Monday Morning Quarterbacks: Be Careful When Criticizing Mistakes

The news and expert pundits have been criticizing law enforcement in the JC missing person case. (If you aren’t aware of the 18 year missing persons case referred to as JC simply Google it and you will learn all about it).

The basic facts, as I understand them, are that JC was kidnapped 18 years ago near Lake Tahoe and was not located until last week. When she was found (now age 29) she was living in the back yard among tents with two children and the man that took her (and his wife?) lived in a house on the property. That the accused kidnapper was a parolee and had many visits to his property by parole officers and the sheriff had responded to complaints about people living in the backyard in some form of tent village. That the sheriff that responded advised the accused that there could be a code violation but did not investigate further.

News pundits, proclaimed experts, and local citizens are, of course, outraged as to how this could be happening in their community and why wasn’t there some form of inspection years earlier that could have returned JC to her family earlier.

First, I am not an apologist for poor supervision of parolees nor for less than thorough police work. What I want to remind people is that once facts are known, it is easy to retrace and find earlier patterns where those facts were present.

This is what I term Monday Morning Quarterbacking. Now that I know that an event has occurred, I can find all the earlier traces of that fact pattern and point out to everyone that the evidence was there but that clearly the person looking at the information/evidence was blind to it. And therefore, by insinuation, the original people looking at the fact pattern must be incompetent.

Those conclusions are incorrect. The challenge we are faced with is best summed up in the book Why We Make Mistakes. One of the reasons we make mistakes by not seeing what is there, is that we (people) aren’t designed well to see things that are present that aren’t suppose to be there.

For example – too frequently, when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, her older films will be reviewed and to the shock of all people, the signs of the cancer will have been in those prior x-rays and were there maybe for years. Why didn’t those other experts see it? Because it wasn’t suppose to be there. We frequently do not see that which doesn’t belong. It is why eye witnesses are terrible witnesses, we don’t see. But, once I know it is there, I can find it because I know it is there.

Another example. TSA agents frequently fail tests where guns and other nasties are sent through screening because something like 1 bag in a million has a nasty in it. Hence they don’t see the item because it is isn’t suppose to be there.

The same thing for parole officers and sheriffs. They interview on the porch a parolee, and ask questions and they look for signs that suggest they should ask more and inspect more. Absent those signs, the move on. They aren’t thinking that “hey, maybe I should inspect the back yard because 10+ years ago a girl was stolen and she could be living in a tent city in this property”. She wasn’t suppose to be there and hence they didn’t look. Now that we know about it, we see the signs.

And because we can now see the signs we project that the prior officers should have seen the signs then and now people want those officers to suffer some form of punishment. Hogwash.

The mistakes were made because we are people. We don’t see what is there. That applies to you, to me, to our children, our bosses, and our officials. We think we see and we don’t.

The way to improve our chances is to re-evaluate how we look, synthesize, challenge, observe, and inquire. Give the officers a break and recognize that because we already know more than they did then that it is unjust to openly attack their judgement.

I wish for a better future for JC as I can only imagine the trauma and experiences she has had. That the people who abducted her shall face the stiffest of penalties, and that the agencies involved in supervision of parolees and investigation of crimes continue their best efforts to observe what is difficult to see.

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