Saturday, April 21, 2012

When 911 Hung Up On Me

By Tim Hadac
Managing Editor
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
And of course, crime prevention is important to me. I proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with all Southwest Siders---like you---who absolutely refuse to accept criminal activity and who refuse to accept anything less than clean, safe neighborhoods in which to live, work, play, study, worship, shop, and more. Neighborhoods where we can raise our families and grow old in peace and comfort. Neighborhoods where "the good old days" are now---because we made it that way by working together.

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.

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  1. This is obviously a suspicious person and service should not have been refused!! Next step should've been call 911 back and ask to speak to a supervisor.

  2. I am very disturbed by this and look forward to hearing more from you on this topic. Also, very well written, please keep writing, keeping us informed, and helping to keep our neighborhood safe.

  3. I actually had the same problem where the the calltaker put "North" Normandy and a squad was dispatched there instead of "South" Normandy although I did, in fact, specify South. So everytime thereafter I would also insert 008th District into the conversation so there would be no confusion.

  4. It is always stated in presentations by OEMC that if you're not satisfied with the call-taker, hang up and call back or ask to speak to a supervisor. Also, if possible, get the person's name and document the time you've called

  5. thanks for this information it will make me more alert on my block as well. From everything you said you did the right thing. My feeling are he or she just didn't feeling like doing anything about this situation. But thanks for your own move I believe you prevented a


  6. I believe the 23rd ward is a non-solitation ward, so even if he was "selling" something you could have approached him and told him. I think in the future, if I have to call 911 I will be calling more than once, just so the operator gets the correct information. My friend had told me last week that she saw a van driving up and down the alleys late at night, and followed them, while calling 911.

  7. Not only was it a suspicious person but in this ward door to door solicitation is not allowed. Its a shame that the operator couldn't do her job. Imagine how many other calls get responded to like that!

  8. Does not surprise me at all. Was in car accident on 57th Harlem called 911 from my cell phone and the operator told me to go to the nearest police station which is not close. Plus the other drivers's car was not driveable and I had no intention of getting in the same car as him at night. I told 911 that I was a senior citizen and I wanted a squad car now! Took them another 25 minutes but they finally arrived. As usual the driver had no insurance. Gee I though it was manditory to have car insurance in Illinois. No checks and balances, just hot air from our politicians. They are more worried about getting re-elelected than protecting or helping people. After reading the above I've come to the conclusion we have no police protection in Garfield Ridge.

  9. I too would like to know the protocl of the OEMC! On New Year's Eve, a "known drug" dealer house was conducting "business" with two younger men in a car in the alley as I was walking my dog. I called 911 with the license plate number of the car thinking they would try to at least apprehend them and bust them for buying narcotics and then come and get the guy for selling them. (The dealer, by the by is currently in jail.) But when I spoke with this 911 operator, her exact words were: "And what do you want me to do about it?" Needless to say I was first stunned, and then became angry. I told her that I wanted the police to look for the car and I would identify them as I saw the whole thing go down. She again said "And I said, what do you want me to do about it?" So I politely told her: "Nothing, I will talk to Commander Kopczyk about it and your attitude." Unfortunately, I waited too long to speak to Commander Kopczyk, who is no longer with us. It made me want to give up. But for the safety of all of our kids, families, homes and everything we've actually "worked for" that others think is their right to take, I'm not giving up!!! We need to all band together. Sit on our porches again at night in the summer and talk to neighbors, keep an eye on anything that doesn't look right. If we don't the neighborhood will just become another one of the gang's homeland and we'll be pushed out.

  10. Get used to it people the C.P.D. is seriously understaffed, pretty soon you'll be doing your own reports.

    1. Yes Indeed! Beats 811 abnd 812 are located in the far west section of the city, and our beat cars are in the eastern part of the 008 dist. responding to gunshots and whatever goes on in the ghetto. so if a serious (or any) crime is committed in the Clear-Ridge area, the police response will be very slow to arrive (not their fault, BTW, they don't make the rules) or not arrive at all. But that shouldn't stop you from calling 911 ! I am a 911 operator and I cringe when I read stories like this. I don't know why that specific operator reacted like that but that's a big no-no. That makes us all look bad. Call the 8th district and ask for special attention in beats 811 and 812...keep calling until something is done!