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Massachusetts, Boston and Cambridge police play pass-the-buck with potential terrorists

In an ideal world, the treatment received by a private citizen calling 911 would inspire confidence in the ability of the police to protect people from crime and terrorism. In reality, it seems designed to inspire confidence only in the criminals and terrorists.

Read more about my recent unfortunate encounter with the men in blue (or at least their 911 dispatchers) here.

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Comments

While you definitely shouldn’t have been given the runaround, and I too might have called the police under similar circumstances, it’s not at all obvious that any crime was committed. At 10:30 pm this undirected yelling would have disturbed the peace, but I’m not sure it does at 6:30 pm.

[I also posted this comment to jik's blog]

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I wouldn't think anyone who had the skills to pull off any sort of terrorist attack would run around in an open space shouting about their affiliations and beliefs. Terrorists who've been successful have been a little more, I don't know, subtle?

Sounds more like a prank to me.

Regarding what Ron says about "disturbing the peace," the noise ordinance prohibits AMPLIFIED noise measuring above 70 dB at the boundary of the nearest dwelling between 7am and 11pm or any noise measuring about 50 dB at the boundary of the nearest dwelling between 11pm and 7am.

In other words, human-generated noise in a park or other open space during daytime hours is not considered to be disturbing the peace. It doesn't have any of the factors going for it that make it a violation (able to be heard in a dwelling, amplified, or happening at night). Parks are meant for people to run around and make noise.

In order to be harassment, it would have to be clearly aimed at someone, such as a crowd of people around someone's house or a group of people following someone, and there'd have to be threats or otherwise defaming language. None of this was happening. Some people were expressing some beliefs that apparently are different from yours.

A couple days ago I heard a group of teenagers loudly singing songs about Jesus in a park. I'm assuming you'd also recommend the police be notified about this potential terrorist activity?

http://1smootshort.blogspot.com

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Thanks for posting more specific information. (Are you citing the Cambridge noise ordinance, the Boston one, or a state law?)

If this location is where I think it is, it's an entirely non-residential area, surrounded by Cambridge Cemetery, Harvard athletic fields, and lots of other DCR parkland.

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First of all, I didn't say harassment, I said assault, which I believe has a significantly lower threshold.

Second, my wife said that there was a large family in obvious Muslim regalia sitting behind us on the shore and that she suspected that the folks on the other side of the river may have been directing their comments at that family.

I don't know whether a crime was committed, but I think it's rather possible that one was, and I don't think the Cambridge police dispatcher was in any position to judge the situation sitting in a chair somewhere at Cambridge police HQ.

Besides all that, it used to be the case that it wasn't just the job of the police to come arrest people who were committing crimes. It was also the job of police to deal with stupid kids (or adults) being rude or committing pranks. A friendly chat with a man in blue is usually enough to put a stop to such shenanigans. Nowadays, the police are so understaffed that this aspect of their role has been all but forgotten, and I for one do not think this is a good thing.

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Second, my wife said that there was a large family in obvious Muslim regalia sitting behind us on the shore and that she suspected that the folks on the other side of the river may have been directing their comments at that family.

But (as you said in the comments on your own blog), since that wasn't part of your original complaint to the police, they had no way to act on it. It might have made them take the complaint more seriously.

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What should make police take a complaint seriously is the fact that somebody took the time to call it in. They certainly shouldn't expect joe random citizen to know what all the relevant factors are and to be able to describe them accurately and completely over the telephone.

The point you are making seems to boil down to, "If someone calls the police about a situation that may or may not warrant police involvement, and the caller doesn't give enough information to verify that it does, the dispatcher should assume that it doesn't."

That's only a good idea until the first time somebody gets killed because the dispatcher didn't think it was necessary to send a cruiser. Oh, wait, that's already happened, lots of times, all over the country!

The problem is that the police don't have the manpower to respond to every call, and that's out of their control. So we're left with dispatchers being forced to make judgment calls, sometimes wrong, about whether to treat a call as urgent or send a cruiser, because their superiors won't find a way to adequately staff the department. Then, when a dispatcher makes the wrong choice in an impossible situation, they're scapegoated, and no one seems to notice that they've been put into an impossible situation by the very people who then scapegoated them.

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"A couple days ago I heard a group of teenagers loudly singing songs about Jesus in a park. I'm assuming you'd also recommend the police be notified about this potential terrorist activity?"

Singing about Jesus is not threatening in the same way as shouting the things I quoted. This is, quite frankly, obvious.

Also, if that group of teenagers had just happened to wander around the entire park until they discovered a family of religious Jews dressed in traditional attire and chosen that particular location to settle down and start singing, well then yes, I might very well have recommended that the police be notified.

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I wonder how long it will take for the terrorists to figure out that making themselves obvious is an extremely effective cover. After all, the police didn't think it worth investigating the folks who were worrying us even when we called them about it and asked them to do so, and most of the other people at the park besides us seemed content to ignore them, even going so far as to consciously avoid looking over at them.

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(I think I accidentally posted this anonymously, and it doesn't look like it showed up. Hopefully it'll show up this time.)

I didn't say harassment, I said assault, which has a lower threshold.

My wife believes that they may have been directing their screaming at a large, obviously Muslim family sitting behind us. If so, then it seems rather likely that what they were doing was criminal assault.

I don't think a police dispatcher sitting in a comfy chair at HQ is in a position to evaluate properly whether a crime was committed in a situation like this. That's why they're supposed to send police out to look into complaints that get called in. But of course, they can't do that nowadays because every police force is so astoundingly understaffed.

Independent of all that, the job of police isn't, or shouldn't be, merely to arrest people to commit crimes. Even if something a stupid kid or drunk grown-up is doing isn't technically a crime, if it's sufficiently annoying to surrounding people, then a little chat with a man in blue is usually both appropriate and sufficient to put a stop to the behavior. But again, police don't usually do this kind of thing anymore, even though I think it would make for a great improvement in quality of life for most people, because the police departments are so understaffed that they just don't have time for it.

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I've spoken to three different people at the State Police about my letter. All of them believe that the incident was handled improperly and that a cruiser should have been sent out in response to my call to investigate. I also found out, this morning, that the Cambridge Police dispatcher never forwarded the information I gave her back to the State Police as she claimed she was going to do.

You can read additional details on my main blog at http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/... .

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