Dispatcher’s Handling of Amanda Berry’s 911 Call Raises Questions

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Since Monday, Amanda Berry’s 911 call has raised questions about how dispatchers handle themselves on the phone.

“The tone to the public may sound curt. For us, it’s a list of questions we have to go through very quickly to determine if that call is real or fake,” said Lieutenant Jim Ortega, who directs the Sacramento County Sheriff’s department’s communications center.

The dispatcher in Cleveland is under review for exchanges like this:

Dispatcher:  “The police are on the way. Talk to them when they get there.”

Amanda Berry: ” I need–O.K. ”

Dispatcher: “I told you they’re on the way. Talk to them when they get there.”

Amanda Berry:  “Ok.”

Dispatcher: “Thank you.”

Amanda Berry: Bye.”

“We would not hang up. We will keep them on the phone till we know that they’re safe,” said Ortega, when questioned about differences between what happened in Ohio and what is Sacramento County policy.

Ortega says keeping a caller on the phone not only provides comfort, but also gives dispatchers a chance to glean other valuable information for responding officers.

He also believes it can keep a situation from escalating.

When a man was threatening to jump from the roof of Mercy San Juan hospital in March, Sheriff’s dispatchers were able to talk him down.

Regardless of what’s being phoned in, both parties on the line can’t be emotional.

And dispatchers go through rigorous training to be able to suspend normal human skepticism and find fact.

“Eventually they’ll give us a street that doesn’t match, numbers that don’t match, an address that isn’t correct,” said Ortega.

“My experience as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, many times we get there and they’re nothing like what they appear to be in the call,” he said.

Ortega would rather run on something that turns out to be nothing, than the other way around.

“We’re all in this job to save lives,” he said. “That’s our role here.”

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