Jul 21, 2011 12:54 PM GMT
Police and firefighters stood by and watched a suicidal man drown. We need to restore the principle that the real constituency for public safety is the public, not bureaucrats and government workers.
On Memorial Day, a suicidal man waded into San Francisco Bay outside the city of Alameda and stood there for about an hour, neck deep in chilly water, as about 75 bystanders watched. Local police and firefighters were dispatched to the scene after the man's desperate mother called 911, but they refused to help. After the man drowned, the assembled "first responders" also refused to wade into the water to retrieve his body; they left that job for a bystander.
The incident sparked widespread outrage in Northern California, and the response by the Fire Department and police only intensified the anger. The firefighters blamed local budget cuts for denying them the training and equipment necessary for cold-water rescues. The police said that they didn't know if the man was dangerous and therefore couldn't risk the safety of officers.
After a local TV news crew asked him whether he would save a drowning child in the bay, Alameda Fire Chief Ricci Zombeck gave an answer that made him the butt of local talk-show mockery: "Well, if I was off duty, I would know what I would do, but I think you're asking me my on-duty response, and I would have to stay within our policies and procedures, because that's what's required by our department to do."
If you stand a better chance of being rescued by the official rescuers when they are off duty, then what is the purpose of these departments, which consume the lion's share of city budgets and whose employees — in California anyway — receive exceedingly handsome salaries?