An officer's mistake and a software glitch caused Leesburg police to take 37 minutes to respond to a burglar alarm May 15 at a historic downtown mansion -- nearly five times longer than the typical response time for such a call, authorities said last week.
In a report to the Town Council on Tuesday, Leesburg Police Chief Joseph R. Price said the delay was the result of a chain of events that began when the responding officer's 1996 Chevrolet Caprice broke down. The officer then violated department policy by notifying a dispatcher by using his personal cell phone rather than the police radio, which would have broadcast the message to other on-duty officers and a supervisor, who could have taken over, Price said.
The dispatcher also failed to notify a supervisor or dispatch another officer to the Glenfiddich House on North King Street, said police spokesman Jeff Dube.
"If the original officer would have used the radio like he's been instructed to, the supervisor could have handled it immediately," Dube said, adding, "We regret it."
As the officer addressed the vehicle's mechanical failure, the problem was compounded when the dispatcher erroneously recorded in a computer system that the officer was "on scene." One minute later, the dispatcher changed that status to "en route," but the computer failed to record that change, Dube said.
The department's average response time to burglar alarms in 2004 was just under eight minutes, Dube said.
Dube said "corrective action," which he declined to specify, had been taken against the officer. Price told Town Council members that department rules regarding official communications had been reinforced.
Council member Robert J. Zoldos said he asked Price to provide a report on the incident after David Miles, the owner of the Glenfiddich House, complained about the police response to council members in mid-June.
Council members are concerned about the "absolutely unacceptable" response time, Zoldos said.
"The chief needs to ensure that the procedures are followed," he said.
Miles said in an interview that he was in his car when he received a call about the alarm from the security company that operates it and that he authorized the company to notify the police. When he arrived at the house about five minutes later, he and his wife entered and turned off the alarm -- in part because they assumed police officers were there, he said.
Miles found no police officers or burglars but noticed that someone had tried to pry open a sliding door with a crowbar and that a 150-year-old door had been kicked in. Nothing was taken, he said.
Police were "very thorough" once they arrived, he said.
Miles said that nearly a month later, he went to the police because he had not been updated on the case and did not think it had been adequately investigated. He said he was told the case was closed. That's when he went to the Town Council, he said, where he asked why the department was "counting on 9- or 10-year-old police cars that should have been replaced five years ago."
Dube said the case has been given to a detective and is under investigation. He said the officer's cruiser, one of the department's oldest vehicles, is scheduled to be replaced next month. The officer is now using a newer car, he said.
According to Price's explanation to the council, the officer was dispatched at 11:09 a.m. in response to the alarm. Five minutes later, the officer used his cell phone to call the dispatcher about the car trouble. At 11:27 a.m., the officer called dispatch again to say he could not respond to the call. At 11:28 a.m., the dispatcher notified the supervisor, who headed to Glenfiddich House with another officer.
Along the way, they noticed a "verbal altercation" at a gas station and stopped to prevent a fight, Dube said. It was 11:46 a.m. by the time they arrived at the house.
"We failed to provide Dr. Miles with quality service," Price told council members Tuesday.
Miles said he has faith in Price but also wants to be sure that Leesburg residents and leaders are aware of what happened.
"This was an anomaly, but, of course, it was the real thing," he said.
Staff writer Lila de Tantillo contributed to this report.