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Patch Poll: You Witness a Major Crime Taking Place At Your Workplace. What Would You Do?

You don't have to wander far among the day's headlines to understand the premise behind this week's Patch Poll.

Recent events have set us to thinking about the mindset of people thrust into intense, "My God, what am I seeing?" moments.

Everyone would like to think they would do precisely the right thing at the right moment, but it is evident that different people react in different -- outwardly  strange -- ways. In the recent, headline-grabbing case of Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky, a junior member of the coaching staff who allegedly walked in on Sandusky as he was sexually attacking a boy in the university shower room left the area, calling his father and revered Coach Joe Paterno to ask how to proceed.

Another potential witness -- a university custodian and Korean War veteran -- also allegedly walked in on Sandusky as he was attacking a boy in the Penn State shower room. According to one of the man's colleagues, the janitor, who was reportedly “upset and crying” as he talked about what he'd seen, said that he had “fought in the war…" and that he had "just witnessed something in there I’ll never forget.”

The janitor told his immediate supervisor what he’d seen, and the supervisor “told him to whom he should report the incident, if he chose to report it.” The janitor, who now suffers from dementia and is unable to testify before the grand jury, never made an official report.

So, dig deep. Put yourself in the scenario: at work, surrounded by people on whom your job depends, and you see a colleague perpetrate a crime in front of your eyes.

What would you do?

Michael Taylor November 16, 2011 at 12:04 AM
What kind of a gerkin do you have to be to think that showering with ten year old boys is okay? And who in these times could defend the behavior? Listening to Sanduskys lawyer today made me want to take a bath.
Orinda mom November 16, 2011 at 02:17 AM
Check out the stories in the Washington Post about the woman who killed her co-worker in the Bethesda, MD Lululemon store after hours. The workers in the Apple store next door listened through the wall as the victim screamed and begged for help--she had over 300 wounds--and did nothing. Didn't even call 911 on their iPhones. Appalling.
Lafayette Curmudgeon November 16, 2011 at 02:52 PM
You'd think so, but here's a rather important counterpoint on that very thing -- with an important point that it's hard for a person to process something when they've had no experience with it (who here has witnessed a murder, after all?); the human brain is not as robust under stress as we would. http://www.windypundit.com/archives/2011/11/jana_svrzo_and_the_zebras.html
A Guy in Orinda November 16, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Did you know that part of the human brain specializes in rationalization and justification? That junior member of the coaching staff who witnessed the incident probably thought, "Boy, if this goes public, I'm toast." And he would have been right, too. Look what happened after Paterno's firing. The rabid football fans became unhinged. For most ordinary people, doing the difficult thing is too difficult. They will look for ways around it. In this case, the witness decided to report it to Joe Paterno. Let him deal with it. He's older and wiser, he'll know what to do. But Joe Paterno had the same idea: tell the athletic director. Make it his problem. What did the athletic director do? I don't know, exactly, but I did read that they told Sandusky he couldn't bring kids there anymore. That, of course, was meaningless. It was like saying, "Do not bring disgrace upon Penn State by dragging us into this. We will forget what just happened, but don't let it happen [here] again." That kind of thing happens all the time. Even here among the well educated and cultured people of Lamorinda, if faced with similar circumstances, I would bet at least 80 percent of us would not have the courage to report the incident to police. It would be social suicide, at the very least. Legally, the witness is probably in the clear. But Joe Paterno and the athletic director are not, being more senior and failing to uphold their duty to the public. It is a school, after all.
Brad Katkowsky November 16, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Proud to say that I AM the 20 percent!!! Social suicide be damned.
Lee daniels November 16, 2011 at 10:23 PM
Anyone who would socially exclude someone for saving a child from a predator is not worthy of friendship so I wouldn't fret about being banned from the "in" crowd.
A Guy in Orinda November 16, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Your chivalry is admirable, but I don't think you get the picture. Let me paint it for you. Suppose you're a junior attorney at a large, prestigious law firm in the city, one whose name is known around the world. Hundreds of partners, hundreds of high profile clients. Late one night, thinking nobody else is there, you open the door to a partner's private office and you see that partner committing a molestation right before your eyes. Of course, you would be shocked. Now, let's assume you left the scene. It’s a few minutes later. You have left the office because you cannot imagine staying there. You prepare to call the police, and then it hits you. This could kill the firm. Every high profile client will find a new attorney, because nobody would want to be associated with that firm. The partner will deny your assertions, say you made it up. You will lose your job. You will be accused of destroying the firm. You will not be able to get another job. Everybody will know who you are, and nobody will want to hire you. You will lose your house. Your life will be shattered. Does that clarify the situation?
Brad Katkowsky November 16, 2011 at 11:26 PM
Sure. There's no "chivalry" in it. I know what I'd do because I've done it before. You say something. You stand up. You say no or what the hell are you doing there? In the case of your law firm you realize your colleague is a gutter dweller and so you stand in his office until you have his full attention. If you have your cell phone with you take his picture --- but you STOP what is happening. The consequences you lay out for taking action are pretty weighty. But one thing I know that outweighs that --- I couldn't live with myself if I let it happen and a child rapist was allowed to walk away and, probably, continue to assault children without my doing SOMETHING about it. Does that clarify my position?
Chris Nicholson November 17, 2011 at 12:19 AM
@Guy: Tough hypothetical. I think your perspective has a lot of power. With a young child, I think most people would intervene to stop the attack and ensure the child's safety. If that required calling the cops, I would do so. The harder case is when calling the cops immediately is not required to protect the child (maybe you stumble upon a video tape, or whatever). In that case, I would probably first report it to the managing partner / exec committee / whatever, making clear that you expect the cops to be involved, but you wanted to allow them to determine the timing and manner of reporting. I think this would be an appropriate show of loyalty / career hedge, while still ensuring that justice is done. If the senior folks did not quickly call the cops, then I would.
lovelafayette November 17, 2011 at 12:52 AM
I am really surprised that you all feel the need to use hypotheticals. We do not have to look beyond our own community. Wonder how many Stanley staff harbored suspicions about Mike Merrick and did nothing? One told me that some female teachers refused to work with him they were so uncomfortable with his interactions with female students. How many parents? Several parents and students have commented on Patch that he gave female students preferential treatment and they were uncomfortable with his being overly friendly with female students. Sanduskey gets out on $100,000 bail and Merrick has $3,000,000 bail (reduced to $1.2 mil), cannot help but wonder what atrocities Merrick committed. How come we know so much about Sanduskeys crimes, and we are not permitted to know anything about Merrick's?
Eileen November 17, 2011 at 02:30 AM
I think it's fair to assert that the Sandusky case is receiving greater, indeed national, media attention because it involves a storied football program that has itself been a "national" player where football is concerned. But really, what we're all considering are the complexities of community power dynamics and how we treat "whistleblowers." It's often been said that everyone loves a whistleblower, but no one wants to hire one. (And, in my professional life, I've known one such whistleblower who faced a long, hard road to re-employment in her industry after blowing the whistle on her employer.) Perhaps, for those who want to effect change, we should consider, when we are in a hiring position, valuing past whistle-blowing rather than punishing it.
A Guy in Orinda November 17, 2011 at 02:37 AM
@Brad: I am pleased that you stand by your position. I would do the same. My purpose in writing the follow up was to challenge people to think about just how difficult it might be to do the right thing. If you realize that doing the right thing, in some situations, could alter the future course of your life -- not for the better -- and yet you still insist on the necessity of doing the right thing, that is the way we should all hope to be.
Chris Nicholson November 17, 2011 at 03:03 AM
Not all whistleblowers were created equally. The problem is not with black and white criminal violence case, but rather grey areas of the law--- or events that some may perceive as being in the grey area. I have personal experience with some employees who have an unusually high propensity to blow whistles, which triggers costly and embarrassing "false positives," because no one wants to be in the position of "ignoring a warning." Inevitably the lawyers and accountants get a nice payday even when everyone pretty much knows that there is no "there there." I think it is perfectly reasonable to avoid hiring someone with a track record of calling authorities with unfounded/flimsy allegations.
lovelafayette November 17, 2011 at 09:24 AM
The only fitting punishment is to immediately suspend Penn State Football, for about 10 years, to make sure all who “knew” pay the price and are purged by time. It would also send a clear message to the footballs fans who rallied around the enabler. Penn could atone by giving scholarships to Pennsylvania football players to play at other schools. To teach their students that honor, integrity and compassion matter Penn needs to voluntarily reset it's moral compass as USF did in the 1980’s. "The USF (top ranked championship) basketball program was placed on probation two separate times by the NCAA as their players were given the stereotypical "special treatment" with their academics. It came to a climax in 1982 when All-American Quintin Dailey assaulted a female student. An investigation discovered that Dailey had a no-show job provided by an alum who also paid him $5,000. The program, and its treatment of athletes, had gone off the rails and was voluntarily suspended by the school." There really is no other remedy for Penn. "We are Penn State" then could return to being an honorable chant.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 17, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Well said, Lovelafayette, they need to see through the false aura of greatness that winning a few football games created around that university. 10 years minimum. I am also disturbed be the sentiment portrayed above regarding a sort of sliding scale moral code regarding one's responsibility to protect the innocent. In such cases I would not stop to consider how my saving a child from continued adult debauchery might somehow negatively effect my future earning power! We are not talking about white collar crime here. This is not embezzling or stealing intellectual property, this is an unimaginably sick premeditated crime perpetrated on a child. And Sandusky's nonchalance indicates to me that this may just be the tip of an ugly, deep-rooted iceberg. Do not lose sight of the victims here!
A Guy in Orinda November 17, 2011 at 07:27 PM
Responding to Lovelafayette ... It might well be appropriate to suspend the football program at Penn State. Who knows? It might yet happen. But I wanted to mention that I was surprised when I learned that the new interim Athletic Director is a Penn State alum and a member of the Board of Trustees. It seems the hierarchy at the school has learned nothing. They need fresh blood, somebody from the outside. At least this guy is just 'interim.'
Tim Davis November 17, 2011 at 07:35 PM
How does America react when its sports heroes are exposed as criminals? Two words: Michael.... Vick.
Carol Ann Long November 17, 2011 at 07:50 PM
I'll see your serial animal abuser and raise you a double murderer.... O.J. Simpson.
lovelafayette November 17, 2011 at 10:15 PM
"The harder case is when calling the cops immediately is not required to protect the child (maybe you stumble upon a video tape, or whatever)." Chris are you suggesting that child pronography has no victims that merit involving the police? Pedophiles view and create kiddie porn. And every child in every kiddie porn video is a victim worth looking for and saving. My profession has mandatory reporting of domestic/elder/child abuse so the scenario you paint is unthinkable. CA has no mandatory reporting for attornies as other states do. Chris, if you are an attorney I suggest you press your bar on this, a law would make walking away to save your job illegal. Take away choice and force attornies to do the right thing. I personally believe that every adult should be a mandatory reporter.
Eileen November 18, 2011 at 06:31 AM
I have personal experience with solidly-performing employees (yes, women) who've reported, at two well-known "Wall Street" employers for whom we worked, straight-forward, well-documented examples of illegal - sexist, discriminatory - behavior by superiors to HR and/or those superiors' bosses, only to find our own previously-solid performance evaluations suddenly (and inexplicably) turn negative and HR doing no follow-up to "investigate" and later turning "states' evidence" at trial. One of these complainers was later turfed out in a suspect "lay-off" (of only her) and found that hiring firms had heard, through the tightly-networked Street grapevine, that she was a "bad apple." (Is this illegal? Who cares? She is alone against the billions-in-lawyers-fees-strong banks.) ) Several complainers were involved in a federal court case where a judge who should have recused himself based on several factors, did not, and seemed to have thrown the case. You, Chris, seem to have a faith in the basic integrity of a partner in a top legal, management consulting or banking firm - and, likely, the impartiality of the judicial process - that I might once have assumed, but lost through personal experience. And you'll likely still apply some prejudice when considering employing someone who's claimed discrimination, without considering the merits of her situation.
Eileen November 18, 2011 at 06:31 AM
Continuing, I will simply assert that I now "know better," and will forever apply a healthy degree of skepticism when reviewing the contents of whatever educational/professional resume is put before me, especially if it includes a discussion of prejudice faced.
lovelafayette November 22, 2011 at 06:16 AM
If this matters to you, support this legislation: http://boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/111611.cfm Senator Barbara Boxer, “To protect our children from violence and abuse, anyone who sees or knows about a crime against a child must report it to local authorities. Right now, the federal government and 32 states have no such requirement in law.” "Senator Boxer’s two bills – the State Child Protection Act and the Federal Child Protection Act – would correct this dangerous lack of protection for our children. The bills would require that anyone who witnesses or has reasonable suspicion of a crime against a child must report it to local law enforcement or a child protective agency. Under the State Child Protection Act, states that fail to comply would lose a portion of their federal justice assistance grants. The Federal Child Protection Act would require all persons on federal property to report child abuse." Unfortunately we do need new laws and associated sanctions to get some of us to do the right thing.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 24, 2011 at 03:05 AM
This comment has been chewing at me since I first read it.  "And then it hits you.."  You decide you are a soulless invertebrate that would allow some insidiously sick criminal to continue to essentially ruin the lives of children, just to protect your job.  I think NOT!  You stop the incident and clear the child from the situation. Then you call the managing general partner and begin to arrange for the surrender of the criminal to the police.  If the MGP refuses, you call the police.  If he concurs, the devious cloak of containment begin at once to encapsulate and sterilize the situation while the rapist prepares for a life with Bubba. 95% of child molestation incidents are preventable, that is, these perverts are allowed to continue their indecent, subhuman behaviors based on the rationale delineated above by 'A Guy in Orinda'. Sometimes you must take a stand, particularly where the innocent are concerned.  If you do not, you tacitly condone this moral depravity, which makes you an accomplice and, by association, a victim yourself.   So, if you choose a cowardly, self indulgent path, as 'A Guy in Orinda' suggests, everyone loses.  The child in particular, but the swath cut through the emotional wellbeing of everyone else touched by this perversion is like having General Sherman decide how to punish your emotional stability on a daily basis.  He most certainly "clarified the situation", but not the one regarding the disposition of monsters that rape children.
Chris Nicholson November 24, 2011 at 04:11 AM
@Mblog: I hope your morals are really as pure as your sanctimony. I, along with the other "subhumans," are cursed to live in the real world, where sweeping absolutes make for nice speeches, but sometimes don't provide a mechanical and optimal solution to many of life's predicaments. The world needs heros, but most of us would pause for half a beat before springing to action. Is that wrong?
lovelafayette November 26, 2011 at 04:09 PM
I am not a big believer in new laws and more regulation but this thread makes it clear that some of you need the protection of law to do the right thing. For those of us who are already mandated reporters (the list is long but does not include attorneys) we have no decison to make, except how best to help. Support these bills. http://boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/111611.cfm Senator Barbara Boxer, “To protect our children from violence and abuse, anyone who sees or knows about a crime against a child must report it to local authorities. Right now, the federal government and 32 states have no such requirement in law.” "Senator Boxer’s two bills – the State Child Protection Act and the Federal Child Protection Act – would correct this dangerous lack of protection for our children. The bills would require that anyone who witnesses or has reasonable suspicion of a crime against a child must report it to local law enforcement or a child protective agency. Under the State Child Protection Act, states that fail to comply would lose a portion of their federal justice assistance grants. The Federal Child Protection Act would require all persons on federal property to report child abuse."
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 26, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Just came across the attached and I am somewhat shocked at its defensiveness from one who prides himself on his superciliousness and hard-edged, even thoughtful, comments. Nic-Dime would sooner smother you in logic before he would call you a lying coward. A chink in the nickel-plated armor perhaps? (CAPS below to differentiate from quote) "@Mblog: I hope your morals are really as pure as your sanctimony. I AM MORALLY NORMAL, IN THAT I TAKE THEM DEAD SERIOUSLY AND THEY SLIDE ON NO SCALE. THEY MAY BE TEMPERED BY THE SITUATION, BUT THEY ARE STEADY. I, along with the other "subhumans," are cursed to live in the real world, SUB-HUMAN REFERRED TO PEDOPHILES, OBVIOUSLY. where sweeping absolutes make for nice speeches, but sometimes don't provide a mechanical (SIC) and optimal (SIC) solution to many of life's predicaments. The world needs heros, but most of us would pause for half a beat before springing to action. Is that wrong? I THINK THERE ARE MANY MORE HEROES THAN YOU KNOW. PERHAPS IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE. As for moral stands, I have been in the position many times. When I was 30 or so, I took a stand that would eventually cost me a job (I did not consider it at the time) and I recovered over time. Your nihilistic pov leaves little room for the human spirit. We are in an era of the self-righteous and self-absorbed, where altruism is a dirty word. I also believe most people would consider saving a child from being raped an opportunity, not an inconvenient predicament.
Chris Nicholson November 26, 2011 at 07:32 PM
@Comrade Hero MBlog: You use a lot of colorful language for a guy who claims to see in black and white. In any case, when you said "THEY SLIDE ON NO SCALE...[although] THEY MAY BE TEMPERED BY THE SITUATION," your latter phrase essentially concedes my core premise that the real world doesn't operate on absolutes. "Absolute" is a binary condition: either you respond robotically and with blinders on to a given situation, or you don't. Any "tempering" of absolute destroys it by definition. A nuanced definition of the "situation" is just concealed method of fuzzing up ostensibly crisp moral platitudes. Is it possible that you DO see shades of gray in the world?
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 27, 2011 at 06:30 PM
How is it, 5 & Dime, that you are the self-appointed arbiter of my morals? Your pedagoguery is generally off point and irrelevant to the issue at hand and your insistence on pressing these pseudo-analytical digressions are at once intriguing and annoying. Recently, you seem to be misinterpreting the simple meaning of my words and juxtaposing our roles in this sidebar activity, i.e., confusing me with someone that is a polarized thinker like yourself with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and situations. As for 'tempering' as applied to a moral code, it refers to the action taken to achieve the applicable moral standard, not the COMPROMISING of said standard. In the case in question, something had to be done immediately to stop the rape and ensure the safety of the child. Then, the timely reporting of the perpetrator's identity to the "proper" authority would follow. 'Stop it' and 'Report it' both represent my moral obligation, both to be accomplished post haste. "Tempering", applied to the former, would include a range of possible behaviors in which morality would also serve as arbiter. For instance, I could pull the child to safety, then beat the reprobate to a bloody pulp, ensuring that safety, or I could simply remove the child and temporarily ignore the well-known miscreant knowing full well who he is and reasonably certain of his future availability. Clear? fyi: Your dogmatic style at times clouds your insight.
Chris Nicholson November 27, 2011 at 08:34 PM
@Hero Mblog: You are dancing and retrofitting. Get a dictionary. "Temper" does not mean what you think. My simple point is: Although it would be nice to imagine that people would invariably "do the right thing" regardless of consequences, both the human brain and the real world are more complicated than that. If you want to predict and understand actual behavior, my model does a better job than utopian absolutest ones. I am a realist.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop November 28, 2011 at 12:56 AM
5&dime. It is called a vocabulary, they are not that difficult to develop. Had it for years. Undergrad degree was in psych and this insistence on the last (correct) word may have another name now, but in the 60s it was about sublimated aggression and a few other aspects associated with external affirmation or some such. Be that as it may, the goal of this poll is to gather differing points of view in order to see if this sampling of the population trends toward some, as yet undiscovered, position. And it most definitely is not about establishing right from wrong, which is for the Criminal Justice System to decide. My position on whether or not the major crime one witnesses at their workplace should be reported (with a subtitle that infers a recent "Penn State type" crime) is: Yes, I immediately would do something to abort the disgusting crime against innocence then report it to the police. The responsibility I feel toward protecting the innocent would supersede any concern for myself. If the crime were of a "white collar" variety, a completely different animal in that the victim is a business, but of "major" proportion, I would make the perpetrator aware of the fact that I knew and if he did report him or herself, then I would. Life is too short to be hauling around that sort of complicit guilt as you would also have become an accomplice after the fact.

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