A False Alarm in Tallahassee and the Road We Travel 

A False Alarm in Tallahassee and the Road We Travel 

Distracted driving is a terrible, yet all-too-common thing.

The range and power of the distractions has multiplied exponentially in the last decade, but it’s always been a problem. Just ask any parent of the 1960s (especially before seat belts were standard equipment in back seats!).

Among the longstanding distractions results from driving in an unfamiliar place. One’s attention swiftly and repeatedly flits from road events to course corrections, and the decisions about where and when to turn take more thought and are freighted with greater uncertainty.

Add crime tape and multiple police cars with flashing lights, officers taking precautions and the current climate in our country, and distraction can achieve a new and powerful status.

This was my experience Tuesday morning, driving along the Apalachee Parkway on my way to the League offices in Tallahassee. The good news: I didn’t hit anybody or anything.

The incident that attracted so much police attention and briefly distracted my driving was a report of an armed man in a Chipotle restaurant.

The report was accurate. The armed man worked for an armored car company and was making the cash pick up from the safe in the store. No one else was in the store at the time; it was someone outside who saw the protective vest, the gun in the holster, and thought the worst.

The resulting 911 call and tactical response involved a number of police units, including a SWAT team. It closed stores and streets for a period of time right as folks were commuting to work or stopping by for breakfast in one of the restaurants in the plaza.

By the time police had deployed, the man with the vest and the gun was well away from the store, though apparently still in the plaza. A brief conversation with an officer ensued, and the normally sleepy start to a July morning resumed, a little less sleepy perhaps, but not much the worse for wear.

Everyone did exactly what they should have done. Everyone behaved responsibly. Police were prepared for the worst. The actual outcome was just about as good as it could have been.

Local governments and their residents probably need to anticipate that the cost of doing the business of public safety will go up as we end this fiscal year and enter the next. I’m not talking about buying body cams or body armor (though those also may contribute to costs). I’m talking about an increased number of 911 calls that prove to be about misunderstandings and misperceptions. We can call them “false alarms,” but I think we should be at pains to distinguish between the understandable mistake of the 911 caller in Tallahassee Tuesday morning and the prankster or malicious caller.
An observer who “says something” because he/she “sees something” is doing precisely what we’ve asked, as a society, that we all do. Informing public safety officials of our concerns about what we see and hear is how we work together, public safety professionals and community members, to preserve and enhance our collective security.

We will make mistakes. We will misunderstand something we see. We may even react, out of fear, sometimes out of prejudice, to circumstances and persons that are perfectly innocent. This is unfortunate. It’s also the truth.

In the present climate, those mistakes are likely to be more common. It will serve us well, as communities and as public safety professionals, to cut each other a little slack. We’re not talking about abusive behavior; we’re talking about misunderstandings.

This is how trust is rebuilt in difficult times. On the one hand, we need to deal with those who actually threaten the peace and safety of our cities. Residents and public safety professionals alike have a vested interest in ensuring that those who seek to do harm are not able to carry out their wishes.

On the other hand, talking and listening, sharing concerns and providing good information, can fashion anew (or, in some cases, can fashion for the first time), the cords of mutual respect that ought to bind us together.

Because we are bound together, like it or not. Our futures, as residents of communities and as citizens of states and this nation, are tied together. All the gates and walls and fences and security cameras and private security forces in the world cannot preserve our peace and tranquility if the greater community is aflame with hatred and mistrust.

If I’m going to be traveling life’s road with you anyway, I’d much prefer to do it with confidence, with the sense that you and I, similar in some ways, different in others, share a common hope for peace and a common commitment to mutual understanding. I’ll only know that if we talk.