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How screwed is my dept?


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  • How screwed is my dept?

    About two weeks ago a guy named Todd doused his ex girlfriend's car in gas and hoped she would set herself on fire. He parked a ways away to watch. Melissa smelled the gas and didn't get in so he ran over her with his car causing pretty serious injuries. We began an extensive manhunt for him but didn't find him. Apparently he fled to Vegas for a few days. Melissa was in the hospital for a few days and then came home. Three days after being run over Todd came to her house and murdered her in front of her kids. He then got into a high speed pursuit with numerous police agencies for over 100 miles. At one point they lost him in a college town where he holed up in a girls dorm. When the girl came home he shot her and fled. This girl lived. Eventually he got caught.

    There has been a huge media firestorm over why we didn't protect her since we had someone actively trying to kill her. Plus the supervisor on the shift she got murdered on claimed to the media that his shift wasn't even aware of where she was.

    No one disputes that we worked our butts off trying to find the guy but people are angry that we weren't staking out her house after she got home from the hospital. Our chief went to Canada the day after this happened for a week and the media liason for the dept told the media they would have to wait for the chief to get a statement.

    Our chief called a press conference for today but then cancelled saying basically that the media can stick it up their ***. He has been heavily criticized and says that they don't have the right to scrutinize us and that we will handle this internally. To me this smacks of coverup.

    Personally I'm thankful I was on days off when the girl got ran over and hadn't come back to work yet when she was killed. But I'm expecting that my dept is going to get sued hardcore by the womans family. Plus I'm worried about my chiefs attitude. We screwed up. I truly believe that. We should have made more effort to protect her. But the chief doesn't want to admit that. Maybe he's concerned about adding dollars to the pending lawsuit. I think that we would better served to just come out and say we made a bad mistake and let the chips fall where they may. As is, the public has lost a lot of faith in us.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • #2
    Yeah, I have some thoughts on it, but from the tone of your post, you probably won’t agree with them. (No offence meant here.)

    How do you propose that your department should have protected this woman? I mean, look at what the Secret Service has to work with to protect our presidents. Yet their record is not exactly stellar.

    Your department tried their best to find the slime ball, but it didn’t happen. How long do you think your department should have tied up personnel baby sitting this woman. A day? A week? A year? Ten years?

    Most places have women’s shelters where she could have gone if she was in fear of her life. She apparently chose not to do so. Now if your department failed to inform her of this option, then yes, they did not do what they should have.

    But realistically, there is NO WAY that your agency could protect this gal for the rest of her life!

    I will agree that your chief could have handled the media in a better manner, and he WILL ride a whole lot of heat for that. Unfortunately, so will your department.

    However, I don’t think that the actual situation was necessarily mishandled. I think the political/media end of it was.
    6P1 (retired)


    • #3
      I forgot to put in one part which should shed some unfavorable light on my dept. The depts official excuse as to why we didn't stake our her house was lack of manpower. Yet not too long ago we had enough manpower to stake out a city council members house for several days when there was a threat it might get vandalized.


      • #4
        It's too bad Melissa wasn't trained in the judicious use of a high-caliber firearm. Then she wouldn't have had to rely on anyone for her own protection.
        "The right of the people to bear Arms...shall not be infringed."


        • #5
          I agree with Don...we can't be babysitting someone for an indefinate amount of time....its just not feasable. Ever state should have resources available to help out victims of Domestic Violence, etc., and at least in my state, it is our responsibility to make the victim aware of those resources. If not we CAN/WILL be held liable.

          We cannot be expected to provide personal protection for anyone, because if we do its tantamount to a contract, and if something happens to this person while they are in our care....WE ARE LIABLE!!

          Its a shame what happened to her, but it appears your department did as it should (with the exeption of the media).


          • #6
            I also agree with Don and KSFuzz...if we had to babysit every single domestic violence victim in my city, we'd run out of police officers in a real hurry.

            I hope the officers involved in her case offered her OPTIONS -- that she did not have to stay in that home, that she could go to a shelter or a hotel or the home of a friend or relative. That way, if she decided to stay, that was HER DECISION to do so, and not because the department promised to keep her safe.

            As far as the decision to surveil a councilman's house due to a threat of vandalism, and the decision not to do same with a victim of domestic violence, I don't know what to tell you other than we all know of situations where a certain person or persons got special attention from the police simply because of who they were, and that an ordinary citizen would not have been afforded the same courtesy. It's a fact of life at all departments, large and small.

            Your chief also badly mishandled the media here. Rather than set the record straight (for example, that she DECIDED to stay in her own home despite recommendations to the contrary), the lack of information will only fuel the media's interest in making the department look bad. It'll also not be in the department's best interest if/when the victim's family sues the department.


            • #7
              Hmm, how not to sound screwed up. We only babysit who they tell us. We can't watch everyone all the time. Somewhere I saw a post about officers per city. Something about the amount of officers per person in the city. If one officer has to watch 1,000 people all the time, how can we do it? As for the young lady, it is sad what happened, it is also sad that the creep wasn't caught before he could do this.
              In our state we too have a form to give to domestic victims telling them where they can get help. Would it have actually helped tho? Seems as though he was hell-bent on getting her. If that is/was the case, then no matter how vigilant you are, you are going to lose.


              • #8
                Hello to everyone. I'm new here, well, I've been lurking for awhile and thought I would finally put my .02 in on something.
                Self Defense is everyone's personal responsibility...that is, you and you alone are ultimately responsible for your own personal safety. Same goes for this woman who was killed. Tragic, but she should have been better prepared.
                Secondly, the Police cannot be held responsible for everyone's personal safety. They are not required to ensure safety and security on an individual level. The Constitution does not require this, and this is why every single case that has been brought against Police Departments for such things has failed. Cops cannot be everywhere at once, so that is why they are not required to protect everyone at once. This is why we have community policing, and they provide for the general welfare of their community.
                Now, the fact that the vast majority of street cops would like to provide for the safety of each and every individual, and they put their lives on the line every day they work is why they really are heros. The sad fact that our society is so large usually means they are there after the fact, usually for cleanup, rather than being there pro-actively and catching the bad guy before he does something. I'm sure this pains them more than they will ever be able to say.
                So, I don't think your department is in any trouble legally, but the Chief should handle the press a bit better in the future.

                The Sheriff here in Kent County, MI (Larry Stelma) took some heat from the local media when he endorsed the new CCW law. He said that he and his officers were not afraid of the common, average, everyday citizen who happens to be carrying a pistol for his own protection. "Those people are not the ones shooting at cops, or shooting up the neighborhood, or commiting crimes with guns". I'm paraphrasing here, but he also said something to the effect of: your specific safety is your personal responsibility, the cops' job is to provide a general atmosphere where your safety will seldom be called into question.


                • #9
                  I have to agree with Don, were not baby sitters, we cant be expected to keep anybody who may be in danger under constant surveillance, it just cant be done.

                  If your department had information that the guy was coming back into town on a certain date and knew he was coming back to finish what he started then I would say something should have been done, but to expect 24 hour around the clock protection is an unreasonable expectation.


                  • #10
                    How sad for that poor girl! If I had been her the first time he hurt me, I would have bought a gun and learned to shoot. But, it is ssad in our society that a person would have to do that. The poor innocent girl definitely didn't deserve what happened. If she had only boiught a gun.....but hindsight is always better then foresight.


                    • #11
                      Hey Kingseye, welcome to the forum! Glad you decided to start posting.


                      I think that every one of us that has ever worn a badge has been involved in situations where looking back on it it could and should have been handled in a better manner. Don't have too hard feelings about your department over this situation. It will only hurt YOU.

                      There is just NO WAY that we can protect everyone, all the time. Just isn't going to happen.
                      6P1 (retired)


                      • #12
                        But I'm expecting that my dept is going to get sued hardcore by the womans family. Plus I'm worried about my chiefs attitude. We screwed up. I truly believe that. We should have made more effort to protect her. But the chief doesn't want to admit that. Maybe he's concerned about adding dollars to the pending lawsuit. I think that we would better served to just come out and say we made a bad mistake and let the chips fall where they may. As is, the public has lost a lot of faith in us
                        From the time I read this thread, I have'nt been able to get it out of my mind, because of the above statement. I have been kicking around the thought for several days of making a reply, and feel that I should at least pass this information on to you for thought.

                        "PUBLIC DUTY" RULE: Protects against liability unless an injured person can show that there was a breach of duty owed to the individual and not merely to the public at large.
                        Under what is known as the "Cuffy Test" an obligation to protect an individual arises only when there is a "special relationship" that involves:
                        1. an assumption by a police officer, through promises or actions, of an affirmative duty to act on behalf of the party who was injured;
                        2. knowledge by the officer that inaction on his/her part could lead to harm;
                        3. some form of direct contact between the officer and the injured party, and
                        4. that party's justifiable reliance on the officer's affirmative undertaking.
                        -Cuffy v. City of New York, 69 N.Y 2d 255 (1987)

                        FAILURE TO PROTECT: POLICE LIABLE
                        As a result of ongoing marital violence, a woman had an order of protection in force against her husband, who had prior convictions for violent offenses and a prior arrest for violations of the protective order. When she called the police for help, the officers arrived to find her furniture tossed out on the lawn, presumably by her husband.
                        The officers said that they "...WOULD DO WHATEVER THEY COULD..." to protect her.
                        They waited at the scene for over an hour, then left to have dinner. When they returned in less then 30 minutes, the husband had murdered the wife. A wrongful death action was filed against the police. A trial court granted the defendants a summary judgement. But a state Court of Appeals reversed this ruling . A "SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP" existed between the police and the victimized woman, the court declared based on a test that many jurisdictions have adopted:
                        1. Direct contact between the police and the victim; 2. ASSURANCEES OF PROTECTION; 3. Reasonable reliance on the assurances; and 4. Detriment to the relying party.
                        All the elements were met in this case, the court ruled. "The existence of the protecive order, the extended contact of the officers with the victim and the victims "justifiable reliance on the officers' affirmative undertaking on her behalf all serve to demonstrate that a special relationship was established..."
                        -Mastroianni v. Suffolk, NY, 691 N.E.2d 613 (1997).

                        From the information in your post I did'nt see any assurances of protection made, or where you had information that the suspect was back in the area, or was going to commit this act. From reading your post I dont even see where your agency had knowledge that the victim was out of the hospital. This is a sad, tragic case, but I dont see where your department, or officers are in the wrong, or should being blamed for the victims death.

                        We in Law Enforcement CANNOT make Assurances of Protection to anyone.... We can't even insure that we go home at night....How can we insure anyone eles that they will never be harmed...If we could make assurances no one would ever be killed again.

                        You and your community have a lot of pain and anger over what has happened, and I hope that this information refocuses the anger from your department, back where it should be.... The *#@#$ bag that did this horrible crime.

                        [ 11-13-2001: Message edited by: DB ]

                        [ 11-13-2001: Message edited by: DB ]
                        Loyalty above all else, except Honor


                        • #13
                          Looking back on my question I realize that some of you assumed I meant "How screwed up is my dept?" What I meant was how screwed are we when it comes to the lawsuits and such that will come down.


                          • #14
                            Thanks for the clarification on that. You are right, I was assuming you were talking about your department being screwed up. Sorry.

                            As to your liability, the department WILL probably get sued. The city attorney probably WILL settle the suit out of court just to avoid a lenghty trial. It sucks, but there it is. It's cheaper to settle some of the BS suits than to fight them.
                            6P1 (retired)


                            • #15
                              Thanks Don for also assuming thats what the thread was about, I dont feel so alone now.... ....Zamboni, my Apologies

                              [ 11-14-2001: Message edited by: DB ]
                              Loyalty above all else, except Honor


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