Only three days before Alexandria's acting city manager ordered sweeping changes in the Public Safety Department, in part because of poor response on an emergency call, a burglary victim was forced to phone the police four times and wait almost 30 minutes until an officer arrived at her home.
The woman, Norma Gattsek, arrived home at 12:30 a.m. last Friday and found her living room had been ransacked. She immediately called the police, unsure whether the intruder had gone. She was told that officers would be sent and that "they can go through the rest of the house with you."
Vola Lawson, the acting city manager, informed the City Council of the incident Wednesday night, writing in a memo that it "points once again to the need for a comprehensive review of the procedures of the communications section of the Public Safety Department."
The Department of Public Safety has come under heavy criticism for its handling of a Jan. 26 call for assistance by Ada Belle Allan, 89, who was robbed and molested for two hours while two police officers belatedly dispatched to her home investigated a nearby house by mistake. Lawson described police response to the call as "unsatisfactory and inappropriate."
"We dropped the ball," said Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel of the newest incident. "The call was handled in error. It should have received high priority; instead it was treated as a routine call."
Strobel said the person who took the call was suspended for three days after the completion of an internal police inquiry.
Gattsek filed a complaint against the department the day of the burglary and it was made public two days after Lawson directed the police to review their dispatching system and initiate a new training program for all emergency communications staff.
"Two such similar incidents, particularly the second, which occurred just after we completed our investigation and reviewed the recommendations, is very troubling," Lawson said yesterday. "It is particularly unfortunate because the second case contains many elements of the first."
Gattsek, an employe of the city housing department, was told that officers would be sent right away, according to Lucy Crockett, the police spokeswoman. On a subsequent call, she was told that an officer had been dispatched but had stopped to issue a minor traffic citation. The officer was actually arresting a motorist who was later charged with drunk driving.