By Tim Cushing
I will faithfully serve and protect my community…
– A Hippocratic Oath for Policing, the National Police Foundation
To Protect and To Serve
– The Los Angeles Police Department motto, adopted in 1955[N]othing in the language of the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors…
– US Supreme Court, DeShaney v. Winnebago County, 1989
There is no legal obligation for police officers to protect citizens. There may be a moral obligation. And there may be the obligation thrust on certain departments who’ve adopted mottos or decorated their badges with “protection” niceties, but that obligation only goes as far as the courts demand… which is nowhere.
That’s why we end up with this sort of protection/service far too often. (h/t WarOnPrivacy)
Seventy-year-old Bill Norkunas, a childhood polio survivor, headed over to the light and flicked it on hoping to scare away whoever was there. Instead, the light was a beacon drawing a young man to his front door, a door made of glass.
And then for the next 15 minutes, Norkunas stood there, barefoot and unclothed, with his crutches, on one side of the glass pane trying to steady a gun in his trembling hand while the stranger stood on the other side, pounding on the door, banging it with his hip or gnawing at the thick hurricane-grade glass with a garden paver.[…]
And as bewildering, and just as terrifying to him, is the knowledge that a squad of Broward sheriff’s deputies responded to his Tamarac neighborhood, but none came close to his home to stop the man. Instead, they waited down the street until he walked over to them and surrendered, witnesses told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
It wasn’t just Norkunas involved in this. The man trying to break into his home had attempted to do the same thing at other houses in the neighborhood. 911 was besieged by calls from Norkunas’ neighbors. But apparently nothing they said made the Broward County Sheriff’s Department any more willing to confront the reported burglar. For this entire ordeal, deputies waited hundreds of feet away, apparently waiting for the problem to solve itself.
Instead of stopping the would-be-intruder at Norkunas’ door, witnesses said, the deputies stayed down the street and around a corner, some 500 yards away while Norkunas and his neighbors flooded the 911 emergency communications system begging for help for almost 15 minutes.
This was an actual emergency. The 70-year-old man asked 911 operators if it was OK for him to shoot the intruder if he managed to make his way into his house. Neighbors calling the dispatchers expressed similar concerns for the man’s safety. Meanwhile, 18 deputies stood by while this information was relayed, never moving for the fifteen minutes it took for the burglar to give up and surrender to law enforcement.
And the Broward County Sheriff’s Department — the same department that received deserved heat for its inadequate response to the Parkland school shooting in 2019 — has offered no satisfactory explanation for this lack of effort when citizens’ lives were on the line.
Norkunas said a sergeant explained procedures for setting up a perimeter so that Johnson could not escape, but also admitted they could have done better.
That’s a problem. There were 18 deputies at the scene. It only would have taken a handful to approach Norkunas’ house and attempt to apprehend the suspect. Not a single officer did. Instead, the amassed group of useless deputies lucked into an arrest when the suspect found them and turned himself in.
Because of this inaction, the relationship between the neighborhood and their alleged “protectors” has been irreparably damaged. One neighbor installed security cameras. Another stated she no longer “counts on police” to handle dangerous situations. And Nakounas has taken to carrying his gun with him at all times, even when taking his dog for a walk.
When the Supreme Court said police have no obligation to protect citizens, they took this to heart. The end result has been a stream of horrendous and horrifying incidents where police are willing cast aside their moral obligations just because they couldn’t be held legally liable for failing to “do better.” Not giving a shit still pays off, ensuring officers return home safely every night, even if those paying their salaries end up dead.