Monday, August 31, 2009

Look in the mirror

I received a thought-provoking email on Friday from a retired Lincoln resident who was out for a ride with his wife on their new bicycles. They came across a car-pedestrian traffic crash near Captial Parkway and A Streets, just a few minutes after it occurred early on Thursday afternoon. According to a witness they talked to, a jogger had run right out in front of the car driven by a young woman.

The man who emailed me was bothered by the scene. Several paramedics tended to the injured runner, while police officers went about investigating the crash scene:

"Over the next 20-30 minutes, with all the police, fire and EMTs there, I kept seeing a haunting site, the young woman driver...wailing, sobbing...sitting under a tree bawling....I did not see any females. I know it's a male-dominated world in your business, but it did strike [me] as sad that there was no one for the young woman....I understand the focus is on immediate response. But seeing the young woman under the tree was a pretty sad human sight. She needed to be hugged, held, and calmed down."

The picture he painted put a lump in my throat. I certainly agreed that it was sad no one was there for her. I replied to his email, and asked how he, his wife, and at least one other person who witnessed the crash could stand by and watch this young woman in emotional distress for 20 or 30 minutes without anyone stepping forward to hug her, console her, and help calm her down. I don't think that was his point, but that's how it struck me.


Anonymous said...

I recall an incident that occurred two or three years ago. A female decided that she wanted to fight the police rather than put her hands behind her back. Through a long struggle, she was ultimately placed under arrest for a cluster of violations. While sitting in the back seat of a cruiser crying, she begged a male officer to hug her. The officer denied. I wonder if your friend would have a lump in his throat from that.

Anonymous said...

I once had a tow truck driver comment. He said " It is most often a female who is seen sitting and crying after a wreck"
While his statement was gender focused, I think this confirms.

Anonymous said...

I re-read this comment twice. The first time, I agreed and it put a lump in my throat.

The second time, I thought about it more clearly. What if an officer were to hug and console her? How would a young woman react? Sexual Harrassment? Do our officers now need to be social workers as well? An officer cannot put aside the duties of investigating and securing the scene of an accident to hug and hold someone who is upset. Especially if they are uninjured themselves.

Chief, your assessment is dead on. At somepoint in our human existence we decided it was someone elses job to support, and to hug, and to hold. Which totally absolves us of the responsibility of being human beings. If you see someone who is in dire need of support. You can either do it yourself, or walk away. But don't blame others for failing to do what you, yourself won't do.

Dave said...

That left a lump in my throat too after reading the blog. I thought "hey why not send the Chaplin on an accident where a party is obviously shaken up." Then I turned around and answered myself with the thought "then what happens when the Chaplin is needed somewhere like an unattended death at home?"

It is sad to read this about the poor woman, but really, what can one do for her? And another poster pointed out that what if a male officer walked up and gave her a hug? Yeah, I could see a sexual assault coming out of that, all for an innocent gesture.

I suppose someone could have offered to call someone (a relative or friend)to come for her, but again, what takes precedence? Investigation the accident, or tending to an uninjured but visibly shaken driver?

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of suprised by your reaction to his email. Not too many people are going to intervene when it's a "crime scene" in fear of getting in the way, bothering the police or various other reasons. I agree that we should all be compassionate but expecting a passerby to do this is not right. Police should know how to deal with this without causing sexual harassment claims. I know that's part of your training.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

A hug seems to make people happy.

Anonymous said...

We live in a society where acts of kindness can be misconstrued. 7:29 AM nailed it. It would have been a possible sexual harassment case. It is too bad we live in times where ordinary human compassion can be perverted into a perception of wrong.

Gun Nut

Charity said...

I agree that the writer of the e-mail should have acted to comfort the young woman. I can only imagine the horror she was feeling at having injuried another human being.

But I can also see the writer not being sure he COULD comfort the woman. Would a police officer have reprimanded him (or her) for interfering? Do officers want bystanders getting involved? What I'm saying is that many of us don't want to interfer with or make the job of the police any harder than it already is, so we stand back and let them handle.

Of course, there is also the fact that most people won't do anything unless told to. :-(

Steve said...

I think many people are afraid to approach strangers for any reason because they put themselves at risk. Afraid, may not be the best word; perhaps, reluctant. Because we don't know the person, we don't know how they will react. There is the possibility of rejection, or worse. The person may consider us an unwanted intrusion into their life, or even a threat. It's not only the police who may be accused of harassment or inappropriate behavior. Anyone's motives could be questioned though they were simply trying to help.

Grundle King said...

Indeed, this random stranger who witnessed the event expects another random stranger (police, fire, etc.) to console the woman. If it bothered this person so much, he/she should have taken it upon him/herself to help.

Anonymous said...

"don't blame others for failing to do what you, yourself won't do"

Exactly right. If he was in a position where he was able to observe the scene for 20-30 minutes, he could have hoofed it over there. This doesn't sound like a situation where the writer would have been put at risk, like seeing several large men assaulting another individual, and thinking that someone should help the victim. He just expected someone (just not himself, though) to stop what they were doing and do what he thought needed done (but again, just not him).

Copstar said...

So a female officer is supposed to come and console her while the male officer takes charge of the scene and conducts the investigation??
As a female cop-and a tough one at that-I am offended.

Tom Casady said...


I did not "expect" a passerby to do anything. It is quite common, though, to have passers-by who stop to help and offer assistance to those involved--it happens every day.

It just struck me that if this couple watched for 20-30 minutes with such empathy for the driver, that they would have gone over to her and said an encouraging word or two. Rather, they sent me the email describing their observations.

I have no doubt that Charity is correct: they probably felt a little intimidated by the officialdom surrounding the scene. Not much I can do about that perception.

I have worked hundreds of traffic crashes personally. It almost always involves some emotional turmoil for the drivers--just one of many things you either have to deal with or just let happen. Usually, you say something encouraging, get some help on the way (wrecker, Mom and Dad, etc.) and go about your work. A good cry isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

Stay classy Chief!

Anonymous said...

If the police are done questioning the woman and she is sitting under a tree sobbing why would you fear the police not wanting you to talk to her?
I know a lot of cops and can't imagine any of them being upset by someone showing some compassion. Hearts actually beat behind the badges!
If you did approach a person and an officer didn't want you to they would ask you to stay away.
Since when does expressing concern to another person have to involve physical contact? Since when do women have exclusive rights to compassion?
What good was the man, his wife and most likely others doing gawking for 20-30 minutes? If you aren't going to help, leave!

OK, I'm off the soapbox.

Anonymous said...

Did you see the news story about the Milwaukee Mayor rendering assistance and then getting the snot knocked out of him?

Good samaritans beware.

Trevor Brass said...

We never know how we will react to these kind of situations until they actually happen. Capt. Sullenberger didn't know that one day he would have to make an emergency water landing in a crowded city. It isn't necessary and ultimately self-defeating to point fingers and scold people for what they "should" have done.

I'm not sure what I would have done in said situation, I just hope I will have the courage to do what I feel is right should something like this present itself to me. (Semi-busy road with lots of peds and cyclists near my dorm --who knows?)

Suffering is natural of the human condition, we can't eliminate it, but we can help each other get through it.

Anonymous said...

Well written... Now I have a question that is just burning in my mind. I believe that almost all criminals or people that are simply in the system all of the time, smoke cigarettes. Even when you watch any police reality show on TV, these guys are always smoking. Police show up to a domestic, someone has to light a cigarette before they can tell their side of the story. I wonder... has there ever been a study comparing certain groups to smoking cigarettes? I wonder how many people that deal with the police on a regular basis, smoke cigarettes?

Anonymous said...

Well, I hate to be the one to point out the obvious but,
#1- in that situation the police have a duty to do, and it's not to give out free hugs, it's to clear the accident and ensure the hazard is removed from the road so others do not crash and get injured. It would be nice to give everyone a hug and leave them with a warm fuzzy, but that's not realistic.
#2- She was just in a stressful situation, and no doubt had a flood of emotions welling up. Sometimes people, adults included, just need to cry and get it out. In the day and age where people can call or text hundreds of people. A friend or family member would surely have came to comfort her had she requested it.

- Why weren't the firemen giving her hugs?

Anonymous said...

Being the analytical person I am, One could say from the victims point of view, that if a family member of the victim had seen an officer "Hugging and consoling" the driver; the officer is "sideing".
Though I believe the driver should have recieved some sort of councel from an officer, there should not be any form of touching unless ofcourse an arrest is in order!
It is a common understanding that when the police are on the scene of any event that, they are in charge. Any type of impiedance can land you a ticket in your hand! And again if an officer had seen a bystander hugging and consoling the driver, it could be seen as "are they takeing the pot pipe out of her hand"!
Why would a bystander take a chance of assisting someone in this situation! You read about it everyday in the paper and online that when LPD cites someone, there are usually many offenses stacked on! Aww wait a min, here's how they deal with the judicial systems plea agreement. Stack them on so that the little ones get dismissed to plea to the big one.... Not to much analytics needed for that one...

Done ranting! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Yup, I may be called to assist in searching a female party in custody, but I draw the line at "dispatch any female officer available to give a hug."