“I NEED D.C. police . . . one person got a knife, another person got a gun.” So began the agonizing five-minute, 12-second conversation to a D.C. 911 operator in 2010 that ended with a salvo of gunshots and a young man dead. This glaring instance of indifference, if not ineptitude, by the District’s emergency call center was recently revealed in D.C. Superior Court proceedings; while the administration reports that fixes have been made, it is important that the D.C. Council conduct its own review.
The botched 911 call in the early hours of Oct. 2, 2010, emerged as key evidence in the successful prosecution of Rickey Pharr for the murder of Angelo Jones. Mr. Jones was shot six times in the back even as a witness frantically tried to get a 911 operator to dispatch police to the scene. The problem, as Homicide Watch reported, is that the caller did not provide a precise enough address. Never mind that he asked for help on Clay Terrace, around 53rd and 54th streets, near H.D. Woodson High School — an area well known to police. “Well, if you could come, Clay Terrace,” the caller beseeched; “Sir, I’m not coming,” replied the operator. Less than two minutes later, six shots are heard on the tape and Mr. Jones, 31, the father of two, is dead.
The inevitable question is whether the shooting could have been prevented if the call had been handled differently. And, is there is still reason for concern? The shooting predates the current administration, but a spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said changes have been made in the system, both in procedures and technology, to help guarantee that incidents like this will not recur. In addition to better equipment, training has been updated. This includes a program in which dispatchers and call takers from the Office of Unified Communications participate in ride-along programs with police while police observe dispatching- and call-taking procedures.
Nonetheless, as council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) told WTOP, the situation is disturbing: “In an emergency, somebody calls for help, and they expect help, not a five-minute conversation that ends with gunshots.” Mr. Mendelson, who chairs the committee with oversight over the city’s 911 system, has promised a thorough review.