It’s something we’ve repeated time and time again: you are on your own. You are your own first responder. No one is coming to save you. (No, not even the police. They tend to function as more of a clean-up crew than a rescue squad.) Recently a disabled man in Florida found out just how on-your-own you can be when he dealt with a home invasion and begged for help while law enforcement hung out down the street.
He had just stepped from the shower and was settling in for the night when he caught a glimpse of a figure outside his window.
Seventy-year-old Bill Norkunas, a childhood polio survivor, headed over to the light and flicked it on hoping to scare away whoever was there. Instead, the light was a beacon drawing a young man to his front door, a door made of glass.
And then for the next 15 minutes, Norkunas stood there, barefoot and unclothed, with his crutches, on one side of the glass pane trying to steady a gun in his trembling hand while the stranger stood on the other side, pounding on the door, banging it with his hip or gnawing at the thick hurricane-grade glass with a garden paver.
Okay. So Norkunas had a firearm — first rule complete, have a gun — and he was prepared (apparently) to defend himself. Then he called 911…and this happened:
And as bewildering, and just as terrifying to him, is the knowledge that a squad of sheriff’s deputies responded to his Tamarac neighborhood, but none came close to his home to stop the man. Instead, they waited down the street until he walked over to them and surrendered, witnesses told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Bet you can’t guess what county those deputies hailed from. Go on…give it a go.
Here’s part of the statement released by the sheriff’s department:
“Within days of the incident in Tamarac, the Broward Sheriff’s Office began a thorough review into how the deputies on scene handled the response to this fluid and rapidly evolving situation. The review into this incident is ongoing.”
“Fluid and rapidly evolving.” Almost like a school shooting.
According to reports and witness statements, as well as the department’s own admission, the responding deputies stayed 500 yards away and around a corner from Norkunas’ door as the attempted home invasion played out. For 15 minutes. While the disabled man’s neighbors apparently flooded 911 with calls pleading for law enforcement to help the man.
As for Norkunas himself, his interaction with 911 began with the expected plea for help. Within two minutes of having the 911 operator on the line, Norkunas asked if he’s allowed to shoot his assailant if the man breaks through the door. Three minutes into the call Norkunas is heard telling the stranger outside his door that if he doesn’t leave he’ll be shot. Four minutes in, Norkunas is demanding 911 get law enforcement on the scene. And then, three minutes after that demand, came this:
Norkunas’ voice is weary: “Sheriff, hurry up please.”
Three more minutes pass [making it approximately 10 minutes into the assault on his front door]. “Where the hell are the cruisers?…They are still not here. Jesus Christ. There’s still no cruisers. Come to my house, please, please.
He tells the dispatcher his glass door is smashed in and he doesn’t know what to do. The dispatcher tells him the deputies are canvassing the area to “makes sure no one else gets hurt.”
A dispatcher hears the glass breaking and alerts the 18 deputies who had been assigned to go to Norkunas’ home, according to a dispatcher’s log that documents the call and response.
Let that sink in. Eighteen deputies had been assigned to respond to Norkunas’ call for help during what could easily have become a deadly home invasion. None of them actually responded to his residence. Instead, they stayed around the corner 500 yards – 1500 feet – away. You might even say they set up a perimeter.
Rodney Jacobs, the assistant director of the Civil Investigative Panel, which is a police oversight committee for Miami, Florida, had this to say about the total lack of police assistance:
“The law doesn’t require law enforcement officers to protect you from other people.”
That, of course, is true. But wait, there’s more:
Norkunas said a sergeant explained procedures for setting up a perimeter so that Johnson could not escape, but also admitted they could have done better.
Good news! Broward County law enforcement set up a perimeter — yet again — at a safe distance so they could (maybe) apprehend the home invader after he did what…broke in and maimed or murdered Norkunas? Excellent, they’ll make sure the coroner knows where to pick up the body.
There’s a lot to unpack here from a clear lack of training on Norkunas’ part – read the article and you get a pretty good picture of how unprepared he was – to the failure to respond by law enforcement to the fact this wasn’t just about Norkunas. Apparently the would-be home invader also went wandering off, frightening Norkunas’ neighbors, who were also busily dialing 911 for help.
So here we have an entire neighborhood unprepared to protect themselves, a group of people living under the impression that if anything bad were to happen, police would be just a phone call away. Not so much.
It is vitally important to not only be properly trained, but to be familiar with your firearms and the self-defense laws where you live and travel. It’s also a wise idea to have good carry insurance. It’s also helpful to know that while police have no legal duty to come to your assistance, in some jurisdictions, they actively avoid it if at all possible.
How would you have handled this situation?