Action News 5 Special Report: Operator Error? - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Lori Brown

Action News 5 Special Report: Operator Error?

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - When you call 911, you expect help immediately. Lisa, a Memphis resident, got anything but.

"Our lives were in danger," she said. "Our lives were at stake, and our lifeline was severed."

Severed, she said, because during a recent call to 911, the operator fell asleep while she was on the line.

Action News 5 obtained a copy of the call through an open records request. It begins as Lisa calls 911 and a Memphis operator comes on the line. Lisa tells the operator she was robbed at gunpoint earlier in the evening, and that she now hears someone trying to break into our home.

"I just heard tapping on my window," she tells the operator. "I need somebody over here."

The line goes silent. As Lisa continues to explain her situation, the dispatcher does not respond - not for just 15 or 30 seconds, but for one full minute.

Then, sounds of snoring can be heard on the line.

"Are you there?" Lisa asks.

"Yes ma'am," the operator replies. "What is the, um, what's your address?"

Lisa can then be heard hanging up the phone.

(You can listen to audio of the call in the video player to the right of this story.)

Reached for comment, a Memphis Police Department spokesperson said an investigation was launched into the call after Action News 5's request for the tape in January. Since then, a supervisor with the Memphis Police Department has repeatedly denied requests for an interview, saying, "It would not be proper to give an interview on the incident before the administrative hearings have been held in order to avoid any perception of bias on the part of administration."

Why is it taking so long for the administrative hearing? According to the police spokesperson, the hearing cannot take place until the dispatcher returns to work. The dispatcher has been on extended sick leave since Action News 5's request for the tape of the 911 call.

Collierville Police Chief Larry Goodwin, who listened to the call for this story, said the silence on the other end of the call indicates something went wrong.

"There is obviously something that went on that caused that delay between the time the individual answered the telephone to the time she prompted him back," Goodwin said. "Now what that is, I don't know."

Lisa eventually got help, but only after she called another 911 agency. Because she works for another 911 agency in the Mid-South, and does not want to create conflicts with her employer, she asked that her name and appearance not be revealed in this story.

If you have a complaint about 911 or a dispatcher, call the non-emergency number where you live, and ask for a 911 manager.

Since the incident described in this story, Lisa has moved outside the city limits of Memphis.

UPDATE: Late Monday afternoon, a Memphis Police Department spokesperson said the dispatcher and supervisor on duty the night of the call have been relieved of duty.  The supervisor was relieved for 20 days, and the dispatcher for 7 days.  Neither have yet returned to work.

Click here to send an email to Lori Brown.

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