In the city of Milwaukee, 911, literally, is broken. Last night, under the advice of the police who, in months past, have visited my house investigating break-ins in the neighborhood, I called for a squad car. -- And dispatch argued with me that I didn’t need to call 911 and I should call the non-emergency line.
At about 8 p.m. the girl was getting dressed after her shower and I was in her room helping her. My delightful wife was in the bathroom when there was a knock at the door.
Remember, at our house, we have a very clearly posted “no solicitors” sign. Standing outside the screen door, I find a guy wearing some kind of an ID Badge from a local (for profit) college, selling me a sob story about how his neighbor burned down their flat and that he had no where to live and no job until he graduated from the local college. He had a large clipboard in one had with some things scribbled in it, and said he was collecting the names of the people who were helping him and that when he got back on his feet, he’d be sure to send something back to the people who helped him out.
I told him that I did not respond to solicitors and he would do well to contact Milwaukee Hunger Task Force and the Red Cross for help, because those were charities that I do support. He said he really just needed some cash and that the red cross hadn't helped him. I cut him off, said I was sorry, but I didn’t respond to door-to-door solicitors. He started to walk away to the north, and I called the 911.
And that’s where things get shitty.
After waiting on hold briefly-- seriously -- I told the dispatcher that I had just shooed off a panhandler begging door and that the police told me to call in with anything suspicious or threatening and ask for a squad.
The dispatcher told me that I didn’t have an emergency. I said that there was a threatening man at my door and that for all I knew he had a weapon.
She asked why I would say that.
I told her that I felt threatened and could she please send a squad. She said no. And told me to call the non emergency number.
Eventually my delightful wife took the phone and continued to plead with the dispatcher, and between she and I, we eventually elevated the call to a supervisor.
Now it gets shittier.
The supervisor told us that we could get a squad, eventually, and that she’d be sure to review the tape of the call, but that the public “Needs to understand” that the police chief has decided that squads will not be sent out to everybody who requests them. “We have a lot of frustrated people in Milwaukee,” she said.
I said something unhelpful-- along the lines of “You’re not helping.” and Jeni shushed me and then asked if she could “Please” send a squad. It was only at this point that the dispatcher actually asked for my address.
Look, you shouldn’t have to beg 911 operators to send you a squad. That’s fucked up, Milwaukee. Look. The guy’s sob story might have been legitimate. I doubt it, but maybe. My point is, that’s not for the 911 dispatcher to decide. That’s for the squad to decide. That’s what police in Milwaukee have told me.
Furthermore, I’ve been told by police chiefs that I’ve worked with in the past that It’s not dispatches job to decide if a squad should be called. I’ve been told that dispatch is supposed to relay information to the chain of command and that the chain of command is supposed to make decisions. I can see how such a scenario would break down in a larger police force like the City of Milwaukee’s, but that still doesn’t mean that when a taxpaying citizen calls for a squad he or she should be told that they’re emergency isn’t dire enough.
I should also emphasize that City of Milwaukee Police Officers have told me to lie to dispatch in order to get a squad out there faster. I don’t do this. I won’t purger myself just to make the system work. But that’s what police in Milwaukee have told me to do. ONe officer some years ago in my old neighborhood told me, “say you saw that he had a gun or something.” So clearly, 911 in Milwaukee is in disorder.
The issue of whether or not I had an emergency is a red herring in this case anyway. The issue is one of service to a community. I was trying my damnedest to be a good citizen. I was trying to report to the police that I felt something funny was going on. I had been told by police officers that this was the way to do it. To be told I’m not important and a cold and dispassionate dispatcher in a safe room miles away from me is more than insulting to my civic sense of responsibility. It’s insulting to anybody who expects that along with the higher cost of living and the significant tax rate enjoyed by city of Milwaukee residents, comes a stronger and more responsive infrastructure.
I point this out, on the record, today, as a pre-emptive explanation of why I moved out of the city.
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