west.mIt's a horrible story all around. A mom called the police. Her son was trying to commit suicide. He was going to drown himself. But when help responded -- firefighters and police both -- they just stood on the beach and watched 53-year-old Raymond Zack die. What a bunch of jerks, right?

It pains me to say this, but not really. They did the right thing. They protected their city from the lunacy of a litigious society. See, in Alameda, California, police and firefighters are not trained for land-to-water rescue situations because of budget constraints (they're looking into that now).

If they'd entered the water and, God forbid, failed at the mission, they would have left the city up wide open to a lawsuit with merit. These are the kinds of things that bankrupt entire cities, affecting anywhere from hundreds to thousands of residents. We're talking city employees -- like the firemen and police -- but also the residents, whose lives are thrown into turmoil when their taxes suddenly skyrocket to help a city cover its bills, when they suddenly have to find resources to manage garbage collection and the like. In short: total social upheaval ... and all because a few guys disregarded orders to play hero. 

Who's the jerk now?

Studies have proven that even when cops do indeed do something wrong, and the city is successfully sued, it isn't the cop who pays but the taxpayers -- often as much as three times over to cover the damages. The monies generally come not from the police fund but the general fund, which means a reduction in the kinds of services that the average citizen depends on -- again, Tom, Dick, and Harry are getting hit, not the cop who did or didn't do a good job.

These kinds of figures leave cities, leave emergency workers, hog-tied. They're damned by the threat of lawsuits in court if they do. They're damned by the court of public opinion if they don't.

So I'll leave it to you. Should they have gone in to rescue this suicidal man against orders? Or should they have done their jobs?

 

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