… Police union president calls statements irresponsible …
By Rebekah Brown, The Baltimore Sun
6:37 PM EDT, July 27, 2011
Baltimore City Councilman Robert W. Curran raised some eyebrows at a community meeting this month when he urged residents to speed up police response times by telling 911 operators “there is a gun involved,” even if there is not.
The advice drew condemnation from the police union president, who called it irresponsible and warned it could endanger officers unnecessarily speeding to calls. The Baltimore Police Department’s chief spokesman cautioned residents “to be truthful” when they call for emergency help.
But Curran, in an interview, defended the recommendation that he made during a July 21 community meeting in Hamilton Hills in Northeast Baltimore, saying he hears too often from constituents that it takes too long for police officers to respond to calls.
The councilman made his comments after a man voiced concerns about the time it took for police to respond to his complaint that his car had been vandalized.
“I’ve heard this many, many times,” Curran said Wednesday. “I’ve been getting letters from community folks. They say they call 911, and the police don’t show or show sometimes the next day. The gentleman said he felt it was a situation where there were kids jumping on the hood of his car, and he felt threatened.”
Curran said his advice is based on conversations with a former police commissioner, who he said told him, “‘If you have a situation where your residents feel threatened and they need immediate police service, tell them there is a gun involved.’ I said it to him and the group -— and I have said it to others —and I’ll stand by those words.”
The councilman said that “stacked-up and backed-up” calls aren’t the only problems residents face. He said police need more resources to fight crime. He said that people claiming someone is armed is not always appropriate.
But, he said, “If you feel threatened, and you need some immediate service, now that’s what you do. If you don’t feel threatened, that’s not what you do. Is it the right thing to do? Well no, but I need to make sure they feel safe. It’s a real world out there.”
Baltimore police operators field about 1.2 million calls each year. They prioritize calls received based on several factors, including public safety and the nature of the emergency.
Anthony Guglielmi, the Baltimore Police Department’s chief spokesman, said that increasing staffing is a priority. “We’re looking to fill 350 officer positions,” he said. “We’re on a pretty aggressive campaign to get people from Baltimore to join the fight against crime. Once we get our patrol strength back to something we consider optimal, all districts will benefit.”
But the spokesman cautioned people “to be truthful” when reporting a crime or calling for help. “If they’re responding to your call that’s not a true emergency, the officer is being prevented from responding to someone who is in harm’s way,” Guglielmi said. “It may not be to your time schedule, but I promise an officer will respond.”
Robert Cherry, the city police union president, said he was “miffed and surprised” to hear Curran’s comments. “Not only is that dishonest, but it does more of a disservice to our ability to police,” he said.
He said residents are “entitled to expect rapid response” but added that calls must be handled appropriately. Several officers will respond to a gun call, pulling them away from the neighborhoods they cover and away from other calls deemed less serious.
Cherry warned that when police respond to a call, dispatchers provide only the information they receive. If the call is for a person armed with a gun, he said, “multiple officers are going to be racing to that scene Code One, going at full speed with their sirens going.”
“What if the officers think that person is armed, come guns drawn and the person only has a cellphone?” Cherry said. “The next thing you know, there is a shooting.”
… And, be sure to tell 9-1-1 that Councilman Curran is holding the gun. What’s one more lie? …