DIY crime fighting can be disastrous - Metro US

DIY crime fighting can be disastrous

We seem to be of two minds about “Spezza and Hutch.”

After Ryan O’Connor and Matt Spezza last week chased a sexual assault suspect’s car at high speeds until he could be stopped by a police roadblock, reactions ranged from “That was awesome,” to “That was stupid” — sometimes from the same person.

Police Chief Vern White found himself in the grips of this ambivalence, thanking the “Good Samaritans” for helping the victim, but taking issue with their reckless, dangerous pursuit, which even trained police officers probably would have abandoned.

O’Connor himself admitted, “There’s two sides to every story. I can see their point: We’re very lucky we didn’t have a head-on. But if we did nothing, people would have said, ‘You should have followed him.’ It’s lose-lose.”

In hindsight, it seems clear that at least some of the chase, which reached speeds of 170 kilometres per hour, was foolish and unnecessary. O’Connor risked not only his own life and those of his passengers, but that of anyone else who may have had the misfortune to cross his path.

He was, however, able early in the chase to note the make and licence plate number of the car, and relay this to 911. The pursuit should probably have been broken off then and there, but O’Connor kept his quarry in sight until police were finally able to intercept him some 20 minutes later.

Ottawa is the town where the country’s rules are made, and we prefer our emergencies to be conducted in a prudent, predictable fashion, by duly appointed authorities. Sometimes, though, there’s no authority in sight.

The reaction of Ottawa police was unenthusiastic three years ago when the Guardian Angels explored establishing a chapter here. The unarmed, uniformed civilians, who started patrolling New York’s streets in 1979, had already expanded to Toronto, where Mayor David Miller and the police also want nothing to do with them.

Do-it-yourself crime fighting can be disastrous, and may have played a role in the death last week of Geraldine Beardy. Five days before she died in hospital, the 29-year-old woman was allegedly assaulted by a shopkeeper after she tried to steal a $1.49 can of food.

Winnipeg, though, is also home to Faron Hall, the so-called “Homeless Hero,” who has twice rescued people from drowning in the Red River and been cited by the mayor for bravery.

We should by all means leave policing to the police, but our respect for rules shouldn’t lead us to outlaw heroism. We may frown on vigilantes, but sometimes we rely on vigilance.

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