Councilman Phil Mendelson, chair of the committee on the judiciary, asked Jennifer Greene, director of the OUC, about the call during today’s judiciary committee hearing to discuss proposed 2013 budgets at the John A. Wilson Building downtown.
The recorded conversation between the operator and a witness was “surreal,” Mendelson said.
Greene said the operator heard on the call has been retrained and that system upgrades should make problems like the one recorded on the call less common. But Mendelson remained concerned that the 911 system is not operating effectively.
1 2, 2010, a man called 911 to ask that officers be sent to the Clay Terrace neighborhood in Northeast DC. One person had a gun, he said. Another had a knife.
But officers were not immediately dispatched because the address the caller gave could not be verified by the operator’s computer system.
On the 911 recording, the witness and the operator go back and forth trying to determine the address for more than five minutes. Then, with the witness still on the phone asking for help, the shots ring out.
During conversation the caller gave the operator a total of six locations or landmarks, all within about a square mile of each other in Northeast DC. All were within a quarter mile of where Jones was found.
Jones, a 31-year-old father of two and a rumored neighborhood “snitch,” was shot six times in the back.
Mendelson asked Greene, of the OUC, why authorities didn’t trace the call to determine the caller’s location when the given address couldn’t be verified.
Greene said it was possible that, because the witness called from a cell, the only information available to the operator was the location of the tower transmitting the call.
Mendelson said that the District upgraded the 911 system about seven years ago to give operators the coordinates of calls made to 911 from cell phones after a person was kidnapped but managed to call 911 from the trunk of a car.
“I expect that when these stories come up again that this information is used,” he said.
Mendelson also wanted to know why the operator didn’t dispatch the police cars the witness said were parked near the scene.
Greene said it was unclear from the call which district or quadrant of the city the call was coming. The operator, therefore, didn’t know which dispatcher to contact regarding the cruisers, which were off-duty at the time.
Mendelson disagreed. “There was no question that [the caller] was in the Northeast quadrant and was near Clay Terrace,” he said.
Since Jones’ death, the operator was retrained and the computer system operators use to verify addresses has been upgraded so they can search by landmarks, Greene said.
At the time of the shooting, the computer system couldn’t search by landmarks, she said. The upgrade was made in July 2011 after operators had similar difficulties while handling calls unrelated to the shooting.
The 911 recording was prime evidence against Rickey Pharr. Pharr was ultimately found guilty of first-degree murder while armed in Jones’ death.
Mendelson also expressed concern that emergency responders were not receiving all the information needed to find the precise locations of emergencies.
His office recently called 911 because of a medical emergency, Mendelson said. The medics were delayed because, although they found the building, they didn’t have the suite number even though those who called 911 had given the operator the suite number, he said.
“How does that happen?” he asked.
Greene said all the information, including a suite number is entered into the computer system used to communicate with first responders. She didn’t know why the medics didn’t have the suite number in Mendelson’s case.
OUC answered 4 million 911 calls during the last fiscal year, Greene said during the hearing. This year, call takers have fielded nearly 610,000 911 calls. Ninety-five percent of those calls were answered in under five seconds.
The 911 call that prompted Mendelson’s questioning of OUC was first reported by Homicide Watch. Find complete coverage of the case here.
Listen to the audio below.