When our baby stopped breathing in the middle of the night we dialled 111. The call was answered at our local hospital by a man who’d shorn our sheep. As soon as he ascertained what was needed he cleared our line, so we could phone our GP and then a neighbour who was a nurse, while he directed the ambulance to us.
That was 21 years ago. If we made an emergency call now it would be answered in a distant city. The chances of getting someone at the other end with any local knowledge are remote so we’d spend much longer on the phone describing where we live; and may well not then get the line freed so we could phone neighbours.
The knowledge that professional help is further away and less reliable than it was in the past has concerned rural communities for some time. But the case a couple of years ago of the woman who was prevented from calling her neighbours after dialling 111 and then had to wait an hour for police has strengthened the belief we’d be better calling a neighbour first and the authorities second.
The first response by professionals to an emergency is usually and quite properly to ensure the situation doesn’t deteriorate so police must be wary of endangering neighbours or unleashing a posse of vigilantes, especially if fire arms are involved. But sadly this policy is another example of modern life which requires everyone to follow set procedure, so they can’t be held responsible if something goes amiss; and leaves no room for local knowledge or initiative.
The police have been accused of this safety at all costs approach over the delay in an ambulance reaching Navtej Singh after he was shot.
Jim Hopkins said:
You need to understand, Sir, we want the police – we need the police – to be as willing to put themselves in harm’s ways as those who can’t do without their Saturday six-pack. We don’t want your officers outside, behind the line, while Mr X is inside, leaving money on the counter to pay for his RTDs.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, Mr Broad. This isn’t what we expect of the police and neither, we suspect, is it what they expect of themselves.
Something’s happened, Mr Broad. Some OSH-ish fretfulness has crept into your operations that is tainting your purpose and tarnishing the reputation of your force.
And Michael Laws asks if the thin blue line has gone yellow:
In the immediate wake of the shooting of Navtej Singh one might reasonably believe so. Because the initial police response after receiving their emergency summons seems to condemn the police as institutional cowards.
There can be no excuse that “standard operating procedure” negates the required Good Samaritan duty. We would condemn a stranger for not immediately offering assistance. How much worse is it then, that those we pay to protect the public essentially refuse to do so. At least, until they’re ready.
Indeed there was an element of not simply the PC, but OSH, in the Manurewa police’s studied inertia last Saturday night. They first wanted to ensure that they were not in personal danger before Navtej Singh was attended. That the gunman was no longer in the vicinity. That they were armed. And that they had a strategy.
While they went through this process, they ensured that an available ambulance similarly did not attend Singh. They played the incident by the rules. Their own.
However, Kerre Woodham says we should give police a break:
Gotcha! Perfect headline to lead with the next morning. Police not human, says dead man’s mate. But to label the police as inhuman?
Dear God. How about the youths who shot Navtej Singh in the chest, scooped up boxes of liquor and left laughing as their victim lay bleeding on the floor? How about the man who came in and took advantage of the armed robbery to steal a box of RTDs?
How about the teenage boy who said he knew who the killers were but didn’t want to say because he wasn’t a snitch? Any of these low-life scum would warrant the term “inhuman” before the attending officers.
But no. The coppers get it, yet again.
She is right – of course the police aren’t inhuman. They do a difficult job in often awful circumstances, dealing with people who have no respect for the law, the people who enforce it or anyone else – but know all their rights.
However, a man died and there is a question over whether he might have survived had the ambulance got to him sooner. Because of that there must be an investigation – not to persecute the police and make their job more difficult, but to find answers that will help next time there is a conflict between ensuring the saftey of emergency crews and assisting victims.