Some weeks before I wrote a piece of personal experience, call it an anecdote if you will, about a call to the police regarding a drunk man tinkering with cars in a parking lot. As you may recall, at that moment I didn’t know if I did the right thing and if it was really necessary for me to call the authorities on the poor man, because, I thought, there was a slim chance of him hurting somebody or getting hurt. But a chance existed, and that’s why I made the call. I wrote this:
The vital question of “Did I do the right thing?” was luckily answered the following week and I promise my readers that I will convey how I came across that answer in a subsequent post.
So here we are! I would like to share the enlightened answer I got before we move to another story that I hope will inspire some civic responsibility.
It happened one week after I placed the emergency call while I was having a couple of drinks with my friends in a locale that had a TV switched on to the 5 o’ clock news (the ProTV channel to be more exact) when something caught my attention. Andreea Esca, the news anchor at that station, mentioned the words “drunk” and “traffic” and the expression “sadly, nobody called the police”. I turned my head and focused my full attention at some amateur footage of a poor intoxicated man, wobbling in the middle of a Bucharest street while passing cars were trying to avoid collision (similar to my story). After some cars safely passed him, a taxi driver stopped his car in front of him and got out with a baseball bat in an attempt to teach the man a lesson by violently removing him from the busy street (luckily the taxi driver was not so vicious in my story).
The encounter was not at all pleasant to watch and the conclusion was that the taxi driver was the one committing a felony (assault) and was facing criminal prosecution. The poor intoxicated man that had no idea of what was going on was just charged for jay-walking and let go. At the end of this news piece, Andreea Esca cited some inspiring words from the officer handling this case. They went something like this: “Citizens are encouraged to call the emergency line even if they think that something dangerous is going to happen”. He was referring to the people that just stood there even before the taxi driver came. As we know, if indeed a crime is being committed, you are obligated to call the authorities (not just encouraged).
This was the point where I went “Aha, I knew I did the right thing!” and I had to explain to my friends in the bar why this particular piece of news got me so riled up.
Now to this week’s story. A concise one, I promise.
Maybe some of you came across citizen ID cards that are displayed out in the open with the noble intent of maybe catching the eye of the misfortunate soul that lost his or her ID card and was retracing steps. Maybe you saw some at the bus ticket vendor, at a shop or at the information desk of an institution. But did you know that persons or companies in possession of lost documents are not allowed to display them publicly? Especially papers that have personal information on them.
Well, I kind of knew this… I was, let’s say, 80% to 90% sure. It was during the last Christmas holiday when I was heading back home after finishing some errands in town. It was pretty late in the evening. I was pacing around the main bus station of the private communal transport company waiting for the last bus of that day when I came across their information’s booth. There they were, right below the bus schedule and below some notifications about transport hours during Christmas and New Year, two ID cards were taped to the window with no regard for the personal information that was displayed publicly.
Now, like I said, I was not 100% sure about the wrongfulness of this action, but I thought that any passerby that had a shady past could easily write down the personal information, or indeed even photograph their ID card and use it for some nefarious fraud scams in the future. And the poor souls who lost their ID cards wouldn’t even know. Even if they managed to recover them, if somebody recorded their data the day before, then they couldn’t be safe in the future.
So I first thought I would do the sensible thing of contacting the people directly responsible. The people in charge of the bus station. Nobody was at the booth, because it was so late, so I looked up the phone number on and dialed them up, but sadly the late hours meant that nobody ended up answering my two attempts at reaching them.
I felt that there was no real rush, like in my previous story, so calling the emergency line didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Instead I quickly browsed the internet for the county police inspectorate phone number. I quickly found a landline number for their office in the city so I called…
An officer answered quickly and introduced himself. I did the same and then I quickly got to my purpose of calling them. I relayed the story that I mentioned here, said that I do not think that displaying personal information in public is right and told him about my worries that it’s only a matter of time before somebody might engage in fraudulent wrongdoings if the ID cards were displayed there for too long. I then asked him if I did the right thing by calling the authorities. This time I got a satisfactory answer: “Indeed, if anybody finds a lost ID card their duty is to send it to the police department as soon as possible. They are not allowed to display it out in the open for anyone to view”(paraphrased). He then told me that they will try to call the bus station managers in the morning and send out somebody to retrieve the ID cards so that the police could forward them to the owners as per official procedure. He ended by telling me that I did the right thing by calling them and I even heard him smiling at the end as he wished my happy holidays.
Now I hope that you too are 100% sure of the wrongfulness of displaying private information in public and that you have learned something extra about Civic Responsibility.
I would now like to leave you with a previous article from this Blog (On Busses), written by my colleague, that deals with social psychology and social consciousness. There you can find a pretty vivid example of citizens (living in a “civilized society”) that lack this Civic Responsibility that we talked about.