9-1-WHAT?

A neighbor emailed the local parents’ association recently that her stroller had been stolen. She explained that she immediately called 911. While they arrived on the scene quickly, they missed the thief.

I know from personal experience that it’s rotten to have your stroller stolen (I mean, really. Do these thieves sell them on eBay? Put a puppy in them for a joy ride?) But when I walked out of my daughter’s preschool in London, and I saw an empty space where that stroller had stood just five minutes before, the thought of calling 999 (the British equivalent of 911) never occurred to me.

I assumed that the emergency services would be too busy arresting terrorists; perhaps apprehending drug traffickers; maybe even administering CPR to someone who had had a heart attack.

Calling them about a crime that had already been completed seemed silly.

My assumption proved correct when I called the local police number about an hour after the stroller’s disappearance. An officer gave me a record number for insurance purposes, then said I would hear from someone within the next two days.

Of course, the stroller thief would be long gone by then. A man hunt would be futile. But the prospect of catching anyone wasn’t on the radar of my local West London police officer.

Thefts in London seemed to prompt a big, “Oh well” from cops. During my eight years in London, revelations of my stolen bike; bike wheel; wallet; phone; and stroller met the same sigh and eye roll. I wasn’t sure if the reaction meant, “Ugh, another theft” or “Ugh, another form to fill out.”

Certainly, I was never asked why I hadn’t called 999. In fact, a big sign hanging in our local doctor’s office explained exactly when and why one should call the emergency number (if your car gets stolen — NO! If someone has a heart attack — YES!).

So as unpleasant as my neighbor’s experience was, having her stroller stolen, at least the folks at 911 responded with empathy, an investigation, and even a hope of finding the thief. In London, the police seemed to think it wasn’t worth the effort.

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