I am continually amazed by the nuances required to do my job and answer 911 emergency calls.
A few nights ago, I answered another in a string of emergency calls and found myself talking to a woman sobbing hopelessly into the phone. My first thought was that someone near and dear to her had died, as she sounded utterly defeated. I can identify mothers with children in life threatening situations by the quality of their screams. It’s an odd thing but I know it when I hear it. This woman was not crying like that; she was crying over the death of her relationship. It turns out her husband of many years had decided to call it quits and he wasn’t being nice about it.
Sometimes these calls can go bad in a hurry and we all know that domestic incidents are the most dangerous types of calls for officers to deal with. Pent up fury can spill over at any time, and it doesn’t matter who may be in the line of fire. And on that subject, my caller told me her husband had “lots of guns” in the house. That piece of information got me worried. Luckily, her husband was outside and she could talk to me for a few minutes, so I got lots of information from her. I advised her not to hang up when her husband came back into the house, but to put the phone down and leave the line open. Frequently we can hear (and thus record) critical information from a caller. Plus, I wanted to know what was going on inside as officers approached from the outside. This woman, remarkably, listened to me and did precisely as I asked her.
Sure enough, my conversation with her was suddenly terminated and I heard the phone “clunk” as she set it down. I heard the anger in his voice as he berated her and told her to pack up and leave. My colleague dispatching the officers over the radio asked to confirm the apartment number. I hoped I had heard it correctly. Sure enough I heard the sound of hammering on the door and “Key West Police!” so I told the dispatcher they had the correct apartment. Then I heard the calm familiar voice of one of the officers ask what was going on and I hung up, my job was done.
In this case I was surprised by a few features of the call. First, the caller listened to me very carefully and followed my instructions. She answered my questions exactly and put the phone down when her husband came into the apartment. So often, people in extreme distress lose the ability to listen and comprehend, but she was right on the mark. I was also surprised she called us direct- As victims of abuse, men or women, are frequently so beaten down and insecure, they prefer to call people they know for help.
Often the friend is some distance away, which makes it hard to send help. This is exactly why I created 911Buddy. Had my caller tried to talk to a friend, that friend might not have known who to call to get help. If the friend was in another town or another state, 911Buddy would have made it a simple operation to call the victim’s 911 center and for them to hold a three-way conversation using my app. 911 is not a unified system in the United States, and each of the 6,300 ,911 centers across the country operates independently, which makes it difficult to call when someone who lives in a different county or state needs help.