Saturday, September 20, 2008

911 Calls

20-20 last night had yet another depressing story of a 911 caller not doing her job properly. In this case, a woman was being chased by a man with a gun trying to kill her, and the 911 operator refused to be of help. The operator kept saying things like "I can't help you if you won't give me your location", and "I can't help you if you don't stop shouting". Well, if someone was trying to kill me, I think I'd shout too.

I have seen this syndrome enough to know it happens a lot. The 911 operators simply don't have the attitude of trying to be helpful, caring, or empathetic. In the case broadcast last night, the caller was trying to find out the location of the police department so she could drive there. In a call lasting over 3 minutes, the operator never did give her the location!

Somehow she found her way to the station anyway, but the gate was locked and she was shot to death right outside the police station. The police chief defended the actions of the operator, saying she had a difficult job to do under the circumstances. What baloney! I have seen news accounts in the past where 911 operators let someone die without sending help because they don't like the way the caller is talking. They need to be trained that people in emergency situations can be excited and fast-talking, and they should learn to deal with this and try to be helpful anyway.

I personally have vowed never to call 911 again, because of the shoddy way I've been talked to when I have in the past. To give an example of a call I witnessed, my colleague at the office called 911 one day to report a man laying in the street outside our office building. The operator asked a neverending series of questions, like what color clothes he had one, what color cap, what race was he, etc. Each time, my colleague patiently said he didn't know and that if she wished, he would set the phone down (it was a land line, not a mobile) and go outside and see and then come back in and let her know. If someone is unconscious in the middle of a busy street, why don't you just send help, and what difference does his race make?

Some months ago there were two incidents in Wichita which shed light on the problem with calling 911. One was an incident in which a woman got killed in a convenience store. The media was full of comments castigating the customers for stepping over her body and going about their business, without calling 911 or otherwise trying to help the victim.

But another incident at about the same time shed light on why folks do *not* call 911. A woman in a Wal-Mart saw what she thought was a young girl being abused, and called 911. And she got roundly castigated for that! The girl's mother was later interviewed and explained that the girl was getting her ears pierced, something she had wanted to do, and that what the caller heard were the girls' screams saying "stop, you're hurting me", but it was a legitimate ear-piercing going on.

We live in a society where solitude and isolation are the norm, and community is the exception. Consequently, there are no clear societal norms on when it is proper to get involved in other people's business, and we often err on the side of caution. Am I my brother's keeper? The Bible says so, but in this country we don't follow Biblical precepts.

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