A report released Tuesday shows Tampa police failed to respond after a woman made a 911 call from the trunk of a car. Jennifer Johnson made the phone call Nov. 15, telling the 911 operator that she was in the trunk of a car and didn’t know where she was. A cell phone tower along Interstate 4 in Thonotosassa picked up the call, but an officer was never dispatched to the scene. Johnson’s body was discovered Nov. 18, according to tbo.com.
Dispatch logs released in December showed an officer was sent to the area, but Tuesday’s report revealed that the officer was sent on an unrelated call. The 911 operator alerted her supervisor and a patrol supervisor about the call, but neither took action.
Phone logs show that Johnson’s only call was to 911, and had an officer been dispatched that night, her life could have been saved.
When people are in emergency situations, they must rely completely on 911 operators. While emergency services respond effectively much of the time, incidents like these highlight problems in the system.
Every 911 call must be treated seriously. Supervision must be increased to ensure that phone calls are not simply ignored.
Johnson’s unanswered call wasn’t an isolated incident, either. In January, a 911 operator in Orlando told kidnapping victim Loyta Stoley, “You are making us do a lot of work that we don’t need to be doing.” The operator was on the phone with the woman for more than 10 minutes and even tried to get her kidnapper, James Clayton, to divulge his location, according to WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando. The operator waited an hour after the call was terminated before contacting the police — who arrived only after Clayton had killed Stoley and himself.
Reports of operators not taking callers seriously, showing up late for work and even falling asleep on the job are becoming far too frequent. A Tennessee operator fell asleep while responding to a caller who believed she was being stalked, according to WKYC Channel 3 in Cleveland.
Answering 911 calls is a stressful occupation and stricter protocols are needed to check human error, especially when mistakes can result in lost lives.