Monday, April 7, 2003

Police delay in fatal beating investigated

Actions of 911 call taker, dispatcher reviewed
in elderly woman's death

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Apparent confusion about how to classify a 911 call caused Cincinnati police officers to take more than 16 minutes to arrive at the West Price Hill apartment of an elderly woman who was being beaten to death, records show.

Officers who arrived to find Laverne Jansen dead in an apartment last month are "sick to their stomachs" about what happened, Police Chief Tom Streicher said.

They would have responded "hell bent for leather," he said, if they had known the 911 call was an emergency.

A neighbor of Jansen's called police just before 2:12 p.m. on March 19 to say that a man had knocked on Jansen's door and told the 81-year-old woman to get on the floor, according to police tapes.

The neighbor stayed on the phone almost 20 minutes with the 911 call taker, telling her initially what she saw from her peephole and later what the man looked like when he left.

Despite the lengthy call and the neighbor's description of the man, officers did not arrive on Clevesdale Avenue for 16 minutes and 18 seconds after they were dispatched.

By then, Jansen had been brutally attacked and was dead in her second-floor apartment.

No arrest has been made.

Police say Jansen, who lived alone, may have been followed after she purchased a lottery ticket at a local pony keg and walked home.

"We're still getting information,'' said Lt. Roger Wolf, homicide supervisor. "It's not like it's gone cold on us."

Streicher ordered an investigation into the delay responding to the crime, including the actions of the 911 call taker and the dispatcher. They have not been named.

Preliminary findings indicate the officers responded properly to the "horribly unfortunate" run, logged in to their system as "unknown trouble."

That's not a priority run, nothing that would make the officers - who were about a mile and a half away, in roll call at District 3 getting ready to start second shift - run out of the district and respond immediately.

  Cincinnati's homicide unit now has six extra investigators to help handle the growing caseload.
  The detectives were moved from other districts, where they handled less serious crimes, and from within the department's criminal investigations section. The temporary additions bring the homicide staffing totals to 19 investigators, 10 evidence specialists and four sergeants in a total police force of more than 1,000.
  Detectives have investigated 20 killings so far this year. That compares with 15 as of this date in 2002. Last year's 65 homicides set a 15-year record.
  Lt. Roger Wolf, homicide unit commander, was careful to never publicly complain about needing more help. He would say supervisors throughout the department want more staff, too.
Another officer was closer, but was sent the other way on what was believed at the time to be a bigger emergency: A hold-up in progress in Millvale.

The first thing the caller said is that a man knocked on the door and told Jansen to get on the floor.

Over the next almost 20 minutes, the tapes show she talks to the 911 call taker about everything from her two grown children to how she's afraid the man's going to come after her next. The officers don't hear all that.

And there's some confusion initially in the dispatch center, Streicher said.

Either the call taker or the dispatcher thought for some time that the woman calling was the victim, and that she'd escaped into another apartment to call police and was fine.

At 2:26 p.m., 14 minutes after the neighbor first called, she describes the man leaving. He's wearing green pants, walking fast and carrying a white plastic bag up Tuxworth Avenue to Guerley Road. If the police come now, she said, maybe they'll see him.

But they don't, not for six more minutes, according to the dispatch log.

One of the officers, William Hunter III, is a recruit. The other, Mark Hunley, has since been promoted to sergeant.

Streicher called Hunley an "exceptional policeman. He's somebody that's very dependable for us."

"Unknown trouble" usually turns out to be things like kids fighting, the chief said.

Had the run been categorized differently - possibly a breaking-and-entering in progress - officers would have immediately run out of roll call, Streicher said.

Most things described as "in progress" draw an immediate lights-and-sirens response, said Lt. Kurt Byrd, department spokesman.

"The evaluation of it has to be: what can we draw out of it that's a lesson?" Streicher said. "We don't know that yet.

"Knowing what the results are now, we wish it was a 16-second response time."


Related story: 911 call details

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Sunday's stories:
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Widow mourns guard's murder
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Police delay in fatal beating investigated
911 call details
DeWine wants to pry open police strategy
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