Competence, cowardice, and Fight Club economics

The latest gun control storm seems to be subsiding on schedule.  The Astroturf Planeteers are still getting the celebrity treatment from their artificially extended fifteen minutes, companies are starting to see the reaction (which won’t amount to much either way) to their discontinuation of NRA discounts or refusal to do so, and the derailed narrative has come to rest squarely in the lap of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, both the guy at the top of the food chain and the grunt at the very bottom on the milk run job.  Thanks to the inaction of a government employee in a job that was never supposed to make any demands of him, the outrage that the fake news wanted to aim right at the NRA has been pointed instead at the failure of law enforcement to protect, reinforcing the ages-old argument that you cannot rely on the police for protection.  Whether you respect law enforcement or not (and I want to be clear, I do), they cannot be everywhere at once, and they are not infallible.

It’s been kind of amusing to watch the left, which has spent the past several years (and off and on for a few decades now) deriding the police as fascist racists who go hunting for young black men to ventilate just for kicks, now trying to leap to the defense of this old white school resource officer after he blew their argument to bits.  They say he’s being attacked unfairly.  They claim “no one knows how they’ll handle a situation like that until they face it.”  They continue to create this bogeyman fantasy wherein an AR-15 makes a shooter indestructible and for some reason think that the only approach that a trained law enforcement officer who knows the building could take to intercept said shooter would be to walk straight down an open hallway right into the rifle barrel.  They assert that waiting for backup was what he was supposed to do (which doesn’t explain why he and three other BCSO officers were still outside when Coral Springs arrived).  Sheriff Scott Israel, the head of the department and the one responsible for this SRO’s assignment, has tried to disclaim responsibility for the SRO’s lack of action, claiming he gave him a gun and training but it’s not Israel’s fault he didn’t use it.

There could be legitimate questions about why Officer Peterson did what he did, and the officer could have some legitimate answers for them.  But right now it’s not looking likely.  We’ve heard stories that Peterson hid in a stairwell pointing his weapon at nothing.  We’ve heard that he got enough of a look at the shooter to call in a description yet claimed he thought the shooting was going on outside.  Frankly, the damage he has inflicted upon the gun control narrative is not contingent on whether he was doing his job the way he was trained to, or whether he lost his nerve and hid, the point is that even with police on-site and not even “minutes away when seconds counted,” you cannot rely on the police to stop these rampages.  Obviously the “gun-free” zone didn’t stop it either.  Nonetheless, addressing the root cause of why this officer did not intervene is still important, and without seeing evidence to the contrary, one is forced to conclude that the reason is either cowardice, incompetence, or both.  None of those are particularly reassuring qualities in any law enforcement officer, much less one who is entrusted with the safety of a school.

So what does that have to do with these guys?

Fight Club

I have a longstanding love/hate relationship with the movie Fight Club.  It’s mostly love, though some of its brain-dead socialism and Luddism still make me retch.  It’s one of a very few movies I would say I sat down to watch and by the time I was done I wasn’t sure what I’d just seen but I was pretty sure it changed my life.  Anyway, that’s a topic for another time.  Early in the movie, Edward Norton’s character (who works for a major corporation in their products liability department) describes the process that his company goes through to decide when to do a recall.  It’s meant to portray his corporate overlords as heartless monsters only concerned with money and I’ll take a footnote after I’m done here to debunk that idea, but the way it works is the company figures out the expense of doing the recall versus what it’ll probably cost them just to pay out when their product kills a handful of people, and if the recall costs more than a few wrongful death lawsuits will, the recall doesn’t get done, and the company lets the product kill a few people.  It’s a simple economic choice.

This is the thinking that goes into LOTS of government job assignments, including but very much not limited to school resource officers.  I am not saying that ALL SROs fit into this category, but Officer Peterson clearly did.  School resource officer is a position within the sheriff’s office or police department that can be considered a plum job.  It’s not as mentally or physically demanding as being a patrol cop or investigator and the hours are good.  Which means that often, the sheriff will put someone into that role not because they’re the best one for the job, but because the job is easy and it gets the officer out of the way, or sets him up on a nice easy glide path to retirement.  We are not assigning Robocop to guard the kids folks.  Often, we’re giving the job to Barney Fife–or worse.  At least Barney had some semblance of guts.  We’re doing that because we don’t expect the job to be difficult or dangerous…until it is.  If that’s the economic decision you can live with, then that’s fine and that’s your call.  I’m inclined to think that maybe most parents wouldn’t necessarily be okay with the low man on the totem pole who couldn’t chase down a gunman if you gave him a ten-second headstart being responsible for the safety of their children, but then, how many even think about this?

Of course disarming teachers and staff doesn’t help the matter, but if the police can’t respond to shooters in “gun-free” zones then not only do teachers need to carry, but they need to be ready to defend themselves and their students until actual help arrives.  From the sound of things in Broward County, actual help was a long time coming.


*Footnote regarding Fight Club economics: to make it clear how the recall decision is not as heartless and evil as it sounds, let’s look at some numbers.  One of the most popular vehicles in the USA is the Toyota Camry, which has sold about 8 million units since 1995.  It’s estimated that between 80 and 90% of those are still on the road, so we’ll estimate that there are 7 million Toyota Camrys currently operational.  We’ll also presume that every one of those 7 million Camrys would be subject to recalls for device failure, just to be generous.

Now, let’s assume there is a catastrophic flaw in all of those Camrys.  Let’s presume that it’s a relatively pricey fix that Toyota would have to eat–parts and labor cost $1000 per recall.  Meaning that if every eligible Camry got the fix, Toyota would have to shell out seven billion bucks.  Big money, right?  Now let’s look at wrongful death settlements.  A cursory look at wrongful death payouts for products liability cases shows a lot of discrepancy and of course each case is driven by its own facts, but it looks like a good range is in the neighborhood of $7 to $10 million per person killed.  We’ll be conservative here and peg our estimate at $5 million.  You’d have to get up to 1,400 people dead to equal the amount of money spent on the recall as would be spent on the settlements. And remember, we’re not talking about actual deaths here, we’re talking about the statistical likelihood of at least 1400 wrongful death lawsuit payouts.

Still, sounds damning, right?  Hold up, we’re not done.  With great numbers come low probability.  Seven million Camrys resulting in 1400 potential deaths means that this extremely expensive flaw has a .02% chance of ever manifesting itself.  That’s two in ten thousand, figuring cheap settlements and expensive recall parts.  By comparison, you have a 1 in 3000 chance to be struck by lightning.  Meaning it’s almost twice as likely for you to be struck by lightning as to be killed by this flaw in a Camry.  Meaning that the only way it would be economical for the company to say “eh, let ’em burn” would be if the defect were so remotely likely to ever effect anyone as to be virtually impossible.  And remember, any cost like that is built into the price of goods.


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