It is in the margins, the footnotes, of events that we often find the most meaningful and lasting lessons.  So it is with the revelation on May 6th that three young women kidnapped ten years ago are alive and at least physically well, having been held captive in the basement of a Cleveland, Ohio house all of that time.

Credit: raisingafamily

Credit: raisingafamily

This is, of course, an extraordinary turn of events with a bittersweet outcome: the mother of the girl whose escape led to freedom for all, Amanda Berry, died in 2006, reportedly of a broken heart (and other serious medical issues), at the loss of Amanda.  But another turn of events that is not in the least extraordinary was the recorded 911 call made by Berry from a home across the street where she sought refuge once out of her prison of a decade.

A unsurprisingly upset Berry tried to get help.  Here’s the 911 call transcript:  

Berry: Help me. I’m Amanda Berry.

Dispatcher: You need police, fire, ambulance?

Berry: I need police.

Dispatcher: OK, and what’s going on there?

Berry: I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years, and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.

Dispatcher: OK, and what’s your address?

Berry: 2207 Seymour Avenue.

Dispatcher: 2207 Seymour. Looks like you’re calling me from 2210.

Berry: Huh?

Dispatcher: Looks like you’re calling me from 2210

Berry: I can’t hear you.

Dispatcher: Looks like you’re calling me from 2210 Seymour.

Berry: I’m across the street; I’m using the phone.

This exchange is bizarre and significantly raises Berry’s fears.  The dispatcher is asking precisely the wrong question at the wrong time.  After determining the nature of the call, the next thing any dispatcher needs to know is where the caller is.  Asking their address is a followup question for much latter.  The correct question is “where are you right now?”  Berry is simply trying to answer questions, apparently relying on the “professionals” to handle things.  Berry’s fear level would increase even more:

Dispatcher: OK, stay there with those neighbors. Talk to police when they get there.

Berry: (Crying)

Dispatcher: OK, talk to police when they get there.

Berry: OK. Hello?

Dispatcher: OK, talk to the police when they get there.

Berry: OK (unintelligible).

Dispatcher: We’re going to send them as soon as we get a car open.

Berry: No, I need them now before he gets back.

Dispatcher: All right; we’re sending them, OK?

Berry: OK, I mean, like …

“We’re going to send them as soon as we get a car open.”  Dispatchers are responsible for assigning call priorities.  Officers on patrol have no idea what’s happening in the 911 call center.  They rely on dispatchers to accurately code their calls so that kidnapping victims begging for rescue aren’t put behind barking dog calls in priority.  By this time in the call—as soon as she found out what was happening–the dispatcher should have sent every car in the area that was not on a bonafide emergency to Berry.  She should have done that the moment she knew of the nature of the call and where Berry was.  She can gather all other information as officers are on their way.

Berry was reasonably concerned that the dispatcher didn’t understand the seriousness of her situation and was putting her in increased danger.  She must have been dealing with the nightmare of being recaptured, and the dispatcher wasn’t helping.  Berry is clearly not confident that the dispatcher knows what she’s doing:

Dispatcher: Who’s the guy you’re trying — who’s the guy who went out?

Berry: Um, his name is Ariel Castro.

Dispatcher: OK. How old is he?

Berry: He’s like 52.

Dispatcher: And, uh –

Berry: I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years.

Dispatcher: I got, I got that, dear. (Unintelligible) And, you say, what was his name again?

Berry: Uh, Ariel Castro.

Dispatcher: And is he white, black or Hispanic?

Berry: Uh, Hispanic.

Dispatcher: What’s he wearing?

Berry (agitated): I don’t know, ’cause he’s not here right now. That’s why I ran away.

Dispatcher: When he left, what was he wearing?

Berry: Who knows (unintelligible).

Dispatcher: The police are on their way; talk to them when they get there.

Berry: Huh? I – OK.

Dispatcher: I told you they’re on their way; talk to them when they get there, OK.

Berry: All right, OK. Bye.

In cases like this, the dispatcher should have kept Berry on the line until Berry was actually speaking with a police officer.  To do less is gross negligence.

It’s not difficult to imagine what was going through Berry’s mind.  Free after 10 years, she was dealing with a dispatcher that seemed less than concerned about Berry’s plight and less then capable.  Would you have believed her when she said the police were on their way after first telling Berry she’d get around to sending a car—a single car—when Berry was desperate for help, for safety?  But this is no big deal you say?  Really.  Consider that kidnapping is one of the few crimes to which state legislatures have applied the death penalty.

Surely this is an anomaly!  Surely this dispatcher is the exception to the rule?  Surely virtually all police dispatchers are highly trained, highly intelligent people that do not make mistakes, mistakes that can cost lives?  Unfortunately, such horrendous mistakes are far more common than most people want to realize.

And this brings us to the lesson in this morality tale: the police not only cannot protect you, they have no obligation to protect you.  This is a sobering reality I explored in a 2011 article for PJ Media.  

I recommend reading it in its entirety.  I explain in detail why this is true and explain the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Castle Rock v. Gonzalez which affirmed many lower court decisions.  The bottom line: the police have a duty only to suppress and investigate crime for the public at large.  They have no duty to protect any individual, and cannot be held liable for failing to protect any individual.

In other words, if the hapless dispatcher hung up the phone on Amanda Berry and decided to take a lunch break, assigning a low call priority to her frantic call for help, and if a single car arrived 40 minutes later to find Berry gone, and if she was recaptured and murdered, the dispatcher and police would not be liable.

Outrageous!  Not really.  Exactly that sort of thing has already happened more times than we can count.  Heart-rending calls for help have gone unanswered, officers have been misinformed, given wrong addresses, and people who could have been saved have been tortured, raped, maimed and killed, and the police are not liable.  And that is the way it must be if we want to have police forces at all.  The PJ Media article will explain.

This salient fact—the police are not responsible for us; they cannot protect us—would be wise to store in the forefront of your mind for rapid access the next time an anti-freedom politician or pundit tries to tell you that the police can and will protect you and that you don’t need guns for that purpose—leave it to the professionals!

Keep in mind that in the Obamaconomy, police agencies are laying off personnel in record numbers.  In many parts of the nation, urban and rural areas, 911 calls go unanswered or there are so many genuine emergency calls, victims essentially have to take a number and officers get to them when then can—if they can.  This situation is not going to improve anytime in the near future.

I have no doubt the dispatcher was doing her best and had the best intentions.  But the old aphorism is absolutely true:

When seconds count, the police are minutes away.

And when a dispatcher is not doing their job with maximum efficiency and ability, the police will be many minutes away—if they are ever sent at all.