I enjoy driving. It provides time for reflection. It reminds me of the beauty and uniqueness of America. I recently took a brief vacation, driving from Texas to Wyoming, South Dakota and back. My trip reminded me, in stark terms, of the sheer size of our country; of the realities of time and distance. “No one needs guns,” some anti-liberty advocates claim. “Let the police protect us; that’s their job.” As I drove past lonely ranches and farms and small towns, I imagined myself, once again, in a police car . . .
flipping the switches for my lights and siren, racing as fast as conditions allowed to an emergency call, a call where lives might hang in the balance. I sighed, considering the distance involved. I’d eventually get there – to investigate and clean up what’s left. No sooner.
In much of the United States, the police simply can’t promise to help anyone. Most people would be stunned to learn how few officers are actually on patrol, available to take emergency calls at any time of the day or night in much of the United States. In many counties, there are only a handful of deputies on duty at any time, deputies responsible for hundreds of square miles of land.
They are sometimes augmented by highway patrolmen whose patrol districts are commonly even larger. Each HP officer can work only one shift per day. Two-thirds of the time, when they’re needed, the time necessary for them to suit up and leave their home from a cold start must be added to their response time. The same problems face not only rural Americans, but the residents of innumerable small towns that can’t afford a police force.
“According to American Police Beat, the average response time for an emergency call is 10 minutes. Atlanta has the worst response time with 11 to 12 minutes and Nashville comes in at a lightning speed of 9 minutes.
The Department of Justice, with their statistical prowess, reports that the best response time is 4 minutes and the worst over 1 hour.”
Part of this is nothing more than the cold calculations of time and distance. An officer ten miles from a call will take more than 10 minutes to get there. If he’s 40 miles away, it will take much longer. If there is no officer immediately available to answer an emergency call, longer still. Add poorly trained dispatchers, laziness, error and other human factors, and it’s a miracle emergency calls are answered in many places at all.
Imagine that a violent, armed gang of burglars is in the process of breaking down your door as you dial 911. Will a police response time of even five minutes–far better than average–be helpful to you, or will the officer’s duty consist of drawing a chalk outline on the floor and collecting evidence?
In the age of Obamanomics, more and more police agencies are being forced to cut their manpower to the bone. Personnel are always the biggest part of any police budget. When difficult cuts must be made, they’re virtually always made in manpower; there is really nowhere else to cut. Police agencies may want very much to be able to respond quickly to each and every emergency call; they simply can’t.
Ironically, even if they want to respond to every call, they don’t have to. The police have no legal duty to protect any individual citizen. They owe a duty only to an abstract public-at-large. They are responsible only for deterring crime by their tactics and presence, and for investigating crimes after they occur in the hope of arresting criminals. One cannot sue the police for failing to protect them or those they love and have any hope of prevailing. The seminal Supreme Court is Castle Rock V. Gonzales (2005).
On June 22, 1999, 5:00 p.m., in Castle Rock, Colorado, Jessica Gonzales’ three daughters, 7, 9, and 10, were playing in her yard. Without her knowledge or permission and against the conditions of a custody agreement and a restraining order, her estranged husband took the girls. Jessica called the police at 7:30 p.m., and two officers came to her home. She showed them copies of the custody agreement and the restraining order and begged them to enforce it and to return her daughters, but they told her they could do nothing and directed her to call at 10:00 p.m. if the girls weren’t home.
Why 10 PM? Many police departments schedule shift change at 10 p.m. The officers were likely trying to put the call off on the following shift, a common practice for officers that don’t want to handle an annoying or potentially unproductive call.
Jessica spoke with Gonzales by cell phone at about 8:30, and again called the police, who again refused to act. She called the police at 10:00, and they put her off until midnight. She called at midnight and again, the police did nothing.
Jessica drove to Gonzales’ apartment and found no one home. She called the police at 1:10 a.m. They promised to send an officer, but no one came. At 1:50 a.m. she went to the police station and begged them to make an incident report. The officer taking her complaint actually did something when she left: he went to dinner.
At about 3:20 a.m., Gonzales arrived at the police station, determined to commit suicide by cop. With a handgun he bought hours earlier, he opened fire on the station. Unable to ignore a man actually shooting at the police station, the police finally did their duty and granted Gonzales his wish by returning fire and killing him.
Tragically, due to the laziness of the Castle Rock Police, Gonzales was able to realize an additional desire. Inside his pickup truck, parked nearby, police found the bloody little bodies of his three daughters. Gonzales shot and killed them hours earlier.
Jessica sued the Castle Rock Police, and the case began its slow trek through the courts, finally being settled by the Supreme Court in 2005. Was this a case of judicial activism, heartless conservatives ruling against three dead little girls and their grieving minority mother? No. The Court’s decision affirmed decades of consistent precedent and is absolutely rational and necessary.
If the police could be sued whenever a citizen was injured by criminals, what city or country could possibly afford a police agency? If everyone contemplating a career as a police officer knew they would spend every spare minute and every dime they earned fending off lawsuits for failing to stop crimes about which they were completely unaware, who would choose to become a police officer?
But what about cases like Jessica Gonzales? The police knew of the danger; they knew her husband was violating the law, yet officer after officer chose to do nothing and Gonzales and his daughters died as a result of their inaction.
It’s a heart-rending case, but there are many more, cases where officers didn’t respond to rapes in progress because the call was inadvertently assigned a low priority or they were given incorrect information, calls where people were maimed, crippled, murdered because of police mistakes, because there weren’t enough officers to respond quickly, or because they simply couldn’t be bothered to do their jobs.
Consider the February 12, 2011 case of Joseph Lozito. Maksim Gelman stabbed three people to death and killed another with a car. When he entered the subway train in which Lozito was riding, he tried to force his way into the operator’s cab of the train where two NYPD officers that were actually looking for him were locked in. They remained locked in that cab, watching, as Maksim attacked Lozito, stabbing him in the face, head and elsewhere. One of the officers later admitted to a grand jury that he remained in the cab because he was afraid Gelman might have a gun.
Lozito wrestled Maksim to the floor, disarmed him, and bleeding heavily, held him there. It was only then that the two police officers bothered to open the cab door and handcuff the already restrained Maksim.
Lozito survived with many stitches and tried to sue the NYPD, but under Castle Rock V. Gonzales, he failed.
It is the principle, the rule of law that matters. The police cannot be held responsible for failing to protect anyone, no matter how heart-rending or outrageous the circumstances.
Keep in mind that for the most part, police officers have a code of honor. They feel, institutionally and personally, responsible for doing their best for the public, and they absolutely love to catch bad guys in the act, the badder the better. But there are few of them, more criminals and far more citizens. Police officers are only as good as their last report, their last arrest. Their integrity and ability are measured every day by their fellow officers. An officer who fails to protect anyone when they had the means and ability to do so is considered unreliable, even a coward by their fellows.
Unfortunately, this is not universally true. There are officers, and agencies, where personal safety and convenience matter more than serving and protecting any member of the public. In such places, the fate of citizens matters little, and officers that allow citizens to be injured–or worse–when they could have acted, suffer little or not at all for their selfishness and cowardice.
Some police agencies and officers understand, and rather than trying to maintain the fiction that the police can protect the public, tell the truth. Such an officer is Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright, who, in the aftermath of an attempted rape, urged local women to obtain concealed weapon permits and be prepared to protect themselves:
“It just struck me wrong that we keep telling everyone ‘trust us, trust us, trust us,’ but in reality, you need to protect yourself.”
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is of the same mind. Forced to drastically cut his manpower, Clarke told the residents of Milwaukee County that they have a duty to protect themselves and their families:
“Once the wolf is at the door, once the intruder is inside your home, once you’re on the street and someone sticks a gun in your face to take your car or your wallet, you don’t have the option of calling 911.”
Even in Detroit, actually, particularly in Detroit, Chief of Police James Craig is urging citizens to become armed:
“If more citizens were armed, criminals would think twice about attacking them, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Thursday.”
When next you hear an anti-liberty mouthpiece demanding the disarmament of the law-abiding, remember that the police not only can’t protect everyone, they aren’t required to do so.
When it comes to protecting our lives and the lives of those we love, we are on our own. We always have been.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.