Disconnected

When you call 911 for help, you might expect a delay, but would you anticipate being ignored entirely? The Dallas police internal affairs division launched an investigation earlier this month into whether that is precisely what happened one day last March.

Police dispatcher Julie Weidner is suspected of "n-coding," or labeling as invalid, calls from residents seeking help even though she never assigned them to a patrol unit.

"Why did you do this?" Capt. Pamela Walt, who has oversight over the police communications department, asked Weidner when the ignored calls were inadvertently discovered two months ago.

"I wanted to clear my screen of calls," Weidner told her supervisor, according to a statement in the internal affairs investigation file issued by Lt. Jacob Moore, who was present for the dispatcher's questioning.

The ignored calls were not emergencies, and Weidner did send officers to all the emergency calls that came to her that day. The calls she ignored concerned such matters as loud music, speeding cars, abandoned property, parking violations, and animal-related problems.

Advances in computer software technology allowed police administrators to discover the improperly ignored calls. Earlier in March, the department had begun routinely reviewing computer records to determine why and how calls had been marked as essentially irrelevant. Patrol officers are allowed to n-code a call if they arrive at a scene and find nothing. Dispatchers are allowed to n-code calls that are redundant.

The focus of that monitoring was not on the dispatchers. Rather, department administrators, police spokesman Lt. Ron Waldrop says, were trying to determine whether some officers were consistently failing to push a radio button to signify they had reached the location of a call. The administrators were concerned that some officers were omitting that step and thereby increasing the average response time for the department. The monitoring showed a high number of n-coded calls on March 26, prompting the investigation of Weidner.

At the Dallas Police Department, some 72 non-sworn civilian employees dispatch 911 calls. Fire department employees answer the phones, then turn them over to a dispatcher such as Weidner.

Weidner, 46, who has been assigned to a service desk and is no longer dispatching calls for the duration of the investigation. A dispatcher since October 1995, she ranked among the highest-paid employees in her job classification. Employees in her position earn between $31,500 and $49,000 a year.

The police department, Waldrop says, has had trouble finding qualified applicants for dispatching jobs. Candidates must be high school graduates, type 40 words per minute, and pass a criminal background and drug-screening check. The workload for the dispatchers is heavy. On their eight-hour shifts, each dispatcher will handle on average 100 calls.

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Miriam Rozen
Contact: Miriam Rozen

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