America’s police forces have been under the gun for the past couple of years. In some jurisdictions, like Minneapolis, it is positively dangerous (SPOILER ALERT: the cause of George Floyd’s death was mostly George Floyd and the conviction of the police officers was a grotesque travesty of justice perpetrated to appease a media-acceptable lynch mob). For ever instance of , though, you can find cases of cops raiding the wrong homes, seizing money and property for sh**s and grins, acting like neighborhood bullies and as stormtroopers for the regime by arresting people who were without face masks, breaking up funerals and gunning down unarmed protesters whose politics are not shared by the regime.
The attention devoted to alleged police inaction has often been accompanied by commentary on a Supreme Court case, Town of Castle Rock vs. Gonzales, where the Court ruled that police do not have an obligation to protect citizens. In particular, how that decision might have rationalized the actions of police at two school shootings, Parkland, FL, and Uvalde, TX, the first officers on the scene were ordered not to take action to stop the slaughter.
Not all cases of police “inaction,” though, are equal. The Washington Post is trying to spin a controversy out of the drowning of 34-year-old Sean Bickings in Tempe, AZ. The article is headlined Man drowns as Arizona police watch: ‘I’m not jumping in after you.’
Around 5 a.m., two Tempe police officers approached what looked like the aftermath of a domestic violence incident (my interpretation, not the Post’s) near Tempe’s reservoir. The officers received assurances from the woman at the scene that everything was completely normal and ran a check for outstanding warrants on the couple. Then the scene changed.
That’s when Bickings slowly climbed over a short fence dividing the boardwalk and the water. When one of the officers asked what Bickings was doing, Bickings replied that he was going “for a swim.”
“I’m free to go, right?” Bickings asked.
The officers said he was not allowed to swim in the lake, but Bickings waded in and started swimming a freestyle stroke toward a bridge, according to the body-camera footage.
“How far do you think he’s going to be able to swim?” one of the officers asked, according to the footage.
Two of the officers then walked onto the bridge Bickings had swum under and watched him, according to the body-camera footage, which at that point ends “due to the sensitive nature of the remaining portion of the recording,” officials wrote at the end of the video.
Instead, the city provided a transcript of the remaining portion, which indicates that Bickings became increasingly distressed as he remained in the water. Bickings told the officers he was going to “drown,” according to the transcript.
“No, you’re not,” an officer, identified as Officer 2, replied.
Officer 1 then directed Bickings to “go to the pylon and hold on.”
“I’m drowning,” Bickings said.
“Come back over to the pylon,” Officer 2 said.
“I can’t,” Bickings said. “I can’t.”
“Okay, I’m not jumping in after you,” Officer 1 said.
Bickings then begged for help and said moments later, “I can’t touch. Oh God. Please help me. Help me.”
Bickings’s partner then joined the officers and begged them to help Bickings, according to the transcript. The officers told her to persuade Bickings to swim toward the bridge pylon. She tried and became increasingly upset. At one point, according to the transcript, Bickings’s partner tried to jump over the railing to help Bickings but did not end up doing so.
“I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help,” Bickings’s partner said.
The officers continued to tell her to calm down, saying a third officer was getting a boat.
“No, no, no. Swim,” the woman replied, using an expletive.
“You’re not helping,” Officer 2 said.
Moments later, Officer 1 said that Bickings “went underneath and hasn’t come up since about 30 seconds ago.”
For the remainder of the transcript, the officers did not address Bickings. Bickings’s partner continued to tell the officers that she loved Bickings.
“He’s everything I got,” she said. “I can’t lose him, he’s going to die.”
Officials said Bickings swam no more than 40 yards before he became distressed and “soon went under and did not resurface.”
Three officers involved in this incident were suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. The police union says the officers were neither trained nor equipped for rescues in the water.
I’ve got to say, I have no issue with the actions of these two officers. The outcome is tragic, but there is no way possible that a sane person should jump into the water to attempt to rescue an adult-sized man unless they are an exceptional swimmer. There is no evidence that one or both of those officers diving in would have resulted in anything but more corpses to be recovered.
The only person to blame is the guy who climbed into the reservoir after being told swimming was prohibited and drowned.
There is no inconsistency in saying the officers at Parkland and Uvalde who stood by as kids were shot should be told to seek other employment and giving these two cops a pass. The officers at the school shootings were trained in how to respond to a tactical situation. They had the training and the equipment to respond. They outnumbered the shooter. Yes, there was risk involved, but in both cases, there were enough officers present that they could have overcome the shooters and saved lives even if one of them had been killed or wounded. In the Tempe case, the officers did not have the gear or training required to intervene with any chance of saving Bickings, and they would have done so at great risk to themselves for no purpose other than virtue signaling and winning a participation trophy.
Cops are people; they aren’t superheroes. In fact, most aren’t even regular heroes. What Kipling said about soldiers applies equally to police officers, “We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too.” They want to go home, alive, at the end of their watch and not face life in prison for making high-stakes decisions under stress with incomplete information. When police officers, like at Parkland and Uvalde, fail–or refuse–to do what they are trained to do, they deserve public censure and more. But, when they refuse to take a stupid and low-percentage risk, we need to respect that decision.