Last Updated: Wednesday, 09 August, 2000 04:20

Dial 911 and DIE


Sarah Brady, spokeswoman for Handgun Control Incorporated, claims that citizens do not need guns to protect themselves and that only the police and military should have guns. Further, she says that help is only a phone call away, touting the 9-1-1 emergency number. Yet the world is imperfect and while most 911 call centers do a great job, when someone screws up lives can be lost. Here are some examples of how things can go wrong.
Here are examples of why even dialing 911 doesn't protect you if help doesn't arrive quickly enough, or at all!

911 goof slows cops' arrival in killing

Woman dead, suspect shot;
Greenwood Village asking Qwest about address glitch

By Marlys Duran
Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

GREENWOOD VILLAGE - A 911 glitch prevented police from responding immediately to a deadly domestic-violence situation, and Greenwood Village authorities want to know why.

"It might have made the difference," police Lt. Dave Fisher told KCNC-TV Channel 4.

Officers were delayed eight minutes because the apartment's address did not show up on a police dispatcher's 911 screen. When police did arrive Sunday night at an apartment at [the 6000 block of] S. Yosemite St., they found a young woman dead, a man armed with a knife and a scared 3-year-old boy.

Officers shot the man when he refused to drop the knife and charged at them, police said.

A police officer had pulled the 3-year-old from the apartment before the shooting, Fisher said. The youngster, believed to be the dead woman's son, was uninjured, Fisher said.

The 24-year-old suspect was in serious condition Monday at Denver Health Medical Center with gunshot wounds in his abdomen and lower legs, hospital spokeswoman Heidi Hattenbach said.

Police received a 911 call from a third-floor apartment at the Hermitage about 8:40 p.m. Sunday. No one spoke, but a dispatcher could hear sounds of an apparent struggle. The 911 system is supposed to display both a phone number and an address, but only the phone number appeared on the screen, Fisher said.

After calling the number twice and getting no response, a dispatcher asked Qwest to trace the location, Fisher said. Eight minutes had elapsed when police finally got an address, he said. "Once we got the information, we were there within one minute," Fisher said.

The database that links phone numbers and addresses to Qwest's 911 system has been provided by SCC Communications of Boulder since 1996. SCC spokeswoman Sherri Hughes-Smith referred queries to Qwest. "We are supporting Qwest in a thorough investigation of the occurrence," she said.

Gronbach declined to discuss how the 911 system, including the database, is constructed. "That's something we wouldn't talk about," he said.

The failure of an address to appear on a 911 screen is rare but not unheard of, said Englewood Safety Services Director Chris Olson, who heads Arapahoe County's E-911 Authority board.

"The master address list is hopefully constantly updated, but there could be a glitch in the system," Olson said. "You really don't know until somebody tries to access the system."

Woman killed after 911 call in which she begged police to 'hurry'

The Associated Press

RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. (April 21, 1998 8:49 p.m. EDT)
-- Leasa Ivory's call for help came too late. Police arriving just two minutes after her 911 call found her stabbed in the back with a fishing knife. She died less than an hour later, on her 27th birthday.

"He's trying to get in. Hurry up, hurry up," the woman yelled into the phone early Monday. "He's taking the door off the hinges and coming in."

The call ended with the sound of the telephone being dropped and screams.

The victim's husband, Antonio Ivory, 30, of West Palm Beach, was charged with murder and held Tuesday without bond. He already is on probation for battering his wife last June.

Hours before the stabbing, Leasa Ivory told her husband by telephone that he was not the father of her 6-month-old son, Cornelius, and that she had filed papers to change the baby's name, according to arrest documents.

Ivory then drove to his wife's apartment and broke the window and door, Detective Pat Galligan said.

Leasa Ivory ran with the couple's 3-year-old son, Antonio Jr., to the parking lot, where her husband caught up to her. Police officers found her lying in a pool of blood, and Ivory was nearby.

"Take me to jail. I stabbed her," police said he told them.

The two young boys and an 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship were staying with relatives, police said.

Keep in mind that people like Diane Feinstein and Sarah Brady would have this be a common theme in America. In their eyes, you shouldn't have a gun to protect yourself in a situation like this. Invariably, when asked about situations like this the reply is either "Call 911" or "Call the police." Tragically, this is all too often what would happen.

Two rape victims win $300,000 from city. Case was brought over 911 failure

by Peyton Whitely, Seattle Times staff reporter
April 10, 1996

The City of Seattle has agreed to pay $300,000 to two developmentally disabled women who were raped after police failed to respond to their 911 calls six years ago.

The victims, a 61-year-old woman, and her 29-year-old daughter, were assaulted in their home March 18, 1990, by William Jimerson, who later was convicted and imprisoned for the crimes.

The women had called 911 to report a prowler, but police did not respond. The women were subsequently raped by the intruder. It wasn't until one of the victims escaped to the home of a neighbor and police were called again that a patrol car was dispatched to their home.

The incident prompted police to change their response policy to prowler calls.

In 1992, the women filed a lawsuit against the city over the mishandled calls. The case was dismissed, appealed, assigned to mediation and finally, last week, settled without a trial.

Under the agreement, the money paid by the city will be placed in a trust fund for the mother and daughter.

"It was pretty extreme," said Mark Leemon, their attorney, who joined the women in disclosing the settlement yesterday.

Testimony showed the women made their first 911 call about a prowler at 12:46 a.m. but no patrol cars were available to be sent to the house. At 1:29 a.m., dispatchers called back and were told by the mother that the prowler had left, even though the man was still there. Later court testimony showed that the mother had said the prowler was gone because she feared her daughter would be killed.

At 2:27 a.m., the daughter was able to go to a neighbor's house and call for help again, leading to Jimerson's arrest.

After the attacks, the women never returned to their southeast Seattle home. The settlement will be used partly to provide them with a safe, new place to live.

Jimerson, a repeat sexual offender, was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Randy Tibbs, police communications director, said that incident has led to changed procedures and served as a learning experience for police.

"In this case, with these ladies, they deserved a better response," he said yesterday.

But Tibbs, who keeps a chart on his office wall showing how 911 calls have gone from 300,000 a year in 1970 to 900,000 currently with no proportional increase in police officers, notes there are no easy solutions to handling calls for assistance. A City Council committee also has begun studying 911 response times, trying to determine how Seattle rates nationally and whether improvements might be possible.

Tibbs says the average 911 response time is about 9.2 minutes, but certain types of high-priority crimes, such as reports of shots being fired, get faster responses. One of the changes emerging from the rape cases of the mother and daughter is that prowler reports are now given a higher priority.

New broadcast procedures also were implemented, so that all officers would be aware of such a call and any nearby units, such as detectives, might be expected to check such reports.

Still, Tibbs explains, there's no simple method to fix every possible shortcoming with dispatch systems. About 30,000 false alarms are reported every year, and they all have to be checked.

"There's no free lunch on this," Tibbs says.

911 computer failure

From an article by Dave Farrell, San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Jan 1987:

The city's failure to send help to a choking 5-year-old boy was attributed to equipment failure, not human error, according to Mayor Dianne Feinstein. When Gregory Lee began choking, his Cantonese-speaking grandmother dialed 911, but gave up when no one understood her. The automatic call-tracing program somehow retrieved the wrong address and displayed it on the police controller's computer screen. (The rescue crew was directed to the wrong address.)

I love the bureaucrat's way of blaming this on a "computer failure" rather than a language problem. San Francisco has a large Asian/Cantonese population, yet didn't have anyone who could understand her. Even if the address was on the screen, in a life threatening situation, how much time would pass before the operator assigned it a high priority?
Here are examples of how relying on the telephone for help can lead to disaster through equipment failures, poorly trained personnel or bad police procedures.

911 Service Restored

A phone problem that knocked out emergency 911 service in Minneapolis and some suburbs for four hours this morning has been fixed, reports WCCO-Radio.

An equipment failure at the U.S. West Communications building in downtown Minneapolis caused lines to go down just after 1 a.m. today.

U.S. West spokesperson Mary Hisley told WCCO-Radio that 911 service was inoperable with the Minneapolis and St. Louis Park police departments, as well as the Hennepin County Sheriff's office. The service was restored shortly after at 5 a.m., according to the radio station.

"U.S. West has a number of central switching systems that process calls and they are located throughout the downtown area and metro area," Hisley told WCCO-Radio. "The failure occurred in the switching center in the downtown Minneapolis central office."

It was down in the four hours between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. just when most people fear an intruder break-in or a prowler around their homes. What would you do if after you heard a noise in your kitchen or glass breaking near the front door you dialed 911 and got no response? Or simply a ringing that would never be answered?

911 Systems Overburdened and Imperiled

Channel 2000/CBS-2 LOS ANGELES, Posted 9:50 a.m. July 13, 1997 -- You are in trouble. There is a fire, or perhaps an intruder; you dial 911. The line is busy. Why? Because someone wants to know the time. Or whether the smelt are running. Or how to get to Dodger Stadium. Or how long to cook a turkey.

These "emergencies" all of them actual calls to 911 operators would be funny if the consequences were not so serious.

In big cities across America, 911 mostly saves lives, but it loses others fending off unforeseen problems of every sort: Too few officers. Too few operators. Not enough training for any of them.

But the system's biggest emergency, and arguably the hardest to believe, is that millions don't understand what 911 is for.

In Los Angeles, a recent audit disclosed that 85 percent of the 3.6 million calls flooding the city's 911 system last year were not emergencies at all. Nationwide, that figure ranges from 50 percent to 90 percent.

"You wouldn't believe the calls we get," said Los Angeles 911 supervisor Barbara Pakenham. "People don't have a clue. Someone doesn't like that their neighbor's stereo is really loud. So they call 911."

"Some people think it's a number that you use for any type of service," said police Cmdr. Carlo Cuido. "We're going to get silly calls no matter what. But we want the people who do have life-threatening emergencies to get through." An estimated 180,000 calls went unanswered last year in Los Angeles, according to the new city audit. New York City installed a $156 million state-of-the-art 911 system, only to be embarrassed by 1996 reports of callers being put on hold for as long as eight minutes.  
Note that 180,000 calls a year is just under 500 per day that go unanswered!

Cellular phones have added new difficulties and an estimated 18 million calls each year. Unlike standard phones, cell phones don't supply the caller's number and location.

In L.A. County, the California Highway Patrol fielded 579,000 cellular 911 calls in 1996 many of them non-emergencies, many of them multiple reports of the same traffic accident. Like those using regular phones, 911 cellular callers often receive a busy signal or are placed on hold.

The latest pitch to cure the country's clogged emergency lines is 311, a non-emergency number endorsed by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, and approved in February by the Federal Communications Commission.

But not everyone likes the idea notably, national trade groups representing 911 operators, equipment manufacturers and managers, who say 311 would just sow confusion.

Bill Stanton, executive director of the National Emergency Number Association, said the existing system would work just fine with public education on how to use it.

Too many calls is only one threat to 911. Many of the people who answer those calls are stressed out, poorly paid and ill-trained.

In 1995, the Better Government Association and a local television station videotaped 10 operators in Chicago sleeping on the job. "People were kicked back with their headsets on, asleep," said Terrence Brunner, executive director of the BGA. "The pictures were amazing because you could see some of these people being jerked awake by the phone ringing off the hook." Chicago police spokesman Paul Jenkins said a mammoth, high-tech communications center that opened not long after the report aired has corrected the problem. Nearly 100 percent of 911 calls, Jenkins said, are now answered on the first ring.

In Philadelphia, the 1994 beating death of altar boy Eddie Polec on the steps of a church prompted a national outcry when 911 tapes chronicling 20 calls made by friends and neighbors were made public.

Operators were hostile. "Don't talk to me like that!" one yelled at a distraught friend begging for help.

It took 41 minutes for police to arrive. By then, Eddie was dead. John Polec, the boy's father, doesn't blame the operators. The problem was Philadelphia's antiquated dispatching system for his neighborhood, which relied on a single radio band for all communication.

Mobile computer terminals installed in about 125 of the city's 500 cruisers have helped by allowing officers to run license plates, vehicle registrations and other functions without tying up radio airwaves.

Still, Philadelphia's is an overloaded 911 system. About 55 percent of calls are non-emergencies, and there aren't enough cops to answer all of the real ones. John Polec has a simple explanation for those who ask why he presses to reform 911.

"Because I've got two other kids that might need a cop one day," he says.

Note: Many communities "advertise" 911 on city vehicles and patrol cars as the number to call for police, fire or ambulance. But they frequently don't advertise a non-emergency number. As is typical of many government "solutions" their own acts result in unintended consequences. Because the 911 advertising campaign was so successful, people have forgotten the "other" numbers to call police for non-emergency incidents.
And here, most dreadful of all, is what can happen when the people you rely on for help don't have your best interests in mind.

Cop Raped Woman Twice, Police Say

Allegedly Assaulted Her Second Time After She Called 911

from June 9, 2000

MEDIA, Pa. (AP) -- A police officer has been accused of raping a woman while responding to a call and then returning to her house and raping her again after she phoned 911 for help.

Christopher Scaggs, 27, a Glenolden officer for 18 months, was charged with rape and sexual assault. He was freed Thursday on $25,000 bail and placed on administrative leave. No preliminary hearing date has been set.

Authorities said Scaggs admitted the crimes on tape when the woman, wearing a hidden recorder provided by investigators, arranged to meet him after the Monday morning incidents.

Scaggs' attorney, S. Stanton Miller, emphasized that Scaggs has not been convicted. "These are allegations. All we have is the criminal complaint that makes those allegations," Miller said.

Mother-daughter quarrel

The situation began with an argument between the 30-year-old woman and her 10-year-old daughter. The girl called her father, who in turn called police and asked them to come with him to the house in suburban Philadelphia.

Scaggs and other officers responded at about 1 a.m. Monday. The father was given custody of the girl, and the two left along with the other officers.

Prosecutors say Scaggs stayed at the home and raped the mother.

The woman called 911 but panicked and hung up before speaking to anyone. Dispatchers traced the call and, as is routine, ordered a patrol car to be sent. Scaggs, the only officer left on duty, responded to the call and raped the woman again at about 3 a.m., authorities said.

Meeting at car dealership

She sought treatment at a hospital, which contacted police. Officers then had the woman arrange a meeting at a car dealership where Scaggs moonlighted as a security guard.

"I'm very, very concerned," said Delaware County District Attorney Pat Meehan. "This is a situation again in the Delaware Valley where a person [alleges] that a responding police officer has actually raped a person."

Michael Evans, a state trooper from Montgomery County, is awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted three teenagers and three women while on duty.

Tapes show 911 fire call mocked, delayed

TROY, N.Y. - After taking a call from a woman frantically reporting a fire, a 911 dispatcher mocked her in an exaggerated falsetto instead of passing on her report to the fire department, authorities said.

Troy Fire Chief Tom Garrett said the three-minute delay before the Sept. 8 fire was finally reported made the difference in fighting it. The woman, Gloria Butler, and two others in the home lost all their possessions, including a family Bible and photos.

''I can't sleep at night thinking about what happened,'' said another resident of the home, Albert Poulk. ''There was so much smoke I had to close my eyes and feel my way out. . . They didn't care if I burned to death.''

The tape of the call shows Butler saying frantically: ''Send a fire truck now to 901 Peoples Ave.''

The dispatcher responded: ''What's the problem?''

That was followed by a dial tone after the woman apparently hung up and fled the home.

The tape then appears to reveal the dispatcher repeating the demand for a fire truck in a high-pitched, exaggerated African-American dialect, authorities said.

The dispatcher tried to telephone the home back and eventually heard a busy signal when the fire burned through the phone line, fire officials said. The dispatcher didn't report the call until three minutes later, only after receiving two more related calls, authorities said.

Garrett said Friday that he isn't calling for action against the dispatcher because the system and the county's training is the problem. ''We want to get on the record before someone gets hurt bad,'' Garrett said Friday.

Garrett said Rensselaer County is the only New York county he knows of that doesn't have a computer aided dispatch system. County 911 operators still write emergency information on paper and walk it over to the dispatcher, the same way operators did in the 1950s, he said.

County officials said they had planned to get a computer system by now, but the manufacturer hired by the county went out of business.

An Associated Press story

Court Says No Liability For S.F. in Highrise Case

Friday, September 25, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO -- The city is not legally responsible for the death of a woman who lay wounded in a downtown high- rise building for 45 minutes while 911 operators gave repeated assurances that help was on the way, a state appeals court has ruled.

Gian Luigi Ferri, a deranged man with a grudge against lawyers, killed eight people and wounded six at 101 California St. in July 1993 before shooting himself.

In a ruling made public yesterday, the state Court of Appeals said the city could be held responsible for the death of 33-year-old legal secretary Deborah Fogel only if the operators' reassurances, and her co-workers' assumption that medical help would soon arrive, prevented actions that could have saved her life.

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