On July 25 a 19-year-old boy stole an American flag that was posted outside the Beacon Car & Pet Wash in Pacific, Missouri.
Fortunately, Bill Hoaglin, the owner of the business, had installed surveillance cameras around the property. And sure enough, he managed to capture the crime in progress.
He posted screenshots of the suspect on Facebook and about 45 minutes later he began receiving messages from people who identified the culprit.
The police reviewed the footage and stopped by the suspect’s house, but the young man was not home. About 15 minutes later, the phone rang at the car wash. It was the suspect.
“He wanted to make it right,” Mr. Hoaglin told me during an interview on my nationally-syndicated radio show. “So, I told him to bring the flag back.”
Instead of tossing the kid in jail, the business owner and the police officer decided to teach the young thief a life lesson.
Mr. Hoaglin dispatched his daughter to a nearby store to purchase every small American flag she could find. In the meantime, the young man turned up at the car wash where he was given a choice: accept a learning experience or go to jail.
The kid chose wisely.
So, for more than five hours he handed out small American flags to every customer who dropped by the car wash.
“The middle flag, I stole it,” the young man told Fox 2 Now. “I made a mistake. Don’t steal flags, kids.”
There was no doubt the kid ate a little bit of humble pie.
“He was very courteous. He didn’t get snarky, wasn’t smart-alecky with us at all,” Mr. Hoaglin said.
The point was not to embarrass or belittle the young man but to get him back on the straight and narrow. It’s the sort of community policing that Mr. Hoaglin endorsed during his 18-year career as a police officer.
“I’m a very strong believer in that,” he said. "So, I thought let’s give this a try. And I think it made a good impression on him.”
And it also made a good impression on the rest of the community.
Mr. Hoaglin said some local residents heard about the flag giveaway on Facebook and brought their kids down to the car wash to show them what happens when a person gets caught stealing.
It’s nice to know there are places in America where neighbors still know each other and if a youngster gets in trouble with the law – it doesn’t mean an automatic trip to the jail.
“Community policing used to work a lot back when I was a kid,” he said. “If you were out being a knucklehead, they wouldn’t haul you off to jail, they would call your mom or dad and sometimes that was the worst punishment than getting a ticket.”
That’s the truth – especially if your mother owned a cast-iron skillet.
I do not believe there are random encounters in life. There was a reason why Mr. Hoaglin and that wayward soul crossed paths the other day.
Providence has a way of using those chance encounters to make an everlasting change in our life.