U.S. Route 1, which hugs the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, is just about the last freeway drivers want to use for commuting to and from work every day. It turns into a parking lot at rush hour, and is dotted with so many intersections that off-peak travel is equally dismal. Any potential for open flow -- away from the metropolises -- is quickly choked as the road converges down to two lanes. It would appear that the builders designed the road with malice aforethought. If one were to be poetic - predestined for congestion.
Near the Washington, DC beltway, Route 1 is especially bad, as aggressive lunatics vie with road construction for first place in the daily "foul the freeway" contest. Of course, lunatics usually operate from within the vehicle.
Yesterday, a man by the name of Kevin Kline took first place all by himself with the Fairfax County police coming in close second.
Around 3 PM, at the start of rush hour, Kline ran onto a bus and demanded everyone else get off. He waved a gun around, and so everyone paid attention. For the next few hours, the Fairfax County police negotiated with the man, finally convincing him to peacefully give himself up around 7 - the same time traffic usually begins to subside.
The process in these situations involves a negotiator who delivers some sort of pre-defined spiel through a megaphone. If the spiel doesn't work, a SWAT team prepares to remove the perpetrator by force. Force is a last resort because the emphasis is on whatever hostages are involved. In the U.S., human life is very important.
But Mr. Kline had no hostages. They all ran off the bus -- at his insistence -- right after he boarded.
Kline obviously wasn't thinking ahead. Hostages are the only valuable resource one has when it comes to making the police do something they don't want to do. Criminals are often known for their stupidity so Kline's lack of foresight can be written off in the usual manner.
The problem here doesn't involve Kline at all. The problem regards the negotiation period.
We can assume the disembarking riders immediately informed the police that Kline had a weapon. Policemen don't want to be killed any more than anyone else does, so a bit of nervous dawdling is to be expected. Also, there is the matter of counting heads, calling negotiators, and assembling SWAT personnel. All told, 30 or 40 minutes of immediate downtime is customary in the initial reaction. But past that, there was no more need for waiting.
Kline had no hostages, one semi-automatic pistol, and he looked hurried so it was unlikely that he was loaded down with extra ammunition. Also, he was covered with blood so it could be assumed that whatever ammunition was originally in the gun was depleted. SWAT stands for Special Weapons And Tactics; we assume that the police had lots of weapons, each fancier than Kline's single piece, and lots of ammunition. Even if Kline had a bag of bullets stashed somewhere, it takes more than a few seconds to reload.
After phone calls had been placed, and some yelling back and forth, the police should have simply stormed the bus and dragged Kline out, releasing traffic a few minutes later. Instead they talked with him for four full hours until he walked peacefully off. The area newspapers noted that the matter ended without harm. But that is terribly incorrect.
There was tremendous harm. According to a Transit Alternatives Analysis Study sponsored by the Virginia DRPT, the south-bound traffic coming from Alexandria to Kline's bus stop is currently around 43,000 cars per day. This may seem like a lot, but the greater I-95 beltway traffic ranges from 180,000 to 240,000 cars per day.
When it comes to the value of time, Fairfax County is no ordinary county. The median income in Fairfax was $100,318 in 2006, the highest anywhere in the country. That is more than double the national average of $48,451. Per business hour, that's $48 per person.
To be fair, commuters have to spend some time commuting, but remember that the commuters still had to drive home after the affair was over. Rush hour did not disappear at 7 PM. That day, it simply began anew.
At $48 per hour, the expense in lost time was somewhere north of $8 million. Paying policemen to stand around for four hours wasn't figured in.
Nor will we dwell on the fact that while negotiators were placating Mr. Kline, other issues were ignored.
Here once again, the government has stolen time and money. What did the citizenry get for it? The arrest of a dangerous criminal instead of his (and only his) possible death. Oh, and by the way - Kline had murdered a woman a few minutes before he ran onto the bus at 3 PM. So he will be rotting in prison -- again, at taxpayers' expense -- for the next 20 years.
We hear a lot about the problem of police brutality. We forget the price we pay when the police aren't brutal enough.