On Tuesday April 15, Denver woman Kristine Kirk, was shot to death by her husband after remaining on the line with 911 dispatch for a reported 13 minutes. Her husband, Richard Kirk, was arrested and is being held without bail on charges of first-degree murder.
A Denver police spokesman stated that they will “examine” the incident to ensure that it was handled properly.
This is not the first time the 911 dispatch system has fallen under national scrutiny.
In May 2013 the Daily Mail UK reported a story from Oregon in which a woman was told by the 911 dispatcher that no help was available and offered that she should ask her attacker to leave. The victim was subsequently beaten and sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend who broke into the house.
There was a time in our nation’s history that 911 emergency dispatch systems did not exist. Those old enough to remember thick, paper phonebooks will recall that your local emergency numbers were always listed on the first page, the inside cover or both. There were separate telephone numbers for police, fire and medical emergencies.
The concept of having a simple three-digit emergency number, 9-1-1, actually goes all the way back to 1968 and Haleyville, Ala. However, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that a nationwide effort was put in place to implement the 911 system.
Creating centralized 911 Dispatch Centers over thousands of jurisdictions nationwide would require a lot of money; tax money. To secure that tax money the voters would have to be convinced to approve a new tax levy to foot the bill. I recall the 911 campaign that went on in my home county around 1992. EMTs, firefighters and members of the Sheriff’s Reserve spearheaded the campaign to explain the need for approximately $300,000 in new tax revenue to create the 911 system.
All across the nation 911 was touted as the new miracle cure for any and all emergencies. The police, fire department and ambulance service were all three simple digits away. The taxpayers were assured that passing these new tax levies would streamline the existing dispatch system, reduce caller wait time and improve response time for all emergency services.
Naturally, the people accepted the promise, voted for the tax levies and the 911 emergency dispatch system became nearly universal throughout the United States.
And that was the good news.
Slowly but surely, many in the populace began to use 911, not just for emergencies, but for every time they needed to speak to a police officer. People started calling 911 to complain that their neighbor’s music was too loud or “those kids keep running though my yard.” Cases of 911 “hang-ups” became a legitimate problem for law enforcement officers who could not ignore a call and had to spend precious time investigating each and every incident, even from payphones.
The mobile phone era ushered in a new twist to the 911 conundrum. Rather than prepare themselves to deal with emergencies, people began to view their cell phone as a fire extinguisher, first aid kit and handgun all rolled into one. The emergency number was viewed by many as an instant fix for all that ailed you.
Anti-gun politicians began to bolster their arguments against firearms ownership by stating that calling 911 was a better option than keeping or carrying a gun. As recently as April 2013, U.S. Rep. Diana Degette (D-Colo.) told a senior citizen, who was concerned about gun control measures putting him at a disadvantage, “The good news for you is you live in Denver, the DPD would be there within minutes.”
After pausing to smugly acknowledge audience laughter she continued “you’ll probably be dead anyway.” The reasoning for Degette’s last statement is unfathomable.
It is not that the 911 system is a bad idea. Quite the contrary, it was a tremendoulsy valid idea. Even small children can be taught to dial 9-1-1 to get help. There have indeed been numerous occasions where a child called 911 and help was sent to save the life of an injured parent or family member.
The problem with 911 is that an entire generation has been raised to believe that there is no need to prepare for emergencies.
Why learn CPR? I have a phone.
Far too many fail to realize that dialing 911 in an emergency is just one step in an overall emergency plan, not the only step. Calling 911 is supposed to get help rolling in your direction, not instantly solve the crisis.
What happens when there is a utility failure, a natural disaster or a loss of phone coverage? If 911 is your entire emergency plan, the joke is on you and it’s not funny. Sadly, for far too many otherwise capable adults, their strategy has never evolved past making a phone call.
Advice from people who are ostensibly in a leadership position to “call 911 and wait” is at very least irresponsible and, at worst, insidiously dangerous and self-serving. The very idea that citizens would be encouraged to relinquish all responsibility for safety and self-preservation to a faceless bureaucracy should be seen as a grievous insult.
Regardless of what you were told during the 911 levy campaign or by a self-serving politician, the 911 emergency system can never be expansive enough to immediately solve your every problem. The government cannot station a policeman, fireman or paramedic on every street of every city. The system is there to get the “cavalry” moving in your direction.
What you do between the phone call and the arrival of the “cavalry” could very well be the difference between life and death.
For the past three decades Paul Markel has had the privilege to study with some of the finest instructors the U.S. Military and Law Enforcement world have to offer. Visit Student of the Gun.