Sunday, November 02, 2008

THE RIGHT THING: IT TAKES A THIEF ... OR DOES IT?

A reader from London, Ontario, manages the lawn care for the condominium complex in which she lives. One of the lawn-care workers came to her residence after finding several identity cards while working in a garden in the complex.

My reader knew the owner of the cards, who was another resident of the condominium, so she took them and returned them to their owner. In doing so she learned that the resident's wallet had been stolen. The thief apparently had ditched the identity cards while going through the wallet, which remained unaccounted for, along with the rest of its contents.

Later that day the same worker came to my reader's door again. He hadn't found the stolen wallet, but he had come across drug paraphernalia in the same vicinity where he had found the identity cards. The paraphernalia was sitting on the rear-window ledge of a condo unit where a young man lives with his father.

"Maybe the two incidents are related," my reader writes, "maybe it was just a coincidence."

Motivated by concern and, she insists, "without making any judgments," she went to speak with the father of the young man. She let him know what had been found on the rear windowsill of his condo, and the father said that he would "handle it."

My reader has not told anyone else in the community about the incident, nor has she asked the father what action he took, if any.

"It seems, however, very likely that the son was the owner of the `stuff,"' she writes.

Her concerns were given a new immediacy, however, when a second neighbor told her how wonderful she thinks the son is, and mentioned that he helps her with all of her electronic questions in her condo.

"So he is in her house fairly often," my reader writes.

You know what's coming: My reader wonders whether or not she should tell the second neighbor what happened earlier.

She is, of course, wrestling with a common and often agonizing question. Does she owe it to the son not to sully his reputation, granted that she has no proof that the drug paraphernalia was his, let alone that he was involved in the theft of the wallet? Or does she owe it to her second neighbor to share her suspicions about the son, since if her suspicions are correct her neighbor's security is obviously at risk?

The right thing for my reader is not to say nothing. If something were to happen to the second neighbor, she would be rightfully upset at my reader for not alerting her to the situation.

That doesn't mean, however, that she should rush over to warn her friend that there's a thieving drug addict in her living room. As she points out, the two incidents may or may not have been connected, and for that matter she has no real proof that the drug paraphernalia belonged to the son -- it might have been the father's, for example. If she said as much to the second neighbor, she might be wrongfully accusing her teenage neighbor.

The right thing for my reader to do is to urge the second neighbor to exercise extreme caution about letting people into her apartment. It's entirely fair to mention that a neighbor had his wallet stolen and that drug paraphernalia has been found in the area -- these are facts, and she not only can but should share them with her neighbor.

Armed with the facts, but not with unproven speculation, the second neighbor can draw her own conclusions. It's quite possible that she'll decide to find someone else to help set the clock on her VCR. If she doesn't, however, my reader should back off. Having conveyed the facts of the situation, she's done all she can or ought to do.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

William said...

Hi Jeffrey

I'm not convinced that your reader did the ethical thing here. To start with, your reader is not the owner or manager of the condo complex but merely a contracted service provider. Your reader's duty is first to her employer and only secondarily to the condo residents. The identification and drug parapanelia should have been turned over to her employer to handle. The condo owner/manager is in a much better position to see the big picture and handle this situation appropriately than is a lawn care service whether that be contacting the residents, the police, or starting an eviction process. These finds are evidence of a crime and your reader's actions may well have provided the criminal with warning that they had been discovered and given them the chance to destroy evidence, flee, etc.

Your reader would have fulfilled her ethical duties once she has turned these finds over to her employer. She need not and should not inform the residents of these finds or warn the residents in any way. These are duties left to the manager/owner of the complex.

If your reader had been my contract employee and had taken these actions, she may very well have endangered her continued employment with me. How right are her actions going to feel when she has lost her job over her response?

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA
Orange County Register

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