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by Peter Moskos

November 6, 2009

Oh, the stink!

If an adult is missing, there's little for a police officer to do. Adults are adults; they don't have to come home for bed time. And if they're drug addicts, they might just choose to "disappear" from prying family members. And besides, the last thing you want to do as a cop is serve as some stalker's private dick.

But 11 adults killed and decomposing in a house and backyard in Cleveland? This is a failure of the system.

Here's the story in the New York Times and the by Mark Puente in the Plain Dealer.

I'm more skeptical of officers who went to that house and smelled death. Officers know that smell and while the first reaction may be to get far away, the second reaction should be, "why does the house of a convicted sex offender smell like dead bodies?"

Probably every officer who took a call for a missing women did a minimally proper job. Each one got a 911 call for a missing adult drug addict. Each one had little sympathy and besides, what can you do? They're adults. What should you do?

But where was the neighborhood beat officer? Where was the officer on foot that neighbors could talk to? Where was an officer who was in a position to put two and two together? One missing adult addict is a non-event. A half-dozen might just make you go, hmmmmmm. Eleven missing addicts and house smelling like death? This seems like a puzzle that shouldn't have taken Sherlock Holmes to figure out.

But apparently nobody was ever in a position to see the big picture because the police department isn't set up that way. In a rush to handle incidents, nobody ever noticed the problem.

So the public saw an uncaring police department while police saw an uncooperative public. This is inevitable when a system wants cops in cars instead of on foot and favors rapid response over slow deduction.

Police can zoom to an incident (not that you would zoom to a missing-person call) but to see the big picture, to recognize the problem, you need the insight and community input you'll never find inside a patrol car.

1 comment:

Dave H. said...

Very well said, Peter. I doubt a true "beat officer" would have missed these signals, even with the sausage factory distraction. This horrific case makes your argument for urban foot patrols that much stronger. Hopefully more people will start listening some day.