STRANGER AT THE DOOR
October 15, 2013
By Audrey Fraizer
The caller wants a “cop” sent over, and fast.
She is scared, and understandably so. A young man she doesn’t recognize has knocked on her door, but instead of answering, she calls 9-1-1.
She hangs up after the first 13 seconds, prompting Manatee County (Fla.) 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center (ECC) EPD Melinda Calvert to call her back.
“He left, and now he’s back,” the nearly hysterical woman says to Calvert. “Get someone down here fast.”
Calvert launches into Case Entry of the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS), and segues into Protocol 110: Burglary (Break and Enter)/Home Invasion.
Calvert asks the first Key Question.
“Were weapons involved or mentioned?”
“No. No. No,” replies the caller. “I didn’t open the door because I was scared, and then he left, and now he’s back and just standing there.”
As almost an afterthought the caller adds, “I have my husband’s gun in my hand, but I don’t know how to use it.”
The early morning attempted break-in at 9:53 a.m. on May 28 in Manatee County persuades the caller to hide in a bedroom closet and there, huddled with her two-year-old son, listens as the man pries open the garage door and goes inside the house.
Calvert reassures her, and tells her to stay on the line. Sixteen seconds into the call, a sheriff’s deputy is on the way. The suspect, however, is gone by the time the deputy arrives, assumingly leaving the house at the sound of approaching sirens. His description is relayed to sheriff’s deputies, and the suspect is soon apprehended in the vicinity of the victim’s home. He is later identified and booked into Manatee County jail on a burglary charge.
While 9-1-1 calls reporting break-ins are not unusual, Calvert said the media picked up on this call because of the speed in the suspect’s arrest. And, according to Priority Dispatch Corp. PPDS Consultant Dave Warner, there’s the element of a gun involved.
It wasn’t the suspect’s gun, but a gun the woman holds and does not know how to use, as heard in the call.
“I’m not so sure the caller would have volunteered that information without being asked the question, and that’s certainly something arriving officers would want to know about,” Warner said. “They know the woman is frightened; she is upset, and she is in the closet with a gun.”
Calvert—a certified EPD, EFD, and EMD—said she simply followed the script as she was trained to do, asking about weapons, the suspect’s description, and where the suspect was located at the time of the call. She said questions asked in the order specified is critical for response and they also aid in keeping the caller’s attention.
“She was scared during the whole call,” Calvert said. “Answering what I asked helped her to remain focused.”
The ECC is the 9-1-1 dispatch center for Manatee County EMS (Bradenton, Fla.) and 11 local fire agencies. It is a dual-certified Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) (fire and medical), and the center implemented the PPDS 18 months ago. Calvert has been with the ECC for six years, during which time she has had the opportunity to use a majority of the protocols’ Chief Complaints.
“I’ve done most of them at least once,” said Calvert, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force Reserves assigned to the F-16 maintenance crew. “There are very few types of calls we don’t answer.”