Boone County dispatcher erred in Hy-Vee knife incident

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Jul 29, 2008
Des Moines, IA
Article in today's Des Moines Register: Boone 911 dispatcher erred on call about knife incident, group says [audio] | | The Des Moines Register

A Boone County emergency dispatcher this week failed to follow internationally recognized standards when she asked a caller to try to locate a knife-wielding man at a local grocery store, a national group said Wednesday.

Dispatchers must ensure everyone is safe, including callers, according to standards set by the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch of Utah. Its standards are followed by thousands of communities worldwide, including many major U.S. cities.

Interesting read, although I think it's kind of common sense.

Obviously, the caller was in an upstairs office, maybe intentionally trying to stay away from the suspect. When the caller was hesitant to "get to" the suspect, she should have just left it at that and kept him on the line. Apparently, judging by the audio, the caller had to hang up the phone to go downstairs. I figured this would be common sense to keep the caller on the line, no?

The sheriff's office said the dispatcher had no knowledge of the suspect carrying a knife, but the audio on this longer-version MP3 ( indicates that the caller had stated that the suspect "had a knife a little bit ago," to which the dispatcher replied "he had a knife?" That part is at about 36 seconds into the audio, and then the dispatcher asks the caller to get a "visual" ont the subject at about 2 minutes and 10 seconds in. I do not buy their explanation that the dispatcher didn't know about the knife -- it was stated at 36 seconds into the call.

What also bothered me is that she kept asking the caller why everyone was calling 911. Well, obviously because you're 911, and there's an incident inside of a busy public place. People tend to notice things like a guy with a knife touching all the meat in the grocery store saying he's HIV-positive. It's one of those situations that you'd duck into an aisle and call 911 -- not feasible to check with anyone and ask "have you called 911?" What did the dispatcher expect everyone in the store to do, assume someone else called 911? Civilians should never EVER assume someone else has called 911 when they see an incident, we are taught that in elementary school.

You're not supposed to "think out loud" when you're on the line with a 911 caller. What she did was extremely unprofessional. Keep your composure because it could make the situation even worse for the caller if you don't stay calm. You are paid to do many things at once, and thinking critically and silently is one of them. She even sounded annoyed that people were calling 911.

Seems to me that the dispatcher did not have adequate information, although their office was flooded with calls. Were the calltakers not sharing information with each other?

This was obviously a bad situation, but the dispatcher could have made things even worse. I don't understand why the sheriff's office is defending this?
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