City police, thefts from cars and cops
I've gotten a few responses to Monday's print column on Nanci Gosnell, who took a band of Cub Scouts to the National Aquarium this weekend only to have two of the group's vehicles broken into in a downtown garage.
She called 911 and waited for about 90 minutes before giving up on the officer, who never showed. Police later apologized and said the officer went to the wrong address, but no one ever called Gosnell back to work out the confusion. She left the city angry, her worst thoughts about city crime realized, and having to explain to children why the cops didn't seem to care.
I've heard two complaints. One that she called 911 instead of 311, which is reserved for nonemergencies. This call could've gone either way. A report could have been taken by phone but in my experience, even had she called 311, a dispatcher probably would've have sent a police officer, especially since the people who broke her window left behind a pipe and a screw driver. Seems like good evidence to have in the midst of a wave of car break-ins and worthy of a police response. It doesn't have to be lights and sirens. Also, Ms. Gosnell is from Bethesda and might not know about 311.
Rosie Behr of Baltimore wrote me about using this as a teachable moment:
The thing that I found most disturbing about this column was the quote from Nanci Gosnell: "So all the way home, I had to explain why the police didn't come, why they didn't care." She missed a golden opportunity for a talk about perspective, about what's really important, and instead taught a lesson about fear and hate.
The police didn't come. It turns out they were busy with actual emergencies, matters of life and death. 911 is for emergencies. Having one's windows broken and property stolen is inconvenient and irritating, but it's not a matter of life and death. Ms Gosnell might have said that to the children, might have pointed out their good fortune that they had a wonderful overnight advanture, that they have Caddilac Escalades, that they, fortunately, were safe and sound, though cold. Might have pointed out that stuff is only stuff, inconvenience is only inconvenience; meanwhile the police were busy helping people with actual emergencies. Instead, she taught them that "they didn't care," reinforcing fear and isolation.
I agree this is a valuable teachable moment, but just before turning my column in, I deleted a graf that addresses these concerns. Ms. Gosnell did tell me that she tried to tell her son that a car is just property and can be fixed, and they all should be thankful that nobody was hurt. She told me her son -- as most boys are -- was fixated on the car and kept wondering why someone would "hurt" someone else's property.
I took this out because it ended with her saying the cops didn't care, and I wanted to tone it down after we learned that the police officer made a mistake and went to the wrong address, and didn't simply blow off the call.
But I'm curious how parents might handle this. I'm going to mention this to my colleague, Kate Shatzkin, who writes about family issues with the Charm City Moms blog, and see what her readers have to say. Do 5th-graders like Gosnell's son understand the difference between "hurting" a car and "hurting" a person?
I don't think Gosnell taught these children the police don't care; instead, she had to react to their feelings. They were stuck outside for 90 minutes in the cold, waiting for police who didn't come, comparing that to what they learn in school -- that police quickly come to help in emergencies.
Yes, this wasn't a life and death situation, and police were busy that weekend, but to this group on this day, it certainly was an emergency, and not coming meant not retrieving valuable evidence that might have led to an arrest and helped end these crimes.