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Precinct Collapse Disorder Plagues Coastal Communities
December 9, 2029

MAR VERDE--Like residents in many coastal counties in this affluent area of northern California, local store-owner Dwight Henrikson was surprised to discover Thursday morning that the local sheriff's office had been inexplicably abandoned. "I got a call yesterday to come down to the station to give a witness statement," observes Henrikson, "but when I got here, nobody was around. The lights were on, the doors were opened, coffee was brewing, but the place was empty. It was eerie."

The phenomenon, dubbed "precinct collapse disorder" by social scientists who have studied it, has struck numerous police, fire, and other municipal agencies along the pacific coast and throughout the northwestern United States. "The disorder has placed a particularly intense strain on the system," notes California Attorney General Edga Meese. "In many cases, the very individuals who'd be investigating these clusters of missing persons are exactly who's missing. We're doing what we can to reallocate resources, but it's been a real challenge."

The disorder, which has been variously linked to declining health benefits for civil servants, the proliferation of employee RFID tags, and the reported health effects of on-the-job video surveillance, is characterized by the spontaneous disappearance of all employees at a station or agency office. Occasionally a stray, uniformed rookie or two is found sleeping on an office floor or wandering confused in the vicinity. "We are scrambling on this," explains Dr. Penny Gaspeir, an expert on the disorder. "It appears to have a complex of causes, and there are a number of hypotheses, but we are working on-the-fly, in the hot zone, with lots of conjecture and not much context."

Most uncanny to residents in affected precincts has been their continued ability to have calls to otherwise abandoned station houses answered promptly and pleasantly. "The weird thing was, when I found the station empty, I called 9-1-1," elaborates Henrikson. "I heard a phone ring somewhere in the back, there, and then somebody picked up and took down my information."

"Not many people realize that much of their local service has been outsourced," continues Dr. Gaspeir, "particularly to offshore call centers, and private evidence labs and real-time on-the-job video monitors. There may not be any officers in the station, but the phones are still answered and much of the work still gets done."

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