Calling 911: Why Bother?

by on May 31, 2009 · 6 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

This is how a Typical CALL-TAKER setup looks like - and is not the one mentioned in the post.

Editor: One of our bloggers, who goes by the initials PSD, and his partner had a disturbing experience while driving along West Point Loma Avenue just outside Ocean Beach yesterday, Saturday, May 30th, when they tried calling emergency 9-1-1.


My partner and I were driving down West Pt. Loma around 1:00 today – Saturday, May 30th – heading east. On the corner of Rialto, two boys appeared to be arguing – one looked to be no more than six or seven years old, the other in his mid-teens.

As we passed, the older one threw the younger to the ground and began pummeling him with fists and kicks to the chest, possibly using some sort of blunt instrument like a hammer handle from what I was able to make out. By the time we realized what was happening and pulled the car over, we were at the other end of the block, near Famosa.

I pulled out my phone, dialed 911, and handed it off to my girlfriend, Christina,  as we both got out of the car and began to approach the child being beaten. As we approached, the aggressor saw us closing in from about 50 yards away, stopped unloading on his victim, and instead grabbed the younger child off the ground and ran around the corner.

I quickened my pace to a jog, and by the time I rounded the corner I saw the older boy disappear into an apartment complex somewhere in the distance. When we got to where we saw them disappear there was no trace of activity around the entrances to a dozen or so residences.

While this display was sickening, and I sadly make the assumption that whatever household these boys came from condones, or at least turns a blind eye, to this kind of behavior, the 911 dispatcher’s response to our call almost equally disheartens me.

Of course, I don’t understand proper police protocol, so for all I know this was standard operating procedure.

My preferred response to “Hi, I’m on West Pt. Loma Blvd. about a quarter mile east of Nimitz watching a young child being violently assaulted,” would’ve been something along the lines of the following:

“Thank you ma’am, I’ll send the closest available unit right away. Do you feel that you’re in any danger yourself? Will you stay on the scene to talk to the officers when they arrive?”

Not quite what we got. Instead, something more like this:

Dispatch: Okay. What’s your name.

Christina: Christina.

Dispatch: Okay Christina, what corner are you on and what direction are you heading?

Christina: I don’t know…wait, I’m on the corner of West Pt. Loma and Famosa, heading toward the beach.

Dispatch: What was the make, model, and color of the car you were driving when you saw this?

Christina: It’s a black Honda. Crap, the older one grabbed the little boy and they’re heading around the corner.

Dispatch: What model Honda?

Christina: Are you sending an officer? I’m not in the car anymore, I’m heading toward where we saw the kid getting hit.

Dispatch: What are you wearing?

Christina: Gym clothes, I was on my way to the gym.

Dispatch: And the individuals you saw, how tall were they and how much would you say they weighed?

Christina: One of them was a little boy, like five or six years old. The other one looked like a teenager, he was maybe as high as my shoulders, so a little over five feet?

Dispatch: And what were they wearing?

Christina: The one that was hitting the other had a green shirt, dark shorts, maybe blue or black. They’re gone now, it looks like one dragged the other into some apartment complex. Are you going to call for an officer?

Dispatch: Will you wait on the scene for an officer to arrive?

Christina: Is one coming?

Dispatch: Now Christina, I need to know if you’re going to help us out…

Christina: I’m trying!

Dispatch: Well I need to know more about these individuals’ clothes. You said a green shirt – what kind of green shirt?

And this went on.

At this point we had no idea which of a couple potential apartment complexes these kids had disappeared into, but we knew by now that over the course of the five minutes begging for the 911 operator to dispatch a patrol car that the perpetrator could’ve changed clothes several times. And the young boy was in a home where he was at risk of suffering further.

We eventually gave up, after being chided for not being cooperative enough for the operator’s preferences and having it made perfectly clear that no police would be investigating the incident.

Disgusted, the image kept playing through my mind on the treadmill later. And I felt angry. Angry that I was being made by the 911 dispatcher/police  to feel that I was interfering in someone else’s business. Angry they didn’t care about helping. Angry at myself for not interfering faster, and with greater effect. Angry that, even though I’d long ago written them off as being a greater detriment than benefit to the community, the police were once again proving my lack of faith in them to be well-founded.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

DrumnWebGuy June 1, 2009 at 10:08 am

I’m a musician and oftentimes am driving home late night. I stopped calling in drunks because whenever I call 911, SDPD (the answering agency) says they “do not cover the freeways- that’s highway patrol”. More often than not, I get lost in a long wait as I’m being transferred to HP.

Besides, if SDPD is “not in charge of the freeways”, then why do they pull over motorists on the interstate?

So, I now stay out of it and let the cops do their job. They know what they are doing, as they will certainly let you know.


Shawn Conrad June 1, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Let me share a police dispatch story with you all:

I had a storage until once. The rules were “No Admittance after 7 PM”. Easy enough right?

I enter the rows of storage units, grab a few things, and put a few things away.

When I get back to the gate at 7:00 I found I could not get out. The manager would not assist, and the police would not assist.

When I called back to police dispatch I told them that I paid the $14 damage waiver on the rental car I was driving, and that I was preparing to ram the gates since no one could help.

You would be surprised how fast a squad car was on the scene punching in the code to open the gate. they were not happy with me, but after explaining my situation they let me go without incident.

You have to know how to handle the police.


PSD June 1, 2009 at 8:15 pm

I didn’t mention that this came about a week after calling in a drunk driver doing 95-100 and passing people on the median on 8 westbound after picking up my daughter from her grandma’s out in El Cajon…similar no-help situation there, as with the 2 other times I’ve called 911 in the last few years, both to report reckless driving. But I should mention that Frank pointed out to me that most 911 dispatchers aren’t tied to the local police or CHP, but to a public service dispatch center that chooses whether to route a call to the police, highway patrol, fire department, or a medical emergency response team…unfortunately for the folks served, most of these centers and dispatchers are voluntarily, not mandatorily, certified. And unfortunately these are the people deciding whether or not an emergency call is routed to appropriate emergency services or nowhere at all.


Abby June 3, 2009 at 3:02 am

Of course they couldn’t have helped you, they are too busy sending the copss to hand out warnings for noise complaints to people have backyard BBQs (with no music) and playing horseshoes in the yard.

Every summer there are 2 cops who spend all day parked at the end of my street making sure no one has a beer on the beach. I had to prove to them that the pint sized cup I was drinking in my own yard was water rather than vodka.

The are so busy protecting us from fun and beer that they can’t be bothered to enforce the speed limit on Sunset Cliffs which results in countless accidents, people being hurt and many pets being killed.

Don’t you see they have more important things to do than protect children?


THE DISPATCHER August 9, 2009 at 6:00 am

I’m sorry but as I read these comments, I see that most of the community is not well informed. First I would like to say, while you are on the line with the 911 dispatcher, you’re talking to a “call taker”, not the actual dispatcher for Police. So while you’re talking about your emergency, another dispatcher is actually sending the police. So though you may think that the person you are speaking to “isn’t doing anything”, the actuality is, THEY ARE. Second, call are prioritized. Unfortunately, you have to do this because of the call volume that comes into a call center. Not only this, but the person who calls in because a dog is barking and they cannot sleep IS NOT as important as the person who just got shot in a night club. But 8 times out of 10, that dark barking caller WILL CALL BACK IN to complain because an officer did not get there within 10 minutes. It’s a shame that people are not willing to understand the crap dispatchers go through to in all actuality “TO SAVE YOUR LIFE”! And to the man that wants to complain that the dispatcher wanted to complain about the 95-100 MPH driver that drunk driver…No offense but everyone calls in everyday, saying “you better get that person off the road before they kill someone” and my favorite phrase “they’re a drunk driver”. First, I didn’t realize that you had a radar in your vehicle that told you exactly how fast that “drunk driver” was going. Second, I realize that because someone swirves or drives fast, they are “drunk” and always doing “90-100 MHP”. TRUST ME, THIS PHRASE COMES INTO THE CALL CENTER AT LEAST 10 TIMES A DAY!!!!!! And out of those 10 “drunk” people. Usually, now not always, but usually, these drivers ARE NOT DRUNK!! The drivers are either tired, talking on a cell phone, texting on a cell phone, arguing with their spouse, yelling at their children, looking at roadsigns, 16 years old and learning to drive…..the list can go on and on. Oh and I would also like to point out, that not all dispatch centers are just call centers. And yes we are tied to the police, same as EMS and fire…and Yes, we have to be certified and it’s not volunter work. I promise you, NO ONE wants to VOLUNTEER for this job! And I promise you, a dispatcher has to be certified, because if they weren’t, someone could sue, and win, if something bad happened.

So I say this with all sincerity, I am truly sorry if you feel that you have been wronged in some way. But this isn’t an easy job. Everyday I hear (and excuse my language), “stupid”, “white bitch”, “cunt”, “dumbass”, “retard”, “fucking idiot” and the list goes on and on. And trust me, this isn’t half the crap I’ve heard. You think your job is hard? HA!, try listening to a child in the background screaming bloody murder while the mother is on the phone, screaming and trying to tell me that her 4 year old was shot because he was playing with daddy’s gun and is too upset to give me the address or control the bleeding. You say that you don’t have faith in the system anymore, my advice, DON’T BE CRYING WHEN YOU’RE DYING! Don’t judge a dispatcher until you have literally sat beside one and have heard what really goes on! And shame on you for judging. I guess ignorance is bliss, huh.


JB December 4, 2014 at 11:49 pm

I realize this is a few years later, but I happened upon your story today when looking for something else. I’m a 911 calltaker. This sounds like a typical assault call and you soulnd like the typical caller – which isn’t necessarily an insult. ..but keep in mind, once the calltaker had the cross streets you were on, they had the ability to enter a call. all the questions after that would be adding information for responding officers.
I get that many times a day: “aren’t you sending help??” when call is already entered.
People seem to think they pick up the phone, say help and then can hang up and we send officers blindly into an unknown situation. I mean, I suppose we DO do that, but why not stay on the phone and give us whatever info you have?


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