A lot of people seem to think so. “We need more police, better enforcement,” is usually the refrain you hear when crime rates go up, or a string of crimes occurs. The police tell us that we shouldn’t resist when we’re being robbed or raped. It’s called taking the law into your own hands when you do. It’s the job of the police and the justice system – branches of the government – to protect you, according to most people. Certainly according to most police chiefs and elected officials.
But is it?
Let me tell you a story:
In the early morning hours of March 16, 1975, Carolyn Warren, Joan Taliaferro, and Miriam Douglas were asleep in their rooming house at 1112 Lamont Street, N.W. Warren and Taliaferro shared a room on the third floor of the house; Douglas shared a room on the second floor with her four-year-old daughter. The women were awakened by the sound of the back door being broken down by two men later identified as Marvin Kent and James Morse. The men entered Douglas’ second floor room, where Kent forced Douglas to sodomize him and Morse raped her.
Warren and Taliaferro heard Douglas’ screams from the floor below. Warren telephoned the police, told the officer on duty that the house was being burglarized, and requested immediate assistance. The department employee told her to remain quiet and assured her that police assistance would be dispatched promptly. Warren’s call was received at Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters at 6:23 a. m., and was recorded as a burglary in progress. At 6:26 a. m., a call was dispatched to officers on the street as a “Code 2” assignment, although calls of a crime in progress should be given priority and designated as “Code 1.” Four police cruisers responded to the broadcast; three to the Lamont Street address and one to another address to investigate a possible suspect.
Meanwhile, Warren and Taliaferro crawled from their window onto an adjoining roof and waited for the police to arrive. While there, they saw one policeman drive through the alley behind their house and proceed to the front of the residence without stopping, leaning out the window, or getting out of the car to check the back entrance of the house. A second officer apparently knocked on the door in front of the residence, but left when he received no answer. The three officers departed the scene at 6:33 a. m., five minutes after they arrived.
Warren and Taliaferro crawled back inside their room. They again heard Douglas’ continuing screams; again called the police; told the officer that the intruders had entered the home, and requested immediate assistance. Once again, a police officer assured them that help was on the way. This second call was received at 6:42 a. m. and recorded merely as “investigate the trouble” – it was never dispatched to any police officers.
Believing the police might be in the house, Warren and Taliaferro called down to Douglas, thereby alerting Kent to their presence. Kent and Morse then forced all three women, at knifepoint, to accompany them to Kent’s apartment. For the next fourteen hours the women were held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual demands of Kent and Morse.
Those paragraphs are taken, with the exception of a single word, “appellants,” verbatim from the opinion in Warren v. District of Columbia. Carolyn Warren, Joan Taliaferro, and Miriam Douglas were the appellants in a lawsuit against the District of Columbia and its police department for failing to protect them. Fail them it did, but the court found against them. And here is its reasoning:
A publicly maintained police force constitutes a basic governmental service provided to benefit the community at large by promoting public peace, safety and good order. The extent and quality of police protection afforded to the community necessarily depends upon the availability of public resources and upon legislative or administrative determinations concerning allocation of those resources. The public, through its representative officials, recruits, trains, maintains and disciplines its police force and determines the manner in which personnel are deployed. At any given time, publicly furnished police protection may accrue to the personal benefit of individual citizens, but at all times the needs and interests of the community at large predominate. Private resources and needs have little direct effect upon the nature of police services provided to the public. Accordingly, courts have without exception concluded that when a municipality or other governmental entity undertakes to furnish police services, it assumes a duty only to the public at large and not to individual members of the community. (Emphasis is mine)
Note the quote: “without exception.” This is not the first time someone has sued the government for not protecting them, not by a long shot. It’s one of the most egregious examples, but far from the only one.
So, it isn’t the government’s responsibility to protect “individual members of the community,” that is, you and me specifically.
So whose job is it?
Think on that awhile. I’ll come back with Part 2 where I’ll discuss just why it can’t be the job of government.