Alexandria Acting City Manager Vola Lawson ordered major changes in the Public Safety Department yesterday, calling the police response to an assistance call from an 89-year-old woman who was robbed and sexually abused "unsatisfactory and inappropriate."
The woman, Ada Belle Allan, was molested for two hours Jan. 26 while two police officers belatedly dispatched to her home investigated a nearby home by mistake. One month later, Allan died of congestive heart failure.
"Quite candidly, I didn't need Mrs. Lawson or Ms. Evans [Assistant City Manager Michelle Evans] to tell me I need to do something," Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel said in a City Hall press conference yesterday. "I know what the problems are."
Among the changes Lawson directed yesterday were: a review of police dispatching efforts, a new program for the emergency communications staff, additional training for patrol officers and increased enforcement of the city ordinance calling for a visible address posted outside every home.
Lawson's actions were significant because she was appointed the city's interim administrator Feb. 26 after two City Council members criticized former city manager Douglas Harman for not exercising firm control over public safety issues.
Mayor Charles E. Beatley said Harman was personally too close to Strobel after he failed to inform the City Council that Strobel's department had ended a controversial police drug probe. To ensure that the council is informed of sensitive issues in "a more timely manner," Lawson yesterday designated Evans the permanent liaison to the Public Safety Department.
Strobel said Lawson's changes were necessary for his 564-member department, which includes the police, fire and city inspections forces, but he added that he had no role in deciding the changes. Asked whether he believed the rank and file would resent Lawson's direct orders, Strobel said: "You have to be concerned about it."
Police spokeswoman Lucy Crockett said yesterday that Allan placed a call to the police at 3:37 a.m. on Jan. 26 and told a communications clerk that someone was trying to break into her home.
For some reason Allan also said she was returning to her bed and did not want to see a police officer, Crockett said.
The person taking Allan's call classified it as a "suspicious person" call rather than a "burglary in progress," which has higher priority. Furthermore, a dispatcher delayed relaying the call 20 minutes, and the officer did not arrive in the area until 4:03 a.m.
Lawson said yesterday the two officers who answered the dispatch to Allan's 300 Cambridge Rd. home instead inspected the residence marked 302 Cambridge Rd. around which they found tracks in the snow. She said that Allan's two-story brick home had no address posted on it.
Nearly three hours after Allan's initial call, she telephoned police at 6:21 and reported that she had been robbed. Police went to her house and later Allan was sent to the hospital, Crockett said.
The two communications officers who handled Allan's call and the two police officers involved were disciplined, Lawson said. Her report yesterday came in response to a City Council furor over the incident, first reported by The Alexandria Port Packet, a weekly newspaper.
Her alleged attacker, John Emory McDaniel, a 30-year-old cemetery worker, was charged Feb. 5 with burglary, attempted rape and attempted sodomy. He is being held without bond pending his June 12 trial.