Yesterday, a birdwatcher saved a life

A little after two, yesterday afternoon, my phone made that intentionally obnoxious noise to signal an Amber Alert in our area. A grandma of nine had also gotten the notice. She happened to be watching a Jeep, through her front picture window, idling across the street. Grabbing her birding binoculars, she verified that the license plate number matched the one on her Amber Alert notice. She then called her daughter to confer, then the police.

Only 35 minutes elapsed between the alert going out and the one year old being found in an abandoned vehicle on a brutally cold day. Here’s a timeline of the events. A local journalist was in the area and was able to catch this senior on the move for an impromptu interview. (so sweet)

One might label this a one-off call to action, being in the right place at the right time sort of activity. Shrug it off as happenstance instead of recognizing it as work. But you’d be wrong.

A community, a group of people who share a public safety interest, need these types of eyes-on-the-street workers. Not everyone. Just enough to have capacity around to engage as needed. As annoying as they can be to those young first-time homeowners, the older retired types, just like our grandma here, make excellent neighborhood watchers.

Note that this work didn’t require a valedictorian or a particular muscular prowess or any technical expertise; this work is done by being present and caring enough to act. There can be misunderstandings and errors in interpretations, hence it is good to check with your direct sphere, which she did when calling her daughter.

Note that the motivation here is not political or monetary or for glory. Often it is done because we would want someone to do the same for us. And we become part of groups for this reciprocal reinsurance.

The Amber Alert counts on it. Sending a message out to everyone who owns a device spreads the word, looks to reach the ears of those who are in the right place and circumstance to engage these sentiments. The system doesn’t expect any one person, just someone in the group.

If the Amber Alert hadn’t gone out with the vehicle’s description. If the birdwatcher hadn’t grabbed her field glasses to verify the license plates. If her advisor hadn’t reinforced the proper course of action in calling the police. What would have happened to a twelve month old child in the back of a white Jeep in weather where exposed skin freezes in a matter of minutes?

It just takes one out of the group. But you can only help if you are close enough to touch. This isn’t a federal public good, nor a state public good, it telescopes in further than that. But this public good, the provision of public safety, relies on eyes-on-the-street workers.


Years ago I called my stock broker all in a flutter as I had noticed one stock in my portfolio had taken a tumble. In a steady and calm voice he asked me to hold on, so he could bring up my account. Then he proceeded to run through the statistics which verified that, although the recent downturn in value was a setback, overall my purchase was fairing quite well.

The uniformity in his voice, one acquired from handling calls like mine a hundred of times before, undoubtedly contributed to bringing me around. But the numbers took a moment-in-time piece of information and stretched it over a larger framework. They provided some concrete reference points to mollify an emotional response.

A plunge in the value of an investment can raise one’s blood pressure, but does not compare in anyway to the response following the loss of a human life. Still– looking at loss of life as a statistic spread out over other scenarios and situations is a worthwhile endeavor when trying to subjectively evaluate a variety of circumstances.

The department of Labor and Statistics keeps track of how many workers suffer a loss of life while on the job.

Frobes: In 2018, 5,250 people sustained fatal injuries at work. To put that into perspective, an estimated 609,640 Americans died of cancer in 2018, 116 times as many as who died as a result of a workplace accident. Of those 5,250, 40% were killed as the result of a transportation accident, most of which involved roadway collisions. The second-largest category of fatal injury in 2018 was “Violence and other injuries by persons or animals” with 828 deaths, displacing 2017’s No. 2, “Fall, slip, trip.” The increase in workplace violence was driven by workplace suicides rising from 275 in 2017 to 304 in 2018. In 2011, there were 250 workplace suicides.

People also die when receiving services. The statistics for how many patients die while being treated by the medical profession are all over the place. A study by a John’s Hopkins’ team from 2016 claims the number is a quarter of a million a year, but other estimates put the number closer to ninety thousand. Given the cost and concern around malpractice insurance, the number of fatalities in the public health sector must be significant.

Now lets look at fatalities in the public safety sector. According to the Washington Post, 41 unarmed people died at the hands of the police in 2020. Not 250,000 in the care of physicians. Not 5,250 in work related accidents. 41. And let’s keep that in mind in the coming months when evaluating the service the police provide to our communities everyday.