so we didn’t really foresee any problems. Not that I’ve ever foreseen any real problems in any simple walk to a car, and I’m usually right about it.

This time I wasn’t right. As we were about to cross a street to the parking lot, two police cars came driving up along it. We looked at each other and laughed, commenting on how it must look mighty suspicious that we’re carrying a computer in the middle of the night. And it felt like such an improbable coincidence that the police would show up just then, because we rarely ever see any police cars out and about like that around here.

But even though we knew we looked suspicious we didn’t expect them to actually stop us. But they did. And they did it in an amusingly stereotypical manner, as if it was a TV show. Both cars pulled to an abrupt stop in front of us and police officers welled out of the cars, with their hands threateningly at their gun belts, eyeing us carefully and telling us to put the computer down.

The situation felt absurd, but still highly amusing, and of course we did as they said. One of the officers started questioning us about where we came from, and we told them the address of the apartment building we had just left, and pointed behind us.

She told us that they were out on a call about a break-in in the building behind the one we came from, and said that to them it looked mighty suspicious that we were walking with some valuable electronics from the direction of said break-in. We said that we could understand how they might think so, but assured her that we had nothing to do with it. She looked thoroughly unconvinced.

She stayed with us while the others went on ahead to examine the scene of the crime. She continued to question us and we found out just how damned difficult it can be to explain the concept of a computer LAN-party to a police officer in her fifties. After several attempts to explain what we had been doing, she still didn’t seem to understand how what we were saying could be a good explanation for how we could possibly have any legal reason to wander around with a computer in the middle of a freezing cold night.

It still seemed like we were easing some of her suspicions though, even if our explanations made no sense to someone of her generation. Maybe we just didn’t act like any typical hardened criminals. But her suspicions seemed to be renewed when she got a call on the radio. It was one of the other officers, confirming that a computer had been stolen at the burglary.

We started realizing exactly how suspicious we looked, and how amazingly improbable it all was.

It was the first time in years that I was at a LAN-party. It was the first time ever that I was walking through that neighborhood (which I didn’t live in) in the middle of the night. It was the first time I walked around carrying a computer in the middle of the night. And this just happened to coincide with one of the only times I’ve seen a police car there.

And the police was there because someone had called them to report a crime at precisely the right moment; if it would have been half a minute earlier the police would have passed by before we left the apartment, half a minute later and we would have gotten to the car before they got to the area.

And burglaries aren’t all that common around here; the crime rate of this city is rather low. Sure, that area is a bit worse than most of the rest of the city, but it was still a bit of a coincidence that there was a burglary right then. And to top it off, the only thing stolen in the apartment was a computer, and that’s what we were carrying.

Of course there wasn’t any real risk for us. A quick check would have revealed that we weren’t carrying the correct computer. But we did look pretty suspicious. But then the next coincidence kicked in – the first one to our advantage.

While they were checking the underside of our shoes to match with footprints under the window of the apartment in question, another call came in on the radio, and they promptly let us go. It turns out that the police had actually caught the real burglar, less than half an hour after the crime took place.

I mean, come on, how often does something like that happen?