News cycles today are full of stories about police officers who find themselves on the wrong side of the law in one way or another. Of course, these reports — containing information that often shocks the senses of people who care about social and criminal justice, the civic health of our communities and the quality of law enforcement in general — are important for the public to know about.
This is not one of those stories, but it is just as important as some of the others, if not more so in some ways, to the ongoing public dialogue many communities — including Pasadena — are currently having about policing in the 21st century.
Our tale begins in Old Pasadena on the afternoon of Friday, June 30, the start of the July Fourth holiday weekend. It was roughly 4 p.m., an hour before quitting time, when I was surprised to see our photographer, Catherine Bauknight, walk around the corner at Colorado Boulevard and hurry down DeLacey Avenue toward the Pasadena Weekly office. Normally upbeat, Catherine was deeply distressed. The expensive, new Apple iPhone 7 she had just purchased was pilfered from her purse while she was shopping at a store across town.
After spotting me on DeLacey, she ran over, grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the Apple store up the street. Once there, a small group of “Geniuses,” as the computer-nerd sales people are called, had located her phone through its built-in homing signal. Its location was then pinpointed on a digital map, indicating the phone was at Singer Park in West Pasadena. Its keeper was aimlessly walking around in a roughly 10-foot radius.
One problem was Catherine had turned off the ringer, setting it to vibrate, so we couldn’t call. Another was my phone was incompatible with hers, so we couldn’t track it on a digital map after leaving the store.
I called the Pasadena police watch commander, told him what was going on, and he said he would have an officer meet us at the park. Catherine and I drove there and parked on St. John Avenue. After we got out of the car, Catherine stood by waiting for the officer as I took a quick walk around.
Strolling through the area identified by our Apple Genius, I saw two men sitting in the grass near the very spot from where the phone was emitting its signal. Another man was in the same area, only he wasn’t sitting; he was strolling around the park a little ahead of me on the same cement path that I was on. With my own Smartphone in hand, I looked down and smiled at the two guys on the grass, then I quickly looked down at the face of my phone, which was off — but they didn’t know that. Nonetheless, my little ruse didn’t seem to move either man. One of them, an older guy with a beard, looked up with a smile from his reading to say hello. The other one, in his 40s, shirtless and clean-shaven, seemed obsessed with twirling the pointy end of a stick in the palm of his hand.
By the time I made it around to the other side of the small park, Officer Cameron Prestwich had shown up. After a brief chat, all three of us were headed to the area where the two men were still sitting. As we stood nearby, a smiling Officer Prestwich approached the man who was reading, exchanged what appeared to be pleasantries and then proceeded to search him, something to which the man appeared to agree.
Finding nothing incriminating, Prestwich was about to approach the man playing with the stick when just then the third man came up behind him on his way to the park bathroom, which was less than 15 yards away. Apparently following a hunch, Prestwich was about four seconds behind the man as he entered. The two exchanged unintelligible words inside the open-door structure and, against all odds, Prestwich emerged with the phone. He said he didn’t search the man, who came out shortly after Prestwich. He just found it in there.
Still, I couldn’t help but think one of those three guys was the culprit who, after seeing Catherine and me showing up out of nowhere decided to dump the phone. I also couldn’t help thinking how this whole situation could have ended very differently if this easygoing officer, who was dressed in a bullet proof vest and is not a small guy, possessed a harsher temperament.
Catherine and I agree that it’s just as well no one went to jail. After all, we were looking for justice, not vengeance, which by definition is retribution without mercy. In the end, we were both simply delighted to get back the phone that even the Apple Geniuses said was probably lost for good. And we owe this happiness to Officer Cameron Prestwich, whose quick action, positive demeanor and professionalism saved the day. Prestwich took the time to use compassion, good humor, common sense and a steady hand to recover the phone without arresting anyone, or violating anyone’s rights, or using violence.
Thanks also go out to the Apple Geniuses, who aren’t really nerds, but they sure are smart.