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.

This post was parody, right?

It reads exactly like something from a workshop on unexamined privilege. I actually signed up for an account here solely to note that there's nothing whatsoever progressive about this post or the ideas behind it.

Unexamined Privilege?

Would that be your privilege to post something as empty as thirty minutes of Glenn Beck?

It's Good For People To Report How Systems Actually Work

I think that it's good to get reports on how systems serving the public--911, 311, benefit application systems, etc.--actually work. Brady Dale gives us a valueable account of his moment by moment thoughts, his actions, and his general orientation towards his neighborood.

It is not clear from the account what crime the dirt bike rider committed, if any: the remedy of the injured woman may lie in civil litigation, if anywhere. A problem in Philadelphia is that there is so much extremely serious crime that marginal possible offenses tend to be given low priority by the police. The extent of the dirt bike rider's liability, civil or criminal, will depend on the amount of harm done to the injured woman: that will take time to discover, after x-rays and her experience with pain, walking around, and engaging in the tasks of daily life. I know firsthand how bike accidents can affect their victims: my father's last years were sometimes more painful because an energetic five year old riding a tricycle bowled him over while he was walking on the Ocean City, New Jersey Boardwalk in his late 80's.

That being said, the obvious fact that dirt bike riders exist in large numbers in North Philadelphia because of the poverty there could have been mentioned. It costs a lot of money to maintain a car: maintenance, repairs,and insurance often far exceed the cost of an inexpensive used car. It is highly unlikely that significant numbers of dirt bike riders own cars. I understand the concern of csd: a driver of a car is certainly in a position of economic privilege compared with the rider of a dirt bike. But that does not excuse dirt bike riding that endangers other people's lives, or mean that people of middle class status cannot act as good samaritans to try to help others of lesser financial means.

Thanks for having my back, Rep Cohen, but....

Thanks for defending the basis of the post, but I still want to grapple with some of your assumptions here.

So, turns out the parade is today. What do I know? I saw a lot of flags and it seemed like the party was on in town yesterday, so I sorta assumed it was yesterday, but I got home tonight and found that the informal parade was still in full swing when I got home. Stupid me.

I could see some folks feeling uncomfortable about the fact that I even mentioned the parade. Why did I think it was important to ground the whole post in that. And I'll tell you, because I can appreciate the concern.

In my experience in North Philadelphia, dirt bikes aren't used for transportation. They are, on the streets of North Philadelphia, used in roughly the same way as they are used in my home state of Kansas, as purely recreational vehicles. The problem is that when they are used recreationally on busy city streets when a lot of other folks are out recreating in non-vehicular ways, it gets dangerous. It gets really dangerous.

If someone knows of people who use dirt bikes or ATVs to get to work, let me know, but I don't think that's how anyone uses them. That's sure as hell not what this guy was doing yesterday.

Folks in North Philadelphia, on balance, really hate the dirt bikes and ATVs up here. Everyone I've ever talked to about them wishes that folks would stop riding them, at least in the really dangerous ways that they do. But there is a segment of the community that does it. A lot. That doesn't mean that the community approves of it, though.

I think when educated, upper class progressive look at communities, we often look at them with eyes that are so ill inclined to offer any sort of criticism that we end up behaving in a patronizing fashion.

I'm just reading between the lines, Rep. Cohen, and I know you know people in this town and are on the good team, so I say this with humility and respect, but I often see liberals so hesitate to criticize communities that they don't understand that when they see something widespread and problematic that they try to make up "good reasons" for the behavior that excuses because they don't want to be caught saying anything negative about a group of people they don't really know. For fear of being called racist or judgemental or classist.

But look, dirt bikes are, overwhelmingly, used an irresponsible fashion in North Philadelphia. That's not to say that North Philadelphians are irresponsible. Like I said, most people here disapprove of how they are used.

Let's use a parallel example to make my point: in Washington Square West there is still a remnant street prostitution business and the remains of a red light district. Now, I can tell you, folks in Washington Square West want both of these aspects of their community out. That said, there are, no doubt, some people who live in Washington Square West who still patronize the prostitutes and the sex shops that remain there.

But "Washington Square West" no more condones the illegal sex trade in its borders than "North Philadelphia" condones irresponsible use of dirt bikes and ATVs. See what I'm saying?

Which brings me to why I grounded this whole question in the parade. Bopping around North Philadelphia yesterday, the energy was definitely increasing. The parties were starting. The celebrating felt like it had begun. When I saw this guy shooting up on the sidewalk on his dirt bike, it definitely looked like he was on a pure joy ride. I could be wrong, but he looked like he was a bit drunk and he was partying. The ride was grounded, it seemed to me, in the general atmosphere of having a good time that was setting in.

As often happens at parties, a lot of people have a good time and some folks go to far. This guy took his party too far and someone really did get hurt. There was a little girl right there and it could have been a lot worse, too.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

Why I am pretty sure it was a crime

What crimes were committed?

I thought these were pretty self-evident, but here's what I think was done wrong.

1) Riding a dirt bike. I'm pretty sure these things aren't street legal. Even being on one is, technically, against the law, tho I have it on pretty good authority that that cops have decided that this is a fight they can't win and are looking the other way.

I think that sucks.

Maybe it is legal to ride a dirt bike in the city, but I'm pretty sure the next one isn't.

2) Riding a dirt bike on the side walk. This is definitely an offense.

3) He looked drunk. He was riding really, really wobbly, so that would be an offense to. I don't know, though, I didn't give him a blood test.

4) Simple assault. Hitting someone with a deadly object counts as simple assault even if they aren't hurt that bad, right? I feel like this one counts, even it it's not intentional. I could be wrong about this. I'm not a lawyer.

5) Again, not a lawyer, but I've heard of "reckless endangerment." This was such grotesquely reckless behavior it makes me mad to even think about it. Riding a dirt bike on a sidewalk is bad. Riding it up a North Philadelphia sidewalk on a nice afternoon tho is just beyond the pale. This is a chunk of town where people get out on the street and hang out. Kids run around. Grandmas hang on the stoop.

In fact, kids were playing and grandmas were on the stoop. That's why one got hit and a little girl almost got hit.

I also think it's a little silly to put an analysis of our relative economic status in this question, either. I'm not trying to aggrandize myself. I'm telling a story I happen to think is kind of important. A story where a real person got hurt and the city didn't really seem to care. I'm no "good samaritan." A lot of people stepped into it in their own way. I did it in my way, and that happens to be by writing a blog I happen to be involved with.

I've lived up here for five years now, so I think I am one of the neighbors now. I've not lived here as long as a lot of people, but I'm not new, either.

And having a car really isn't that unusual up here. In fact, I'm sure there's more cars per person here than there are in center city. That's not to say people have more money here, but it is to say it's silly to jump to any conclusions about the the fact that I was in a car. In fact, we had three or four cars blocked behind us. Were they the privileged North Philadelphians too?

In fact, I don't have a car. I had this one on loan for the afternoon for boring reasons that aren't really worth going into, but it wasn't mine. In fact, since I continue to submit that dirt bikes are recreational vehicles, I'm willing to bet that the average user of an ATV or a dirt bike probably has a car in his or her house because it's a sign of living in a home that can afford to own a recreational motor vehicle.

I'm definitely jumping to conclusions on that one, but... what the heck. Everyone else is?

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

Why it's progressive

A #1 on things I didn't really think I had to defend myself on is the question of whether or not I'm progressive, but I'm willing to bet we don't know each other, so I'll treat this as a serious question.

And, to a degree, I guess I see where you are coming from. So let's talk about it. Here's why this point matters.

It's important that government works well. Defending the positive role of government in people's lives is a big part of progressive work. Especially the work of the Philadelphia progressive. Since we don't know each other, I'm going to keep this simple and say that I've earned my stripes in the Philadelphia progressive world in more ways than merely blogging, so I think others in it will be comfortable with me characterizing it in this way.

So, if you'll grant me this: that it's important that government works well, I'll go a bit further and say that this question of whether or not government works well in Philadelphia has been an important question in this space for years. One of the nice things about writing in this space (and it's one of the big reasons I wrote this post), is that a lot of folks in Philadelphia government are lurkers here, and they don't like it when their department gets a negative report on YPP. If you tried to give the City feedback privately, you're likely to find that feedback ignored or responded to defensively; however, if it's here, they are more likely to pay attention to it and do something about it. Maybe we'll never know what they did, but this space still has a bit of clout.

Further, it's a question for progressives because if we aren't vigilant about making sure government works well, then when it starts to falter, we give the opposition, who want nothing more than to shrink and strangle government, more fodder for pointing to government inneficiency. We can't be delicate with government, especially not Philadelphia government. We have to get in its face to make sure it works for all of us.

And since it sounds like you are new to YPP, you should know that we've been talking about the responsiveness of the city for a long time. Councilman Kenney argued in this space, for some time, about the need for a 3-1-1 system, for example, as a way to make government serve people better. 3-1-1 is 9-1-1's little brother, so I thought folks might be interested in what I saw in using it.

9-1-1, after all, is really, really important. It's the first line of defense for people at some of the most urgent moments in their lives. If you don't care about whether not not 9-1-1 works, then you are a long way from really caring about people. All people. Poor. Rich. Black. White. Whatever. People from every segment of life need 9-1-1, and usually when they need it to work they really, really need it to work.
As for your comment about "unexamined privilege," I'm just going to leave this one. That comment doesn't amount to anything more than p.c. name calling. I find when people make accusations in that sort of language, especially to strangers, well, it just doesn't lead anywhere intelligent or edifying for either party.

You don't know me. I don't know you. Maybe you should hang out here a bit longer before being quite so judgemental, tho. In my humble opinion.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.


If you think 911 is bad wait until you try 311

I thought that the initial

I thought that the initial rollout of 311 met w/very positive feedback.


It's Been Nearly Two Years Now

It's been nearly two years now. Remember the promises of how the city was going to gain valuable information as to how systems function so that we would be better able to direct expenditures? We are still waiting for a list of great improvements that have been made in service delivery as a result of the 311 system. Some people have used it and like it; others have used it and strongly dislike it because of disappointing results. It is a city expenditure like any other city expenditure, and it deserves thorough analysis of its costs and benefits by the City Council and concerned citizens.

I have been disappointed, but I still like the idea

I've tried to use it a bunch of times and usually with lackluster or frustrating results. I still have high hopes for the system and it is still very new.

It really sucks that it's only available during normal business hours right now, though. It's a budget thing, but in my experience it's usually when the other departments AREN'T open that I'm most likely to want to talk to someone at 3-1-1.

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

311 Links Callers To Departments

311 links callers to departments. They have some information in the computer database, but most of the answers to questions comes from live people in the departments. If the people in the departments have gone home, then the 311 people cannot answer many of the questions that people have. 311 after the departments have closed down for the day is a lot less effective than 311 before the departments have closed down for the day.

I generally have gotten good connections from 311

The 3-4 times I've used it.

Most recently, when I was planning an event at City Hall, I needed to know who was responsible, and the operator told me and quickly connected me to the appropriate office.

It seems to me -- and again I'm basing this on relatively few experiences -- that the more you know about whom you need to call, the less relevant 311 is for you.

But if you don't know what office in government is responsible for a function or service you need to communicate with, it seems useful.

Will it reduce or even eliminate the role that district council offices play in providing functions and services, such as fixing potholes and streetlights or getting response from a city agency?

That remains to be seen. I believe it should. I'm guessing it will take a communications campaign for it to work the way that advocates want it to.

Regarding the more important points of your post, first of all, I hope that woman is ok. Have your seen or heard anything more from her?

About 911 reform -- reform in any government agency has to be considered an ongoing process not a one-and-done deal -- I'm surprised no one in city government seems to have anything to say. Your experience is not ok. I wonder if there's been a recent formal assessment of 911. Sounds like a question for the mayor and a job for Chief Ramsay.

About the need to deal with dirt bikes and crappy drivers who sometimes operate them recklessly on sidewalks, I totally agree.

Here's an easy target for someone in city government who wants to look tough and make a few headlines.

Hello? Isn't there an election next year? I'd be happy to offer a platform at Philly For Change meetup for discussing this issue.

When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion.
--Abraham Lincoln


Me again.

I apologize for the terse post earlier. Instead of making a snarky comment, I should have written this: I think the idea that, even though the people in the community seemed to be handling the situation, what was needed was to "send a message" to the rider (who I think we can all agree is in the wrong, shouldn't have been doing what he was doing, could have seriously hurt someone, etc) by being arrested, charged and convicted is problematic. For reasons that are laid out well elsewhere, I find it unlikely that sending the rider through the criminal justice system and then back out into the world with a criminal record is going to lead to better outcomes for him, the community or the City. I suspect that the people who live on that block find it unlikely as well.

Wanting a person and, by extension, a community, to suffer negative outcomes to "send a message" is not progressive thinking. These communities (and, yes, I used to live in North Philly as well) have already gotten the message that the police do not like them, understand them, or care about them. It's easy to say that the cops should show up and throw the guy in jail. But it's not a good solution, and it's not a progresive one.

As an aside, I'm not sure why you feel as though your call was stupid and useless. You called 911. EMS (in Philadelphia, Fire and EMS are integrated; that's why you spoke to a fire dispatcher) and police were dispatched. They have the expertise to deal with the situation. Philadelphia has E-911 capability; in the unlikely event that the police need further information from you they can and will contact you. You set the wheels in motion; there was no need for you to stick around. The dispatcher made you feel like you were no longer needed because you weren't.

Well that's considerably more constructive

So, rather than not one thing being progressive, one pretty little aspect of it isn't progressive. Fine. I can see where you are coming from. I don't like locking everyone up either, but I guess I have to turn the question back on you:

What do you do about curtailing reckless behavior besides punishing people?

Look, I'm the first to agree that a lot of illicit activity happens because there are poor people don't think they have a shot at any real income in the legitimate business world, but people don't ride dirt bikes down sidewalks or drag race against each other thru stop lights at 50 miles per hour because they are poor. They do it because they are jerks.

I get just as mad about other forms of crazy irresponsible driving. People who speed too much. Drive aggressively. Ignore pedestrians. Have you ever noticed that on the high ways when someone is being a gigantic jerk and driving way too fast it's almost always a luxury car? All this stuff ticks me off and I wish crackdowns would happen on all of it. Folks need to start understanding the idea that they are putting others at risk again.

So what intervention do you propose besides arrests?

This Too Will Pass, for the guts in your cerebrum.

RE: being transfered to the

RE: being transfered to the FD. When you said someone was struck by a vehicle, the call became one of a medical emergency by default. Even if that wasn't your intent. The call is then routed to FD to dispatch EMS. SOP

I'm not really sure how you could have phrased the incident to focus first on the law enforcement side, other than leaving out the entire part about someone injured.

Overall, we're pretty disappointed in 9-1-1 and police response. If it's not gun shots or a life threatening incident (or somehow 'terrorism' related, I'd guess), I really don't expect any timely response to calls to 9-1-1. Basically, there are not enough cops on the beat to respond to everything in a timely fashion.

(My wife once found a young child in the park without any supervision; response time to that was nearly 45 minutes.)

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