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Kitty Genovese Killer Dies in Prison at 81. Did His Crime Result in the Adoption Of 9-1-1 System?

Author: Randall D. Larson

Date: 2016-04-05
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The man convicted of the 1964 stabbing death of Kitty Genovese in a crime that came to symbolize urban decay and indifference has died in prison at the age of 81, reported the Associated Press today. AP’s headline, “Winston Moseley Dies At 81. His Crime Spurred Adoption Of The 9-1-1 System,” was widely repeated in newspapers and websites around the country.  But – is it really true?

Her killer, Winston Moseley, died on March 28 at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, state prisons spokesman Thomas Mailey said. An autopsy will try to determine the cause of Moseley's death.

Moseley spent more than 50 years in prison and was one of the state's longest-serving inmates. He was denied parole 18 times, the last time in 2015.

The killing of 28-year old Kitty Genovese caused an outcry after reports that neighbors who saw the attack and heard her screams did not try to help her or call police. Details of those accounts have been widely challenged, but urban legend and dozens of web sites have it that the crime’s notoriety spurred the adoption of the 9-1-1 system and Good Samaritan laws in the United States.

Right:  Kitty Genovese in 1964.
image via source, fair use,

However, to our knowledge is no actual evidence that the Genovese murder led directly to the creation of a nationwide 9-1-1 system.  As reported by the late Gary Allen in the 9-1-1 history archives at the former 911 Dispatch web site, "there is no mention of the Genovese murder in the documents on the development of 9-1-1 or the President's Commission on Crime. There is also no documented connection between the murder and the need for a 3-digit number. Instead, the incident highlighted the need for a central comm center, instead of citizens calling the nearest precinct and talking to the desk sergeant." Allen’s conclusion is that there was no direct connection between the murder and the eventual implementation of 9-1-1.

All the same, Moseley’s crime did have an impact, if not on the number we dial, it  definitely did result in the concept of a single-point public safety access point (PSAP) and the creation of the emergency communication center as a separate unit or facility within many is not most police departments.  If that notion resulted in the idea to simplify dialing into the three-digit 9-1-1 system that began in 1968, no one has evidently documented that decision. 

In a larger view, however, the death of Kitty Genovese surely resulted in a major stepping stone towards what we now know as the modern 9-1-1 PSAP, and in that sense perhaps the legend is true that, indirectly, her killing  set into motion considerations and changes that did, indeed, bring about the 9-1-1 System.

In that viewpoint, AP's headline is also accurate in that Winston Mosely did indeed have a hand in that.  But we’d rather remember Kitty Genovese and memorialize the tragedy of her death, instead of the man who killed her.

9-1-1 Magazine Editor Randall Larson retired in 2009 after 25 years as a communications supervisor and Field Communications Director for the San Jose Fire Department, and former police dispatcher for the cities of San Jose and Mountain View, California.  Larson has been a Field Communications instructor for First Contact 9-1-1, the California Fire Chiefs Association – Communications Section, and other organizations, and was a Communications Specialist for FEMA’s California US&R Task Force 3. Since retirement, Larson continues to participate in the annual California Mobile Command Center Rallies, which he founded in 2009, and is a busy writer in several fields of interest



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