Draft for Discussion: Policy Recommendations for 911 Response

January 28th, 2013

red-phone1Ms. Ka’Sandra Wade called 911 for help at approximately 10:38 p.m. on 12/31/12. The call was dispatched as “A female called in from 528 Lowell St. gave her address was calm at first then there was some commotion and the line disconnected.” Officers arrived on scene at about 10:51 p.m. and spoke to a male. At 11:01 p.m. one of two responding officers reported “A male came to the window and said everything is ok. Refused to answer any (more) questions. I’m back.” On 1/1/13 Ms. Wade was found deceased at 528 Lowell St. Police sought her male friend who held SWAT at bay for several hours at his residence. The male confessed to killing Ms. Wade and provided police with a note that suggested they could have saved her. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Many questions emerged from this incident regarding protocols for police responses to various types of calls. In 1988 a similar incident occurred from which several systemic changes were made to the emergency dispatch system. The Wade incident illuminated areas related to communication among dispatchers, police officers, supervisors and victims that might benefit from a renewed examination. The questions of judgment related to the responding officers are reserved for CPRB review.

The following suggestions are offered in a preliminary form for the purpose of receiving critique and promoting further discussion.

1. Initiate an optional & voluntary enrollment system whereby a victim of domestic violence could enroll their phone number with 911. Enrollment could be offered at the time of filing for a Protection from Abuse Order and available at any safe place the person may seek refuge. If that phone number calls 911, it would be flagged as potential domestic violence. Even if disconnected, the call would be noted as emergent.

2. The Bureau of Police should develop a specific protocol for responding to calls dispatched as “unknown trouble” which includes specific instruction for officers to gather pertinent information including whether or not the caller or a witness is on scene; if on-scene, the officer must observe the caller in person; the officer must require a report from dispatch on callback efforts. The procedure should include emphasis on the supervisor’s role.

3. Retention of Police, Fire and EMS supervisors at the Emergency Operations Center. These supervisors are critical support personnel to call takers, dispatchers, 911 supervisors and responding officers. The duty assignment would be a feasible assignment for personnel returning from disability, injury or compensation.

4. Responding police officers should continue to ask if there are weapons involved in a call, if there is any indication that the call is domestic related. Call takers/dispatchers should ask if the call is a domestic call, a simple yes/no answer is all that’s needed.

5. Implement/continue mandatory police recruit training requirement to spend time in the 911 Center. Consider requiring all officers to spend in-service time at the Emergency Operations center occasionally throughout their career.

6. Require dispatchers to participate in “ride-alongs” with police.

7. Institute a roll-call practice that assures odd calls for service, open line calls, and unusual observations are included in the pass-along information.

8. Implement intensive training in domestic violence for police officers, call takers and dispatchers conducted by professional experts in Domestic Violence rather than other police officers or generic trainers.

9. Encourage higher utilization of Crisis Intervention Team officers in calls involving ambiguity.

10. Implement a personnel screening & monitoring system to assure early intervention with symptoms of PTSD often experienced by emergency service personnel. Enhance supervisory training to assure personnel performance habits remain optimal, safe and duty oriented.

11. Enroll supervisors in a professionally recognized management program or course of study to assure effective management techniques and best practices are employed throughout the Bureau of Police. A consistent system of nurturing officers’ development of sound decision-making, understanding and utilizing discretion is best achieved through professionally finessed guidance.

12. Implementation of the Lethality Assessment for First Responders, known as the Maryland Model. Councilman Burgess has proposed this assessment be integrated into the City Code. Regardless, the assessment is an excellent tool and is worthy of deployment in the City.

These suggestions were prepared by staff of the Independent Citizen Police Review Board.

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