Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday 1/08: "Awkward Moments" in the News

This was the big deal: Katherine Webb

A female resident calls 911, identifies herself by name, and calmly requests that police to come to her home apparently without much further elaboration. The police arrive and consent to being dismissed by a male from a window without speaking to the female resident who made the call. Law enforcement officials and experts are drawing distinctions between police needs to establish "reasonable suspicion" rather than "probable cause." The officers' cognizance of the prevalence of domestic violence and the seriousness with which they may have attempted to thwart that possibility have yet to be established. (P-G, Silver & Navratil)

Meanwhile, through the portal of a sideshow concerning news gathering, public relations and accusations of "unprecedented" unprofessionalism, we notice several as-yet unanswered questions arousing the interest of P-G reporters, such as, "What shift were the officers working (that is, when were they due to end their shfits)?" (P-G Early Returns, Tim McNulty)

The seriousness with which the police department and city administrators approach the issue of domestic violence was an explosive issue back in 2007.

Oxford Development is still mulling over building a skyscraper. At least the drilling ban is not cited as the big hold-up in this iteration. (P-G, Mark Belko)

The Allegheny Institute, showing what may be uncommon circumspection, raises a possible connection between County practices establishing property tax exemptions for nonprofits and the business of issuing them bonds. Brilliant inference -- not a smoking gun, but part of the broad mosaic of how nonprofits come to their place on their high pedestal.

Yinzercation, a website launched to advocate against Gov. Corbett's public education cuts, has taken up the cause against teacher evaluations or "Value Added Measures". Mostly wrong-headed in my opinion but admirably thorough of the voguish argument. Why not just say, "Don't vilify politicians. Politicians are not the problem! Let's get rid of all these reporters, auditors, and high-stakes elections, the results of all of which have known imperfections. Let's just hire more politicians, pay them more, and let public officials focus on officiating!"


  1. I will go out on a limb and say that I believe the criticism of the officers in the Miles case is unjustified and over the top. At the same time I think this story has legs. For consistency, I think the two cases are related. In my opinion, we want the police doing their job, perhaps wanting them to error on the side of asking a few more questions in order to keep our neighborhoods safe. Why they would just leave this case is baffling.

  2. My thoughts are similar, but less specific to Miles. For years the police have been criticized (occasionally with just cause) for abusing their authority. Now people are upset that they didn't do so. If they had forced their way into the home, and the woman wasn't there, would these same groups be patting them on the back for being thorough?
    It's far to easy to declare what should have been done after the fact. People who want to change policy because of one incident(though tragic), don't understand the fluid nature of public safety, or what effects their changes will have down the line.

  3. If a person identifies herself/himself, gives an address and then is cut off by "a commotion", it seems in the interest of public safety for policy to require that the police who are called to a scene communicate with the person who placed the call. Other community police forces surely have adopted and practiced what seems like a common sense policy.

    Melvin Tucker, a former FBI agent and police chief in Tallahassee who now works as a criminal justice and security consultant, said officers have the authority to enter a home if they believe someone is in danger.

    “Officers are taught to make sure everyone is safe at the premises,” Tucker said. “What is 911? It‘s an emergency call. If there‘s a 911 call and it‘s disconnected, police have an obligation to confirm people there are all right.”

    Read more: http://triblive.com/news/allegheny/3247432-74/911-officers-call?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+tribunereviewnews+%28News%29#ixzz2HhOd18em
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    It is important to ask what should have been done in this case and others - and to acknowledge the dire cost of actual practice in this particular situation - so that better policies, practices, and training can be developed in our community for the future.

  4. I listen to the Police scanner for the East-End and the number of domestic calls is unreal. The police run from call to call and often to the same addresses over and over. They should have a more defined policy of arrests but then they would be critized for being heavy handed in the minority community. Social issues are a big problem and the police try to do the best they can without clearing the properties on every call.

  5. Helen,
    Are you aware of any ruling on whether disconnected calls can be used as cause to enter a home? It seems like a rights issue that would be well above local policing, possibly a supreme court ruling. I know police officers who use the "Did you hear a scream?" or "Do you smell something?" in order to further investigate when their suspicious. However, they are certainly and knowingly bending the rules.

  6. Edit: They're. Damn hangovers.

  7. Anon 11:20

    You know the drill. Vitamin B12. Two aspirin. Lots of water.

    This year has been mainly hangover so far for anyone directly affected by this issue - I'm very clearly not an objective analyst right now. I'm going to give both of us a break and come back to this issue after some cooling off and more research - if it comes up again at the Comet anytime soon.

    Feel better and I hope your apostrophes come back soon.

  8. I wish we there was a way to know anything about the conversation which took place through the window. Did the officers ask, "We're here because 911 received a call from a female. Can we speak with the person who made the call?" We learned from police during the Jordan Miles testimony that officers are trained in psychological jujitsu to get their way when use of force is not indicated. Did they at least attempt that command voice?

    It's so frustrating. Despite the fact that we know this happened a minute before a shift change on New Years Eve with minimal supervisory personnel available, we cannot pretend we know for a fact the officers did anything inappropriate. It's only that this marks the 47 millionth straight instance in which we're informed, "The officers didn't do anything wrong and the procedures are just fine and dandy." If the institution doesn't get around to taking responsibility one once of these days, we're going to be left to assume that it doesn't care about anything except self-preservation.

    And a note about the confidentiality of 911 recordings -- do we really have to protect the deceased ones? Is the point that 911 recordings are kept confidential so as not to embarrass callers EXCEPT when the callers are dead and there's no one left to be embarrassed, are we sure that's too subtle a point for victims of violence?