Dear PoP – Unresponsive 911 To Incident at 13th and T St, NW

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoP,

I’m writing because I’m incredibly concerned about the responsiveness of 911 dispatchers in my neighborhood after an incident Saturday afternoon on 13th Street, NW, between S and T. I was packing some boxes at home when I heard a loud crashing sound from the street and looked out my window to see several cars stopped in the middle of the road. Thinking it was a minor traffic accident, I went back to packing until I heard loud shouting and screaming coming from outside the window. I looked out to see that the situation had quickly gotten out of control, with a young woman screaming in the face of another driver and a small group of men forming around them. Someone was tossing things from another’s car and realizing that this was looking to turn into a fistfight at any minute, I called 911 to report the incident.

I was told by the dispatcher that she had already taken another call from someone else about situation and that I should tell her when punches are thrown so she could make note of it once the police showed up. Thinking this was an outrageous response, I explained to the dispatcher that it was a volatile situation and was deteriorating pretty fast – things could easily have gotten violent (not to mention these cars were parked in the middle of 13th Street and could cause more accidents).

Still after over a half hour, no police car has shown up and those involved are hashing it out. The situation was left to devolve because of a lack of responsiveness from the 911 dispatcher and the unresponsiveness of the police. Following the violent attack on two residents in the alley behind 13th Street a few months ago, my understanding was that the police were going to be more active in patrolling this area and had promised to become more responsive.

Since last summer, there have been several fights and assaults in front of the Whitelaw Hotel apartments and other low-income housing that borders our street. It’s very disconcerting and a shame to think that police have already lost interest in keeping this neighborhood safe. I’d be interested to know whether other readers of yours have had a similar experience with unresponsive 911 dispatchers.”

29 Comment

  • In my experience the DC police deserve a huge amount of credit in this area. Every time I’ve called, they are there within two or three minutes.

    • +1 they have always been there pronto when I have called. I try to be clear, concise and to the point when I call. I always leave my contact info too.

      • me

        How? I’ve done the same, but the police show up 3 hours later. I’ve called in the middle of my house being robbed, and the police literally showed up 2 hours and 50 minutes later. I’m 2 blocks from the police station. I’ve just kind of given up now.

  • You can contact the office of unified communications (OUC) and request a copy of your transcript. They should be able to tell you when (if) they dispatched a unit, whether they have a unit marking on the scene, etc.

    If there was a breakdown somewhere, calling OUC is the place to start.

    OUC falls under the Executive Office of the Mayor, not the Metropolitan Police Department. So I would contact OUC first before automatically assigning the breakdown to the police department 🙂

  • I’ve only called them once when I thought someone had broken into my neighbors house. They were there in 5 mins.

    • Lucky. When my house got broken into it took them 45 minutes to show up. I waited in my car across the street because the burglarers could have very well still been in there.

  • Send Chief Lanier a message.

    • Send one to Jim Graham too. And to OUC/EOM like was recommended above. Make enough noise and they’ll figure out what happened. And then promptly white wash it like there was never a problem.

  • At least they picked up, last time I called 911 *no one answered* (I’m not kidding).

  • “I called 9-1-1 a long time ago,
    don’t you see how late they re-ack-ing.
    They only come when they come when they wanna,
    so get the morgue truck you’re near ’bout the goner.”

    —911 is a Joke, Public Enemy

    You called 911 to report a traffic accident that resulted in screaming and yelling with the potential to become violent. It’s quite possible that at the time you called, the officers available for patrol were handling more pressing calls – like a call involving actual violence occurring in realtime. I don’t think the dispatcher’s response was out of line. If actual punches had been thrown, it would be relevant information for the police to have because it would have made this incident more of a priority.
    I can understand your concern, but there is a difference between a slow police response to a traffic accident and a slow police response to a robbery or assault.

    • If you believe that DC government prioritizing calls to better manage their resources so as to give us the biggest bang for our tax dollars, then more power to you.

      1/2 hour later is unacceptable. What if someone were hurt? What if there had been a knife or gun pulled? Would the dispatcher then rush the call?

      Every crime needs attention and a proper response.

      I think might be a little naive.

      • “What if someone were hurt? What if there had been a knife or gun pulled? Would the dispatcher then rush the call?”

        Yep and Yep. An accident with injuries gets bumped to a priority one or two assignment. Knives and guns are priority one.

      • “What if someone were hurt? What if there had been a knife or gun pulled? Would the dispatcher then rush the call?”

        Yes, the dispatcher would then rush the call because then you would have a violent situation, as opposed to one person’s subjective view that a situation could become violent. I’m not discounting this person’s perspective. I am just saying that a 9-1-1 call reporting a car crash and people arguing is not going to go to the top of the emergency response queue.
        Think about it. Do you really think there are enough police resources in any city to respond to every call that is just about an argument in progress?

        I called 9-1-1 one night during snowpaclypse because a drunk woman was in the alley behind my house in shirt sleeves talking (or yelling) to no one in particular. Fire Department was there in minutes. Turns out she was a frequent flyer – they knew her by name.
        Caled once when I noticed in the middle of the night that my neighbor’s front door was open and all the lights were out in his home. Cops came within minutes. Turns out the door had been blown open by the wind.
        Maybe I have just been lucky to have had timely responses.

  • Yeah, my experience is that the dispatchers dont do much for arguing unless you say there is an actual physical confrontation or a weapon is displayed. Used to have neighbors that had boys hanging around from all the time who would argue and posture loudly, but the cops only would come quickly if a punch was thrown or a weapon was pulled.

  • I live on this block and was parking my car when this occurred. The young woman was so over the top screaming and yelling over a minor fender tender. I didn’t see it escalate though. If I had I know from experience that sometimes it helps to add a few details when calling 911 like “she is so out of control, maybe she is drunk or on drugs.”

    • totally agree. Just like showing up to a crowded ER, you really have to know what to say to make your issue rise in the priority queue.

      • “I have a little tightness and pain in my chest…”

        • My dad walked into an ER with his bloody hand wrapped in towels and ducktape and when asked what was the matter. He said “I hit my thumb with a maul.” In the sudden silence that followed, the nurse asked “Is it still attached?” When he responded that it was, the noise resumed and he was given some forms to fill out while he waited.

  • We’ve had to call 911 and 311 for a variety of incidents lately, and in each case the cops and/or ambulance were there within minutes. And we live in Brightwood.

  • the caller- dispatcher- and police all did the right thing

  • I’ve called the police several times where they didn’t show up, and I know about a million people with stories like this.

    I’m actually pretty surprised with all the positive feedback here — I thought it was a common thing to get poor results from 911 calls.

    My most recent problem was about a year ago when I called about some kids stealing a scooter on my street. I gave them my phone number and everything. 45 minutes later, the kids were taking turns joyriding on it ON THE SAME BLOCk and no police response.

    Around 8(?) years ago, I called 911 about a homeless man attacking someone with a knife and got a busy signal.

    Of course, I’ve never bothered to escalate any of these issues, so I’m no help with the situation, I guess.

    • I don’t think that the average citizen should have to escalate their own issue(s). Perhaps the MPD should request a random sampling of calls from the OUC each day/week and see if the “caller -> 911 center -> police” link worked as it should.

      *we* should not have to audit this system and ensure it works well, the city should be doing it.

  • There is a hole in the 9-11 system and that’s the people who operate the phones. They’re usually, but not always the most professional. You should report it (we do it on the police list serve) and have them investigate. If they determine that no action was justified, then so be it. If they feel that something didn’t happen that should, it’s now logged against the 9-11 operator.

  • the reason the dispatcher told you to tell her when punches were thrown was that it could be used as evidence. by the time it goes to trial, if it does, you won’t remember exactly what happened. you won’t remember the time, the shirts or shoes they were wearing. you will be giving first hand accounts.
    in a situation that is escalating, stay on your 911 call. you might not be able to stop it, but you can help give the detectives evidence.

  • You are not naive. It just shows the low level of expectations for response from any part of DC government–unless you are leasing a fully loaded SUV or hiring a connected relative.

  • Sorry that was in reply to Frankie

  • what exactly happens when you call 911?

    they answer. i assume they plug into the computer your address straight away. or the address that you are calling about. they take down information and its also being recorded. then what?
    how does that information actually get to the right people? i assume the 911 operators are not police dispatch. people are saying that violent calls get taken care of first. are you certain? who prioritizes response?

    i’ve had about 90% good luck with 911. though it has ebbed and flowed over the years.

  • I’ve had the occasion to call 911 for both violent incidents (one guy hitting another with a 2×4 and a man punching a woman while she was holding a baby) and saw police respond within five minutes, even after the dispatcher told me someone else called.

    More recently, I called on my evil, stupid neighbors because they were playing their music so loud my windows were shaking and the cops came within two minutes. I also called regarding drunk people in my alley and had a similar response time. Neither of these were violent and didn’t have the potential to become so … well, if they hadn’t responded to the noise complete I might have been pushed to violence, but I digress. I also called after a bum fight which left the loser bleeding, rolling around on the sidewalk. Cops came within 30 seconds to that one.

    Sounds like there isn’t a pattern here given the above posts. All of my calls were made from Columbia Heights, in case that matters. I just got a little sad that I’ve called the cops that many times over 7 years here …

  • You might want to try double-parking your car. The meter maids in the city are incredibly effective, so you might be able to get their attention.

    Calling 911 is hit or miss. I had a 911 operator repeatedly hang up on me when I was rear ended on the exit ramp to the Roosevelt bridge (leaving two non-functional cars stuck on an exit ramp). I had to call about 8 times after the police failed to show up within 30 minutes (note that multiple accidents almost occurred during this period).

    When the cop finally showed up, he told me that the 911 dispatcher had been directed him to a different part of the city.

    I called 911 another time when a crackhead was walking up my block trying to pry open windows and doors (note this was around 7PM at night). It took about 15 minutes for someone to show up, by which time the crackhead had aborted his mission and moved on elsewhere.

    This all seems pretty reasonable given that the vast majority of DC is inhabited by criminals.

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