Friday, July 2, 2010

"911 Portals" And Their Role In "Decency Dead Zones"

Photo and blog post by John Hoff

A "decency dead zone" is an area where crime is persistent and dug in deeply, but for a number of reasons--some geographic, some social--nobody consistently calls 911 and 311 on the ongoing problems. Neighbors are either non-existent, waaaaaaay outnumbered, reluctant to get involved, or part of the problem itself. Usually, it's a complex combination of some or all of these factors. The term "decency dead zone" was coined here on this blog.

But, I would assert, URBAN GEOGRAPHY can play more of a role than social variables. There are some places where thugs have clear lines of sight, and can see the police coming from afar, but--worse yet--there are extremely limited "911 portals" nearby.

What, you may ask, is a "911 portal?" Well, once again, it's my own unique term. (Or, more precisely, the term is unique in the way I use it)

Here's what it is...

It's the place where citizens view the activity which causes them to dial 911. So, it may be their front porch, their bedroom window where they can hide behind pink chiffon curtains, or the large picture window in their living room. They look through these portals, view activity, and call 911. Their view from the portal is not all-encompassing: citizens are limited by their own abilities to see, to describe in the English language, to be confident of what they have seen, to react to the situation with clarity and the ability to convey information to the 911 system.

A 911 portal may be the square of sidewalk you stand upon, describing something a block away, worrying that you are out in the open and will be seen by thugs, and retaliated against. The portal might be highly mobile, as when one drives around on Penn Ave. N., calling in hookers, and you can zoom in close, see how the suspects are dressed, and then zoom away to call 911 out of sight.

The citizen using the 911 portal may be caught up in the action itself, and they often are. They may say, "There is a man standing outside my house yelling. What does he look like? Well, I am afraid to go to the window. He has a big hunk of cement, and I'm afraid he will throw it through the window..." Being caught up in the action, or the FEAR of being caught up, limits the willingness of citizens to call 911 in the first place. Of course, citizens who hate and/or fear the police are not going to call 911, even to the extreme of being shot by somebody and refusing to tell the police ANYTHING.

So, when considering a decency dead zone, ask yourself, "Where would somebody look and call 911? Who would that person be? Would that person actually call or avoid calling? How well can that person see from their portal? What would their portal be?"

Thinking like this, go stand somewhere like the Emerson Ave. Market, on Emerson Ave. N.

I would assert there is constant loitering and up-to-no-good hanging out in this area. But who is going to call the police? The people next door who have a loud domestic dispute on their front lawn while citizen do-gooders are trying to get a pair of shoes off the power line? The folks across the street who are seldom seen, seldom heard, heck, who knows if anybody even LIVES in those houses? The situation can fester for years until--for example--some slightly naive person from Wisconsin accidentally buys a house in the middle of a decency dead zone, wakes up one morning, and says, "Oh my God!"

Police procedure itself helps to create the "decency dead zones," because 911 data is used to figure out where cops should patrol. But who is going to call 911 from a window that doesn't EXIST?

The area around the Emerson Ave. Market, Wally's Foods, a certain apartment building near Hawthorne Crossings strip mall, and so forth, these are "decency dead zones." And part of the reason they exist and crime festers there, and police can't seem to get at the crime, is because few "911 portals" are nearby.

In a future blog post, I will discuss the role of "911 citizens," those ultra-involved citizens who, much like the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93--said, "We are going to something."


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the city could become more involved in creating 911 portals. Maybe even lifeguard type stands that citizen volunteers could occupy and report what they see. I saw something like this in the desert in the Southwest for reporting illegal aliens and it worked fairly well. The volunteer was so high up they were safe and just reported with their binoculars and walkee talkee or cell phone.

Another In NOMI said...

Citizen reports can't usually be the primary cause for a drug arrest. Unless you have special training or experience with drugs or drug users, the courts will say an arrest based only on your testimony isn't justified.

Since few citizens can meet the strict legal standards, officers who do have the training and experience must make their own observations and collect evidence the courts will accept.

One reason arrests can't be made just because someone says they saw a drug deal is that a significant number of such complaints are found to be invalid when they are investigated. This can happen when neighbors misinterpret what they see. Sometimes it happens because the drug complaint is revenge for other neighborhood problems.

Both your rights and those of other people have to be protected in the process of stopping drug trafficking.

Anonymous said...

That's a good idea. I'd worry about vandalism though, so we'd need to make sure we have 24 hour a day staff before we build any.

Anything we can do to shut down these decency dead zones is appreciated.

Hans said...

well it's about time to get in my '911 portal' and go for a drive. I hope I'm not the only one tonight...

Patrick said...

Excellent! Way to go Hans. I was out and made 4 911 and 2 311 calls. I had hoped for more but what are you going to do.

Keith Mikopa said...


Even if you don't see drug dealing, feel free to call 911 on people who like they might be drug dealers.

That way the cops will at least stop to shake them down and make darn sure they're not doing anything illegal.

Johnny Northside! said...

The chief of police has SPECIFICALLY REQUESTED residents to call 911 on developing problems.

Let us respond to this call for help, and volunteer to help the chief, and drive around and find the situations which need to be called in. We can report our actions here and rally each other to even more deeds of 911-calling daring!

Hans said...

Really Patrick? You made two 311 calls last night? That's interesting because they close at 7pm.

I mean it's not at all interesting because you are obviously a TROLL.

Patrick said...

Hans your a bit of a jerk. I didn't want to share this but.

"After hours and on weekends, the 311 Center will have automated technology to respond to hearing impaired callers. The TDD/TTY direct number for 311 is (612) 673-2157."

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of just making the 911 calls to get police traffic generated in the DDZ. Say you see three or more individuals wearing long tshirts congregating. Make the call to get the police on site. Just say it looks like a drug deal in progress. After enough of these the potential thugs occupying the DDZ should move on after enough of these type of calls. Even if the cops don't find drugs etc you likley can't be held liable for reporting what "looks" like a drug deal in progress. If you see a female in the same group you can also report pimp and prostitution activity as well just to add variety to the reporting.

Hans said...

Yes. I am a bit of a jerk... even condescending at times too.

Lars said...

I call 311 after hours too. I'm hearing impaired and love the TDD service.

Johnny Northside! said...

I think 911 calls need to be legitimate: thugs beckoning cars with head jerks, small items changing hands, that kind of thing. But, hey, I am happy to sponsor discussion. Whatever.