By David Hunter

Ladies and gentlemen of law enforcement. Three things have happened since I offered a prize for the funniest "stupid criminal story:" I have laughed until my ribs are sore; my faith in the twisted humor of American police officers has been reaffirmed; and I have been pleasantly surprised to find that so many of you are actually reading my columns.

Among the dozens of stories that came in, I read about a burglar trying to put a square television through a round hole in the wall of the business he was burgling, a car thief who stole a vehicle with a bad engine and was brought down by a smoking exhaust pipe and a thief who left behind a list of things to steal from his family along with a note to himself not to leave any evidence.

There were so many funny stories that I didn't know where to start. I wanted to give everyone a prize but that was out of the question. Finally, through a highly scientific process of elimination based on deductive logic, I narrowed the field down to three stories and there I was stuck. Almost exhausted, I finally put the names of the officers who sent me those three stories in a hat and drew one at random. The two runners-up were equally funny and the order is also the result of a random drawing.

You should also remember that humor is highly subjective so you may or may not agree with my choices. But I did the best I could working with a staff of one.

The second runner-up came from a detective who did not tell me the name of his department or where he lives. His story was about a white collar criminal in an enterprise where you would normally expect smarter criminals - credit card fraud and forgery.

After arresting this mastermind, the detective located and froze a bank account in which stolen checks had been deposited. Upon making bail, the suspect went to draw out money and was told that his account had been frozen by the police. That night, the forger went out, stole some more checks and deposited them in the same frozen account, which -- of course -- resulted in fresh charges. His logic was that since the police didn't know about the latter deposits, that money should have been available for withdrawal.

An Ohio officer sent the following first runner-up story. As part of a program in which officers take disadvantaged children shopping, 60 uniformed cops in 40 cruisers (with lights and sirens turned on), followed by several limousines, transported 100 children to a large department store.

With all the blue uniforms inside the store and all those marked units outside, a young man decided to steal a $60 CD player. Not only did two officers see him steal the CD player but he also set off an alarm on his way out. He told the arresting officers he expected to get away because of all the "confusion" in the store. It seems to me that all the confusion must have been in his head.

And the winning story, my selection for the creme de creme of stupid criminal stories, came to me from a retired California Highway Patrol officer, who says he heard the story up at a police luncheon. Ready or not, here it is:

A burglar went out one night to crack a safe, a punch, drill and peel job, which some youngsters in the law enforcement business may never have seen. It's a dirty and difficult way to steal money. If the safe is any good at all, it takes hours of hard work to open it, which most thieves today won't even bother with.

Picture this thief, however, making himself comfortable for a long night's work. He takes a couple of bags off the top of the safe to sit on because the floor is cold and hard. He takes out his wallet and puts it on top of the safe to make himself more comfortable. Eventually, after hours of back - breaking labor, he gets the safe open and is rewarded with a couple hundred bucks from the petty cash drawer.

You guessed it; he left his wallet on top of the safe with all his identification. Adding insult to injury, or -- in this case -- stupidity to stupidity, the officers who arrested the safe-peeler, got to tell him that the bags he had been sitting on to make himself comfortable during the night contained $27,000 dollars in cash. The owners never put their money in the safe because nobody had ever broken in before.

Hat's off to all the brilliant criminals who make our jobs so easy.

David Hunter is a retired detective from Knox County, Tennessee and the author of numerous books. See his web page at CLICK HERE.

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