Missing persons and the cops
This is about my recent experience with seeking help from the cops. The question it raises is:
What do you do when someone you care about goes missing? Is there an alternative to calling the cops, for those of us only too aware that people in physical or mental distress who need help stand an unreasonably high chance of being shot dead by those who are supposedly sworn to "protect and serve"?
The other day, I had a very uncomfortable dilemma. I admit I probably handled it badly. I'd love to hear advice from others about alternatives I could have pursued.
The problem was, my father went missing for several days. He is getting along in years, has some mild dementia, and is prone to getting confused and losing his bearings sometimes. He also suffers some vision impairment. I worry that he could get injured or taken advantage of by someone if he's not careful.
Now, I generally know better than to deal with cops, if I can possibly help it, most of the time. Because people who need their help all too often wind up dead at their hands. And, having done a lot of observation and thinking about the matter, I think I have a pretty good inkling about why that is.
American police psychology makes them unable to relate to the community in a healthy way. This psychology, in turn, is promoted by the world of corporate media, the same corporate media that brings us sensationalist fearmongering about "criminals" and "terrorists" and glamorizes the cult of personality around all kinds of authority and status symbols: police, "Rambo," the military, political and business leaders, etc. It is a fascist propaganda system and it induces a fascistic, paranoid psychology, of which police officers partake, not unlike other social groups.
In short, American cops watch too many American cops shows. No big surprise there. And they buy into the same mythologies that are promoted by those shows to the rest of the society. Like the notion that police work is somehow an exceptionally dangerous, high risk occupation. (But as a matter of fact, mythology is precisely the word for this fantasy. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to the US government's own Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/12/305421.shtml).
But despite knowing this, I felt very torn. I felt compelled to do _something_, to prove to the world that I'm a conscientious son. I felt that surely I would be expected to file a missing person's report, and if anything happened to him, surely people would quiz me as to why I didn't do so. So admittedly, I panicked just a bit, and then just decided that, politics be damned, it was more important to think about my father. And then it helped to rationalize that, "hey, he's a well-to-do, elderly white man -- what does he have to worry about from cops?" It's horrific that we live in a society where people can still trade on such racial privilege. But it's a fact of life.
So I called them. And I had an interesting experience -- although maybe one that I would sooner have done without.
Two officers came out to take the report from me. And interestingly, it was almost as if they were handpicked by central casting to allay my concerns.
Both were women. The older one was a white lady. The younger one -- a trainee about to enter the academy, as it turned out -- was a demure, pretty young Chicana or mixed race person. So much for all my mental stereotypes of the cops as a gang of macho, triggerhappy white male yahoos.
But what happened next more than confirmed everything I already thought and knew. After giving a brief description of my father, the circumstances of his disappearance, the steps I had taken so far, etc, the senior cop asked me for some "identification." So I gave them both a couple of business cards (they met me at my work, downstairs in the lobby; my business cards are imprinted with my work's business address, office phone number, and email). "No," the officer said, "I need ID; just routine, to make sure you are who you say you are."
Since I had already decided to seek their help, I was in no frame of mind to make an issue of it. But the absurdity of it still struck me. Who else on earth is really so suspicious that they would refuse to take a business card from someone, while standing right there outside their place of business, but would demand "official ID"?? And what is really the probability of anyone ever involving the cops in such an elaborate ruse as to print fake business cards and distribute them to the cops in front of the real address listed on them?? (I had called them originally from the same number on the cards, of course. And they, with their cop resources, like reverse phone directories, can readily verify such things.)
So I showed her my driver's license ("no, can you take it completely out of your wallet, please?", not an easy feat with my wallet in particular).
Next, the senior officer said we should start out first by going to my father's residence. Maybe he wandered back home just as we were speaking. Or maybe we could find clues there as to his whereabouts. I agreed that that made sense.
"Why don't you ride with us? You can show us exactly where it is. That's probably fastest." I agreed.
But next, she said, "Now, I don't want to shock you, but do you mind if I ask if I can pat you down for weapons? We have to do this. Those are the rules, you see, for anyone who rides with us. And we can't treat anyone special. I'm sure you understand."
Now just imagine the scene: here I am, right outside the lobby of my workplace, around lunchtime, with my coworkers upstairs but potentially striding by at any moment to see me being patted down and escorted into a squad car! Not really the kind of image of yourself you want to leave people with at work. "Don't worry, we'll explain the situation if anyone you know happens by." Gee, thanks officer!
But having already slid down the slippery slope this far, I bit my lip, and continued to go along with the shenanigans. On the way over, the senior officer made polite small talk with me in the car -- to break through the awkwardness of escorting a passenger in her glass-and-steel-bars cage of a rear seat. An unupholstered, quite uncomfortable hard plastic seat. A tiny detail that probably never occurs to anyone and that you would never think of if you've never been stuffed forcefully into such a place before with your hands cuffed behind your back. (No, at least she didn't insist on putting the handcuffs on me! Thank goodness for small mercies, and count your blessings!)
As it turned out, it was just as the officer had suggested: In the time while we had spoken, my father had slipped back into his apartment, after going missing without a trace for three days. Turns out he'd decided to hop on a plane to the East Coast, to indulge some sudden nostalgic impulse that had seized him. Without telling anyone, or even pausing long enough to pay the rent on his apartment, which was late. In fact, he was in such a rush, he even left his front door unlocked -- quite unlike him usually, because he's exceptionally paranoid about theft. All of which had contributed to my worry and finally led me to call the cops.
At the time, while calling them, it occurred to me that there were a lot of other things I perhaps could have or should have done first. I could have checked in with all the local hotels -- sometimes, he has wandered off to stay at a local hotel for a day or two by way of simulating a "mini vacation." I could have left little flyers up in the neighborhood. Etc. But in retrospect, it appears none of these would have helped track him down at all, in this particular case. So I'm still left with the dilemma, because part of why I thought it prudent to call the cops in the first place is that they have access to information for tracking the whereabouts of private citizens that the rest of us don't. An ironic benefit provided by the police state.
Of course, it's not as if they are really that liberal in dispensing such "benefits," dontcha know. Certainly not enough to help worried relatives track down their loved ones, in most cases. Not unless you have concrete reasons to suspect foul play. Privacy rights and all. (Not privacy for private citizens from THEM, the cops, of course, just privacy from your relatives or others who care about you. I'm sure it's probably the letter of the law, or official policies, or what-not, and all very well intentioned, perhaps. But this is the very ironic upshot of it.) The senior cop even warned me soon before going to the apartment that they probably wouldn't be able to do much more for me.
To be clear, I don't fault the cops who showed up for any of this. They acted earnest and concerned and, aside from the weird, fascistic ticks I've described, which they attributed to "policy" -- and which I'm prepared to believe -- they acted impeccably courteous.
So why on earth did I even bother calling them in the first place? Just social pressure? Was there really any practical benefit at all? And if not, what should I have done instead?
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