“Police Pursuit” and the Death of My Neighbor (Part One)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

“Do we let someone just run away?”

JB - May 7, 2019

This past Tuesday, shortly before noon, the Long Beach Police Department made a decision that a stolen car was more valuable than the life of one of my neighbors. As a result of a police pursuit in an extremely dense neighborhood, Jessie Bingaman, the mother of a ten year daughter, was killed at the intersection of Third and Temple, about a half-dozen blocks away from where Linda and I live. We have walked across or driven through that intersection hundreds of times the past dozen years. It could just as easily have been us.

But it wasn’t us.

And yet, when I got home on Tuesday, the first thing Linda told me was that she had spent part of the afternoon across the street talking with a pair of neighbors about this incident. My shock, sorrow, and dismay are shared by others who live at this particular corner of this neighborhood. Jessie Bingaman’s sudden death has impacted “us.”

And what is the response of the Long Beach Police Department?

When should police pursue? Woman, 5 dogs are just the latest killed in high-speed chases

“It’s a very difficult situation,” Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Arantxa Chavarria said. “Do we let someone just run away?”

My response to Ms. Chavarria is that you obviously don’t believe what you were also quoted as saying: “The sanctity of life is, obviously, always our guiding principal in policy development,” she said.

The Long Beach Press Telegram reported that Police Chief Robert Luna and ten of his officers attended the vigil held in her honor at the intersection on Wednesday evening. He was quoted as expressing his “condolences” to Ms. Bingaman’s mother. Jessie Bingaman’s family deserves far more than “condolences.” But as Paul Naylor, a poet-editor I knew in San Diego once said in an elegiac piece written at the start of the last decade, “There will never be enough flowers.”

JB - Flowers Corner

The intersection of Third and Temple, which is about as ordinary as a four-way stop intersection can get in this neighborhood, can never be neutral ground for me. I will never again be able to drive or walk through it without thinking of Jessie Bingaman and the dogs owned by other people and entrusted to her care as a professional dog-walker. They, too, perished with her.

My own answer to Ms. Chavarria and Robert Luna is, “If you can’t be absolutely certain of containing the flight risk of the driver of a stolen vehicle, then wait until you can be sure. If that means letting them evade immediate surveillance, then so be it. But not one of the lives of the citizens of Long Beach deserves to be taken in the name of trying to recover a stolen car.” And I say this as someone who once had a car stolen.

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