The next time that we talk about staffing shortages in the Philadelphia Police Department, that conversation needs to include the city’s 9-1-1 system.
“Now I dialed 9-1-1 a long time ago,
Can’t you see how late they’re reacting,
They only come and they come when they wanna,
So, get the morgue truck and embalm the goner…”
Now, because we’re still celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop here in my personal Hall Monitor space, I decided to start this column with a little bit of Public Enemy’s “9-1-1 Is A Joke”.
This was one of the rare tracks where Flavor Flav — the dude with the clock around his neck for those of you who might not know — took the lead and talked about how New York City’s 9-1-1 system often left his neighborhood hanging when it came to emergency services.
I thought about this when I saw that Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has opened an investigation into a 9-1-1 call related to the mass murder in Kingsessing on July 3. Kimbrady Carricker, 40, has been charged with five counts of murder.
But only four of those murders took place on the 3rd. According to reports, a 9-1-1 call of gunshots in Kingsessing on July 2nd wound up sending police to the wrong address. The person at that address — Joseph Wamah Jr. — was Carricker’s first victim.
Now how did this happen? Did the dispatcher get a number wrong when they entered the address? Was it a technical error? No one knows right now.
Now, it’s easy to blame the dispatchers alone. They screwed up on this one, and let’s be honest, had folks had the right information to search for Carricker, or if they had even known that he had killed Wamah, the possibility of preventing the other shootings goes up.
But we shouldn’t. I say this for a couple of reasons.
One, almost all of the technical systems that the police department uses to try and fight crime are, to put it kindly, old. At a round table meeting called by City Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence earlier this week, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson heard about the obsolescence of the city’s technical crime-fighting apparatus firsthand. While Council and the Commonwealth have put money into the budget to try and fix that problem, it’s not enough, they said.
And two, although the subject of police department personnel shortages was 99.9% of what anyone wanted to talk about during this past election season, the shortages in 911 personnel never came up despite it being one of the most important.
While the fact that there are fewer officers on the streets to handle crime and gun violence is a big problem that needs to be solved, so is the problem of not having enough people to answer the calls that citizens make when they see a robbery in progress. Or see someone having a heart attack.
Or hear gunshots.
Especially when you’re dealing with people who (a) don’t necessarily trust the police or (b) think that their needs are ignored by the larger populace.
Because let’s be honest here. The anemic 26% turnout that we got in the May primary is a direct result of people having lost faith and trust in their government. And a big manifestation of why that lack of faith and trust might be there is a perceived inequality when it comes to accessing city services.
Let’s hope that the police department’s investigation gets to the bottom of what happened. Or at the very least, spurs city officials to spend the money on a system that helps emergency responders do their jobs.
Because the last thing that Philadelphia can afford to have happen is for 9-1-1 to become a joke in our town. The function it performs is far too serious for that.
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