Southwest Chicago Post
As a lifelong Southwest Sider---and a homeowner and business owner---I care a lot about this unique part of our great city, just as you do.
|NYC "See Something, Say Something" Poster
When it comes to reporting crime, I completely agree with the law enforcement slogan, "If you see something, say something"---and I praise the Chicago Police Department's Eighth District staff, from Commander McNaughton to the beat officers and everyone in between, for pushing that concept relentlessly at public meetings across the Southwest Side.
So with that in mind, I want to say that I have been very hesitant to write about the 911-related experience I had recently, if only because I don't want to give anyone the impression that calling 911 when necessary is not a good idea. It is.
But on the other hand, if something needs fixing---well, a good newspaper will not ignore it but address it in a constructive way.
So here goes: At about 7:56 p.m. Friday, April 6, I was standing in front of my home in Garfield Ridge when I noticed a man across the street, going door to door in the dark.
I guessed he was a salesman of some sort---but I found it odd that he would go door to door after dark (which frankly almost never occurs), and even more odd that he seemed to be skipping houses where inside lights were on and instead ringing bells at darkened houses.
So, based upon multiple times over the past year when I heard CPD officials at local public meetings insist that people call 911 for anything at all that may seem suspicious, I called 911 from my cell phone.
But much to my surprise, the 911 operator---in so many words---declined to dispatch a CPD unit and basically informed me that what I was describing was not suspicious.
She told me that there's no law against soliciting door to door. Stunned at her refusal to dispatch police to check it out, I conceded to her that it may very well be that he's entirely legitimate; but said that I thought what I had described (especially the skipping houses part) would be enough to raise a red flag.
But nope, she said, no dice.
So the call ended. I couldn't believe that I was reporting what may have been a crime in progress, and 911 was essentially hanging up on me.
So, I did something the police always say not to do---take action myself. I know that's potentially dangerous, but I also know that burglars typically flee if they are confronted. The last thing a burglar wants is a fight or any type of loud confrontation that draws attention.
And besides, there's just no way I'm going to let my neighbors' homes get hit by some two-bit, petty criminal if I can do something to stop it. Here on the Southwest Side, we work too hard for what we have to turn away in fear or apathy---and besides, a crime against one is a crime against all.
So as I watch this guy working his way south down the block, away from my home, I tell my wife (who is also stunned by the 911 operator's refusal) that I have to get a better look and check this guy out. We get in the minivan and drive over to where he is. He's on a porch near the end of the block. He sees me. We make eye contact, and he gets wide-eyed as I pass by.
I notice that he is holding a relatively small box. Could be harmless, I know. Maybe it contains candy bars or pamphlets or Bibles. But perhaps it contains burglary tools.
So I decide to drive around. This time I'm going to get out and ask him what he's selling.
So I do. But I can't see him any more. Then my wife says, "Look. He's in that van." Sure enough, he had just gotten into a large, unmarked, dark-colored cargo van. Upon seeing my minivan again, he pulls away from the curb quickly. I follow, if only to see if I can get close enough to get a license plate number.
But I can't. He drives swiftly north, then east, then north, then east---zig-zagging his way through sidestreets before heading east on 51st Street. Was he fleeing, or was he just driving faster than I do? I don't know, nor will I ever.
I'm angry and troubled by the 911 operator's lack of action. And while it would be easy to dismiss her as an apathetic bureaucrat, I don't. Over the years I have known a few 911 operators---and the ones I have known are hard-working, dedicated public servants who do a difficult and important job.
So I reflect on the situation repeatedly, replaying my conversation with the 911 operator again and again in my head. Did I fail to describe the situation accurately? Is that why she declined to act? Or is it her failure? Or perhaps both of ours?
I want a clarification, so I contact the Chicago Office of Emergency Managment and Communications (Gary W. Schenkel, Executive Director). I describe the situation and then ask this:
"Based upon the description I have provided, did the 911 operator take the correct action? If yes, will you please briefly explain the protocols she used to make her determination? If she was in error and failed to dispatch police to a possible crime in progress, what corrective actions will be taken?"
Here is the response I received:
"The Chicago 9-1-1 Communications Operators answered more than 5 million calls in 2011. The vast majority of the calls are successful. The 9-1-1 call taker, for the call in question, sent a police vehicle to the wrong address. The police vehicle was sent to the address provided north on Nordica instead of intended address area south on Nordica. Additionally, OEMC is looking into the specifics regarding the call taker's analysis of the call."
I'm disappointed and dissatisfied that the OEMC response did not answer my request that they explain what criteria 911 operators use when deciding to dispatch (or not dispatch) police to something that a caller reports as suspicious. And I find it confusing at best and hard to believe at worst that the 911 operator, after essentially tell me "No"---actually dispatched a vehicle, but to the Far Northwest Side rather than my block on the Southwest Side. Huh?
Anyway, folks, you be the judge.
As for my part, I plan to follow up with OEMC---not on this incident, but to interview an OEMC official to get a better understanding of how 911 calls are handled---and most important, how all of us as law-abiding citizens can work better to report suspicious activity quickly, accurately and in a way that generates the appropriate police response. I think that's important for us all, and I'll bet you agree.
# # #