The whole nation is celebrating the return of the three Cleveland women held in captivity for over ten years. As Americans and residents of Cleveland wipe the tears of joy from their eyes, questions arise about whether the Cleveland police could have found these young women years ago. Did the police miss clues? Did some show a lack of empathy? The 911 call might shed some clues.
Amanda Berry and the missing Cleveland women
The three young Cleveland women were missing for more than a decade. Two of the three were teenagers when they disappeared. The third was 20. Monday a woman made a frantic 911 call identifying herself as Amanda Berry. She said she has been on the news for 10 years. She said she was free now and needed help.
The 911 operator seemed to be callous and non-empathetic to the caller. After a few routine questions, she seemed uninterested in what Amanda was saying and told Ms. Berry “just tell that to the police when they get there.” The hysterical victim insisted she needed the police to come “now” before her captor came back. In this video of the recording of Amanda Berry’s 911 call, the 911 operator responded that as soon as a car frees up we’ll send one. After Amanda persisted, the operator said a car was on its way.
At no time did she ask if the woman needed medical assistance. She did not stay on the line to insure Amanda’s safety even though the victim expressed terror that her captor might return. There was no empathy in the tone of the operator. Perhaps she was just following procedures.
Thank God for Amanda Berry. Se freed herself and the other women. The police did not find them.
The 911 operator’s “all-business attitude” might give a clue to the way the Cleveland Police Department prioritizes missing person cases. Other clues have emerged as well.
The Police Department acknowledged it came to the residence where the girls were being held on another unrelated matter one time after their disappearance. They indicated the office left when no one answered the door. They maintain there were no other calls to that residence.
Neighbors, however, tell a different story. At least two neighbors are telling reporters there were disturbing things at that house. One said that she called 911 a few years ago after seeing a woman and a baby at a window pounding. Another man said he called the police after seeing a “naked” woman crawling in the back yard on a leash. In both cases, neighbors said the police came, knocked on the door, and left.
The Cleveland Police Department vigorously denies the calls happened.
Procedures for 911 operators
Does the seeming lack of empathy of the 911 operator give a clue to why police officers might not even document their response to the calls, if the neighbors are being truthful? Did the Police Department miss an opportunity to find these women?
The Constitution protects Americans from unlawful searches and seizures. The Police probably found no probable cause to seek a warrant to search the property. But should they have at least documented the contact so when the second suspicious report came in, they might see a pattern that could be probable cause?
Should they update their procedures for 911 operators as well? More importantly, should the Department review how seriously they take missing person cases?
Missing persons in the U.S.
There are over 600,000 missing person cases a year in the U.S. Most are resolved in a day or two because the person was not really missing. Some of those are runaways or adults that are just walking away from their life. Unfortunately up to 10% of those are really victims of a crime—kidnapping or worse. A situation like Cleveland is rare, but it is atrocious.
There were heroes in Cleveland—Amanda Berry and the neighbor, Charles Ramsey, who heard her screams, got involved, and helped rescue her and ultimately three others. All Americans need to pay attention to how a neighbor, who saw something, did something. He got involved. Police Departments everywhere need to review their policies to make sure they do not miss opportunities if there is a similar case in their town.
Let’s hope America does not turn its back on these victims now. They will need help for years.
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