Once upon a time, we were taught that crime doesn’t pay. These days, however, a review of reality regarding crime rates and the likelihood of arrest, conviction and a meaningful sentence indicates that crime is no longer a particularly risky business.

I witnessed a purse-snatching in front of the Drug Emporium at Kingsley and Audelia a few weeks ago, and subsequent events cause me to believe that, at least in that instance, crime pays.

A woman screamed “Stop him!” I looked up to see a young black man grabbing her purse and jumping into a car. I memorized the license plate number and another witness remembered the kind of car. As they drove off, both laughed and displayed a familiar, obscene hand gesture in recognition of their triumph, seemingly with no fear of being seen or caught.

Witnessing a crime in your own neighborhood is a sobering experience. At the time, we were relieved that we could provide such complete information to the police. In fact, in just minutes, the policeman already had the street address of the car’s owner. This would be a quick and easy arrest.

Well, guess what? Nothing happened. No arrests have been made. There is no indication that the police have done anything since that night. I have spoken with the victim and her husband, and they are understandably frustrated and disillusioned.

Apparently, the investigating officer turned in his report, which was then assigned to a detective, who called the victim to tell her that the case should be assigned to a different detective who would call her the next day, but who never called.

The victim’s husband began a phone-calling marathon, but no one could even tell him what had happened to their report. He finally called the captain of the Northeast Station, but he was abruptly told by his secretary that she could not provide him with any information on the status of their investigation and that the captain had more important things to do.

Then I made a few phone calls. The investigating officer has never returned my call. Someone in the detective’s office had trouble finding any record of the report at first and then admitted on the phone that it apparently had gotten lost in the shuffle and should have been referred Downtown. When I called Downtown, the person with whom I spoke seemed bewildered and wondered aloud why it had not been assigned.

“This report is lost in space,” she said.

I told her that the Northeast Station had just referred it Downtown after weeks of apparent confusion.

“That’s typical,” she said.

Well, after all, it was just a purse-snatching; no one was hurt. And that’s my point. We have come to accept crimes like purse-snatching, car theft and home burglary as part of living in a big city. The police rationalize that there are so many of these crimes, and they are so unimportant compared to murders and rapes, and their resources are so limited, that they simply cannot handle them.

Translation: crime pays. Even when they have been provided with detailed information about the criminal, the police apparently are still too busy to make an arrest. (Please note, however, that there are always at least 10 police officers escorting John Wiley Price across Northwest Highway, presumably to protect us from random acts of windshield wiper abuse. And there are enough police officers with radar guns who catch us when we commit the heinous sin of speeding.)

Folks, if crime pays, more criminals will commit more crimes. It makes good economic sense. And as criminals become bolder, the crimes will become more destructive, until Lake Highlands becomes just another part of Dallas from which we are trying to escape. And the fact that the Northeast Station is right in the middle of our neighborhood will be an irony to us and a joke to the criminals.

We cannot afford to surrender on the basis that there is too much crime. In Lake Highlands, criminals, not crime, should pay.