Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Zimmermann case debacle

I'm currently working on an article for about the Dane County 911 Dispatch Center's botched response to the Zimmermann call. One thing I've noticed since this story broke are the many comments from readers who've had pretty sketchy encounters with 911 operators. It started to seem like a pattern, and that, of course, has me concerned. So I'm seeking such accounts from various people, and so far the picture that's forming is not one of systemic failure on the part of the 911 Center, but certainly enough of a problem to warrant serious concern and reform. I hope to have the full report up by later this evening, so check back at dane101 for that later.

In the meantime, everyone and their uncle has been weighing in on the case, especially since the recent statements and apology issued from Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. Like most everyone else, I too am of the opinion that a full accounting needs to happen: release the contents of the call (if not the actual recording, then a descriptive transcript), do a full investigation of what went wrong that day, hold responsible the person or persons that messed up, and do a thorough retraining of dispatchers to make sure procedure is always followed so that this sort of thing never happens again.

Michael Leon over at Uppity Wisconsin expressed his frustration with Falk for a perceived lack of full disclosure, wondering if the public good is being shoved aside in the interest of political maneuvering. While I disagree with Leon that Falk's assertion that even if the dispatcher had followed procedure, Zimmermann likely wouldn't have been saved "amounts to a Bushian I-can’t-tell-you-anything-but-trust-me assurance," his call for greater transparency is one I can get behind.

It's likely Ms. Zimmermann wouldn't have been saved, especially considering the limitations that still exist in tracking down calls placed from cell phones, but it would have been far more likely that police might have found or had better leads on the killer had procedure been followed. We all feel outrage and sadness over the murder itself, but if there's anything to be angry with the dispatch center about, it's the hampering of the investigation and bringing to justice of the perpetrator.

If the public is to regain full confidence in the 911 Center again, a full accounting needs to happen. Transparency, apology, stricter standards. And please, get everyone on the same page regarding cell phones and our ability to track them. These things are the very least we can do for the community and, most of all, for the sake of Brittany Zimmermann and her family.

EDIT: Nathan Comp put together an interesting interview with Madison Police Chief Noble Wray over at The Daily Page.

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