Calling 911, but where are police? Analysis finds lag in Atlanta’s response to emergencies

By Alan Judd

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009

Atlanta’s south side was crackling.

On McDaniel Street, a fight broke out between two groups of teenage girls.

Off Cleveland Avenue, a mother couldn’t find her 6-year-old after he wandered away from a bus stop.

And at the same moment the afternoon of May 5, at Phoenix Park near Turner Field, Jackie Gordon watched a middle-aged man in a yellow jumpsuit chasing children on the playground while exposing himself.

Gordon grabbed her cellphone and dialed the familiar number for help: 911. The police, she was told, were on their way.

They weren’t.

Instead, the 911 operator sent an electronic message to a dispatcher for the Atlanta Police Department, who held the call — for 56 minutes and five seconds — before sending an officer to Phoenix Park. The dispatcher had no choice: The police department had no one available to promptly respond to a report of a man demanding sex from children.

With too much crime and too few officers on the streets, Atlanta police dispatchers routinely hold such emergency calls even longer than the time in which officers are supposed to reach the scene, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.

More than 24,000 times from January through July, or in 18 percent of incidents, according to the newspaper’s analysis of communications records, police dispatchers were unable to assign officers to calls relayed by the city’s 911 until after what the department defines as the acceptable total response time had elapsed.

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