I just mailed off this letter:
August 7, 2006
Governor Mitt Romney
Office of the Governor, Room 360
Boston, MA 02133
Secretary Robert Haas
Executive Office of Public Safety
One Ashburton Place, Suite 2133
Boston, MA 02108
Superintendent Mark F. Delaney
Massachusetts State Police
470 Worcester Road
Framingham, MA 01702
Acting Commissioner Albert Goslin
Boston Police Department
One Schroeder Plaza
Boston, MA 02120-2014
Police Commissioner Ronnie Watson
5 Western Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
If the experience I had yesterday is any indication, then we might as well invite the terrorists to attack us, because our local and state law enforcement agencies don’t seem to have a clue about how, working either alone or together, to respond quickly to potential threats.
My family had a picnic dinner last night on the Charles River Reservation in Brighton, a few hundred feet to the west of Charles River Canoe and Kayak. At around 6:30pm, several men in the woods on the other side of the river began repeatedly shouting some very worrisome things, including “Jihad!”, “9/11 Power!”, and “God is great!” While shouting these things, one or more of them repeatedly moved into a small clearing along the bank and then back out of sight in the trees, as if adjusting something I couldn’t make out in the clearing.
The behavior of these men was sufficiently alarming to my wife and me that I called 911 on my cellular telephone at around 6:40pm to report it and ask that someone be sent to investigate.
I reached a State Police dispatcher, to whom I briefly described the situation. He asked where I was, and based on my answer he transferred me to the Boston Police. Note that although I was in Brighton, the people about whom I was calling were in Cambridge, on the other side of the river. I did tell the dispatcher this before he transferred me to the Boston Police.
I explained the situation again to the Boston Police dispatcher, and she transferred me to the Cambridge Police.
I explained the situation a third time to the Cambridge Police dispatcher. She informed me that there was nothing she could do about it since the people in question were simply exercising their First Amendment rights. In response, I explained to her that while I had a great deal of respect for the First Amendment, I was calling because their manner seemed dangerous and threatening and didn’t she think it might be a good idea for a cruiser to swing by and check it out? She put me on hold, then came back and informed me that the riverbank was the juridsiction of the State Police and she was going to transfer me to them.
She attempted to transfer me back to the State Police but was unable to do so. She informed me of this and asked for my name and telephone number, which she said she would pass on to the State Police along with the other information I’d given her. I have no idea if she actually did so.
Independent of whether the people we were worried about were terrorists, and indeed it seems rather more likely that they weren’t, what they were doing was certainly disturbing the peace and perhaps even verbal assault (since it may have been directed at specific individuals). The Cambridge dispatcher’s assertion that it was protected free speech was simply absurd; it was a crime, and someone should have done something about it. The pass-the-buck game the dispatchers played was equally absurd.
In an ideal world, the treatment received by a private citizen calling 911 would inspire confidence in the ability of the police to protect people from crime and terrorism. In reality, it seems designed to inspire confidence only in the criminals and terrorists.
Jonathan I. Kamens
cc: The Boston Herald
The Boston Globe
The Cambridge Chronicle
The Allston-Brighton Tab