Recently, there was a massive and lethal pile-up of cars in Florida. Nearly a dozen dead and another 1-2 dozen injured. (Please note the numerous media people calling for a ban on cars.)
A spokesperson stated the Highway Patrol would “review this situation and determine if our process needs to be changed.”
I can tell you without a doubt that the policy and process needs to be changed. But I can almost guarantee you that a review will determine no fault on the police department and no need to change policy. The police department will continue to be ‘unresponsive’.
How do I know this? From nearly half a dozen personal experiences. Enough for me to anecdotally conclude that police departments are not trained in being responsive to potential emergencies, only past ones. And while many excuses can be made as to a shortage of officers, vehicles, etc. There is something more to it.
Recently, I found myself behind a swerving mini-van which posed a danger to itself and numerous other vehicles. I did my civic duty and called 9-1-1 twice. I drove through half the county awaiting to see a police vehicle. It never showed. Had I not remained with the vehicle until it was safely off the road, people could have died. Now I know it takes time to respond. But I drove through half the county, often at speeds as low as 35mph. Are you seriously going to tell me not a single county officer could respond within that time?
Similarly, 6 weeks before my wedding I was nearly killed in an accident. A combination of skilled driving and divine miracle allowed me to reach my wedding day. It was a drizzly day, I came over a small hill on I-91 only to see a car parked with it’s flashers in the middle of the highway. Attempting a sudden 65 to 0 stop in the drizzle is no easy task. Lead time was very slim, and I could feel my light Honda starting to hydro-plane. I knew if I rear-ended that car, I was dead. I made a decision to turn toward the guard rail wagering my chances of surviving a side impact with the rail was better than plowing into the vehicle. Miraculously I was able to turn before impact with the rail and narrowly pass the disabled vehicle.
I called 9-1-1 to report a car in a dead stop in an unviewable area of the highway posing an extreme danger. The dispatcher was non-chalant, and I could tell by their voice they were not going to act. “Excuse me, but I almost died. And there are already more cars narrowly avoiding impact. Get a patrol car out there and do something.”
And in a similar incident where I-95 flooded in the New Haven, Connecticut area. Cars were on the highway and finding themselves suddenly hydroplaning with zero visibility through about 8 inches of water. Alerted the police to the need for them to bring a patrol car to the area and slow down the traffic before someone was injured.
I do not understand why our police force is so focused on responding to incidents instead of pre-empting them. But I can tell you, this Florida incident was caused in part due to this mentality, and do I want to say “laziness”? Though I think it is more of a doctrine of “response” instead of “prevention”.
You see, as soon as that first impact occurred on that night (one in which the highway had already been closed to two prior impacts). A patrol car should have been routed to the area of the accident to start slowing down the traffic. Flashing red & blue lights in fog & smoke tend to slow down most drivers.
Lives could be saved through an implementation of a “pre-emptive” and responsive doctrine. No, police cannot be everywhere (but strangely they seem to be when it’s quota time for traffic tickets – then they can be sitting out in the middle of corn fields watching stop signs for which a dozen cars might use in an entire day).
This failed doctrine holds true beyond automobiles. One cannot rely upon the police force to keep you safe. You can’t always have a police officer with you. And sadly, you can seldom expect law enforcement to arrive in a fashion timely enough to keep you safe. I believe a lot of this comes down to the beauracracy involved. Before you even reach a police officer you must go through a 9-1-1 dispatch that is often poorly trained, and poorly paid. If you can get through that hurdle you then must potentially get through beauracratic policies that may further impede response. Ones designed to prevent officers from wasting gas driving around to potential emergencies that might never materialize. We’ll never know the extent of beauracratic influence that officers have to deal with, and how it impedes their service (unless of course you’re an officer). But from a few discussions I’ve had in the past, there is a lot more than us average folk are aware of. I mention the gasoline as just one, where chiefs and supervisors force the rank and file to be less effective due to budget restraints and rising gas prices being one of the most affectable. So when you wonder why you always see a police cruiser just sitting there all day, that’s your likely answer. And many of these police chiefs do so because they’re beholden to politicians who will often use “budget cuts” to police departments as one of their first weapons in their political negotiations.
For example, in the 1/2 dozen times I’ve called 9-1-1 over a vehicle swerving on the highway. One might point out that not a single one resulted in an accident. So why should the police respond? But I will counter with the fact that I expended my time to assist those vehicles (by flashing my lights and honking whenever they were about to impact) and thus prevented accidents that were likely if I had not remained shadowing the vehicles.
The problem with “potential incidents” is that a police officers arrival is likely to make them “avoided incidents”. If an officer had been set-up immediately to warn of the accident ahead and thus slowed traffic, or better yet, kept there after the first two accidents until visibility returned. How would you document the success? A police officer’s presence would have likely prevented any accidents. From a management’s point of time it would likely be viewed as a waste of resources. Especially if one had to pay overtime to maintain an officer’s presence. It is very hard to guage the success of preventative action.
For example, we know exactly how many people are killed by criminals wielding firearms. We know how many criminals are killed by citizens wielding firearms in their defense. But we only have a vague idea of how many incidents have been prevented from ever occurring due to armed citizens. Many encounters in which an armed citizen defends themselves go unreported. The criminals flees and the citizen sees little point in getting caught up in paperwork with law enforcement, especially if the city or area they’re in is reknown for not being gun friendly. Most of the accounts I’ve heard of a firearm being used to dissuade a perpetrator from action were not reported to law enforcement. Most seem to feel their firearm accomplished it’s purpose and they are safe. End of story. However, I believe this to be a failing in the gun community. If one is accosted, one should report it. Regardless of a safe outcome, reporting it to the authorities has the potential to provide safety to the next passer by.
How many people use firearms to defend themselves in a given year? I’ve heard anywhere from 65,000 to 2.5 million. I’d wager it falls somewhere in the middle, probably around a 1/4 of a million each year.
All this said, remember, the final responsible party for your safety is yourself. Avoid putting yourself in dangerous situations. Be it walking down a street in a bad neighborhood or driving during poor visibility conditions. And if you must engage in such situations take prudent actions. Be armed, and be aware. Drive slow and provide yourself more lead time by leaving a greater space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you.