A dramatic scene played out last week in Tillman’s Corner when an armed intruder wielding a knife stormed into a local business. But what was most frightening for company employees was an apparent disconnect during calls to 911 and the amount of time police took to respond to the escalating situation.
Gene Talbot, president of Research Strategies, Inc., a consumer and business-to-business market research company on Old Pascagoula Road, said four calls were made to 911 before police arrived some 20 minutes after the incident began.
Around 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 23, Talbot said a man approximately 25 to 30 years old entered the front doors of the business and ran through the building, passing four desks before entering Talbot’s personal office and crouching in the corner against a filing cabinet.
“It was apparent he was very incoherent and very agitated,” Talbot said.
Talbot then moved from behind his desk and retrieved a .38-caliber handgun he keeps for personal protection and told a female employee, who sits just outside his office, to call 911 as the intruder started “jibbering” and produced a stainless steel, folding-blade knife from his front pocket.
According to Talbot, the employee called 911, giving the location and description of the events before putting down the open-line phone on her desk. While holding the intruder at gunpoint, Talbot said he moved to the phone to further inform the operator that the man was now pointing a knife at him, but as the man became more and more agitated, Talbot said he put the phone back down so the 911 operator could listen and record the event.
However, when Talbot returned to the phone about three minutes later, believing it was still connected to 911, he was surprised to learn the call had been disconnected. He re-dialed 911 and described the situation again, asking for immediate police assistance. Again, Talbot said he left the open-line phone receiver on the desk so the 911 operator could hear the situation. Talbot said the phone call was disconnected once more, and he dialed 911 for a third time.
“I’m holding the gun with one hand, and dialing 911 again,” Talbot said, stressing the fact that he had to keep repeating the same information and details about the fluid situation to 911 operators.
“It’s apparent that they didn’t follow protocol,” he continued. “They didn’t listen to the situation and use common sense.”
In a transcript provided by Talbot via Gary Tanner, director of the Mobile County Communications District (MCCD), only three calls made to 911 were recorded, with the first call logged at right at 10 a.m. A second call was received at 10:04 a.m. and a third call at 10:08 a.m.
While the transcript shows no record of a fourth call, Talbot maintains the transcript is incorrect because a fourth call to 911 was placed from the cell phone of a female employee. Talbot also disputes the amount of time the transcript says it took police to arrive on scene.
Talbot added that after the employee made the final 911 call, she drove down Old Pascagoula Road to flag down police who had missed the address.
“It’s frightening is what it is, it’s really frightening,” he said.
The transcript says an officer was on the scene at 10:10 a.m., or roughly 10 and a half minutes after the first call to 911.
“I’m sure (Talbot) was concerned about his person and his employees, but as MPD will tell you, 10 minutes and 32 seconds is not a bad response time,” Tanner said.
According to the transcript, the MCCD classified the first call a “Priority 1.” The responding operator asked the caller to stay on the line, stating “your call was being transferred to the Mobile Police Department.” Further, the transcript says the operator reported to the MPD the “subject has a knife” and transferred the call to the MPD within a minute.
Tanner said calls classified as Priority 1 involve an immediate threat like an active domestic violence attack, bank robbery or any situation involving weapons. Tanner said Priority 1 calls are the most serious MCCD receives.
“Our operator immediately transfers that to an ‘In Progress’ call and immediately transfers that to the police department, and they handle it from there,” he said.
With MCCD receiving about 1,000 calls per day, Tanner said 911 operators cannot stay on the line with callers throughout the duration of a call, but he maintains every call is important and the MCCD “recognizes that and handles it.”
“We’ve completed our duty, (which) is to give it to the agency,” he said. “It’s none of our business to what goes on after that.”
Larry Fisher, director of emergency communications for the city of Montgomery, said every Emergency Communication Department (ECD) in the state works a little bit differently.
In Montgomery, 911 operators stay on the line throughout the duration of the call, Fisher said.
“We take the call, we process the call and while we process it, we dispatch the response,” he said. “(Operators) start, process and stay on the line for the whole call.”
Fisher said it ultimately depends on how each individual ECD is set up and there are differing opinions on which 911 protocols actually work best.
“Some people base it on the law, and the law is about 911. It’s not about dispatching,” he said. “It does talk about dispatching, but you can do both and some people, they prefer to do both.”
According to Fisher, Baldwin County uses a “mixture,” processing calls and dispatching for certain agencies. However, when ECDs use a mixed approach, state law requires the ECD to have a contract with the dispatching agency, he added.
The MCCD, which is not responsible for dispatch, Fisher said determining jurisdiction is the main role.
“There are 88 ECDs in the state and 88 ways to do it,” he said.
In a letter to Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, MPD Chief James Barber and Mobile County Commissioners, Talbot wrote, “two officers replied that their roll time had been less than three minutes and the problem was with 911. If they had known that the situation involved an open knife and handgun stand-off, they would have responded more rapidly and with additional force.”
MPD spokeswoman Ashley Rains said the incident is currently under internal review by the police department.