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by Peter Moskos

February 18, 2008

911 Is a Joke

Rapid response doesn't work for police. I've published an article in Law Enforcement Executive Forum saying as much. It's also a chapter in my book. I was reminded of the futility of 911 yesterday when I came across an old man who had fallen down and cracked his head open here where I'm visiting my parents in Santa Monica, California.

I really don't remember my medical first responder training from 8 years ago. But I still figure I'm better in such situations than most people. At least I can stay calm and not do anything incredibly stupid. Luckily, for the both me and the bleeding man, an off-duty firefighter was there who actually knew what he was doing (apply pressure to stop the bleeding and give the guy some basic tests to make sure he was with it).

I fished the man's wallet from his pocket to look for any medical warnings and check for ID (that's the cop in me). Then there wasn't much for me to do except watch the scene and wait for a cop or paramedic to turn the wallet over to (it would have been a little difficult for me to put the wallet back in his pocket and I didn't want to bother the guy examining him... no, I didn't take anything, but I couldn't help but notice that his wallet was a lot thicker than mine).

One woman made us aware of her presence by deciding that the bleeding man's problem was the head wound, but the firefighter helping him. She yelled: "You way too much up in his face and need to step back and let the man breath! He can't get no air! Step back!" She meant it, too, and seemed about ready to set things straight.

Now that I'm a professor and not a cop, I'm so rarely reminded of complete, honest, and destructive stupidity! I was reminded how quickly a scene in the ghetto could get ugly with someone like her provoking a crowd. Luckily, this was a crowd on Santa Monica's 3rd St. Promenade. It isn't by a long stretch the hood. A few other people in the crowd kind of cut her off and blocked her out.

Meanwhile others were trying to call 911 from their cells phones and nobody could get through. The entire L.A. County system was either overloaded or down. Luckily, some public security person (I think their main job is to harass the homeless) could radio directly for paramedics. The guy had bled some, but he was going to be OK.

What surprised me wasn't that people couldn't get through to 911. I was surprised that they were surprised they couldn't get through. We've been sold on the wonders and necessity of rapid response. But anybody who needs it knows the truth: 911 is a joke, most of all for police.

1 comment:

One Time said...

Very true. Once, a guy got shot about three blocks away from the station. Victim of an attempt robbery. He tried calling 911, but the line was busy. He ended up walking to the station to make his report.