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9-1-1: A user's perspective
The Puerto Rico Parade is today in North Philadelphia, I guess. I live up here, but I never really know what's going on until I see it happening (I didn't know Sugar House had even been built until someone told me they were going to go to it -- I tune some stuff out, what can I say?). I know when it's the day of the parade because Puerto Rico flags appear everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It's tough to miss. Things get a little crazy during the parade. To say the least about the most. That's why I got to try out using the city's 9-1-1 system today.
I was taking a buddy of mine to the train station. Right after pulling out from my block, I was about to turn onto 8th from Huntingdon when I saw this guy blast across the street and head up the sidewalk, going north, on a dirt bike. Dirt bikes are one of the awful things about living in North Philadelphia. A lot of young men think it's okay to ride dirt bikes and ATVs up here going way too fast and disobeying all traffic laws and showing a complete disregard for other people's safety.
Now, not only is it messed up that this guy was taking the sidewalk on his dirt bike, but it was also just weird. He wasn't going against the flow of traffic. Why didn't he go on the street? The sidewalk is a lot more narrow, too, and it's tricky because it isn't even and folks have stoops and random junk on it. And on a day like today, there's a lot of people hanging out on the sidewalk. Like, you know, kids. Little, little kids. And old people. Very slow old people. That's why it really made me mad to see this jerk heading up the sidewalk on an 100cc dirtbike.
And he wasn't good on it. As we turned onto 8th, we could see he was really wobbly. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he was just a crappy rider. Anyway, he looked badly unbalanced.
Wobbly enough, in fact, that he hit a lady standing on her stoop. She was in her late middle ages. Right next to her was a little girl, probably five, who totally freaked out when she saw her mom (grandmom?) hit and on the ground and looking hurt.
My buddy and I stopped. He was in the passenger seat so he got out to see if she needed a lift to the hospital. Of course, neighborhood folks were coming out of their houses to scream at the guy. He stopped and came back. Enough people saw it that he couldn't get away with it. A really really big guy showed up. I'm guessing they all knew him. He looked contrite, but that doesn't make it okay.
Meanwhile, I pulled over and called 9-1-1. Here's how I remember the call.
First, I called and got an answer. I said that a woman had been hit by a dirt bike and police were needed. They transferred me to the fire department, even though I thought I'd made it pretty clear that the police were probably the first order of business.
That took probably 30 seconds. When I got to another dispatcher I told them that a woman was hit but she was standing now. I didn't think an ambulance was needed so much as police to arrest the guy and also to protect him from an increasingly tense situation.
In what seemed like a rather bored way, they told me that police would be dispatched. I asked if they needed my name as a witness. The dispatcher told me no, they didn't need it. I asked her if they needed me to stick around. The answer, and I quote: "If you like."
Maybe this was appropriate procedure. Maybe the phone record was as good as my name? I don't know. To me, it just seemed really strange. In my mind, a crime had been committed. People might start hitting each other any minute -- or worse. Here I was volunteering to get involved in whatever way the police needed. I was not embracing the "stop snitching" culture. I was more than happy to snitch. Reckless dirt bike riders are a real problem here. We had a chance for police to send a message to these riders that they have to show respect for their fellow human being, but the 9-1-1 system wasn't interested. It didn't want my involvement.
In fact, if there wasn't serious bleeding, it didn't really sound like they were that interested in the whole situation.
I didn't really know what to do at that point. Folks from the block had the guy pretty well surrounded and they were browbeating the hell out of him, but what good would that really do? The woman who'd been hit was standing. She was bleeding a little, but it was superficial. There didn't seem to be a reason for us to stick around and the dispatcher had all but instructed me to leave.
And my buddy needed to catch a train.
So we left. It didn't feel like we were accomplishing anything by being there.
My call to 9-1-1 felt like a stupid and useless thing to have done, and it didn't increase my confidence in the system.