A distraught mom got an unwelcome surprise when her 10-month-old son accidentally locked himself in the car while playing with her keys. Then, when Shana Dees called 911 for help, she received another shock from the Tampa, Florida police dispatcher.
WFTS got hold of a recording from Dees’ 911 call. The temperature outside reached 95 degrees that day, and the mom was frantic.
“My infant son is locked in the car in the parking lot. It is so hot outside. I’m really concerned, like I don’t think I have time to call AAA before he would suffer heat exhaustion. Can somebody come out and open the door? I don’t even know if that is something you guys do.”
Shockingly, the 911 dispatcher responded:
“They won’t be able to try to gain access [to the] car unless the child is in some kind of distress and, well, by that point they may just smash your windows.”
Eight minutes later, an off-duty police officer walked out of the nearby CVS, called 911 and got them to send help. Meanwhile, a passerby smashed the car window with a wrench so Dees could get her son out.
Dees told WFTS that she had just buckled her son into his car seat and had turned to keep her shopping cart from rolling into the parking lot, when she remembered that he was holding her keys. Then, sure enough, she heard that tell-tale click that informed her the boy had locked himself inside.
“Those three seconds, when I was moving the cart, he hit the lock button […] I was just sitting there, watching him get hotter and turn redder, and he was soaked with sweat.”
Dees’ purse with her wallet and cell phone was also in the car, and she borrowed a passerby’s phone to make the 911 call.
An appalled spokeswoman informed WFTS that the Tampa Police Department has launched an investigation about why the 911 dispatcher did not follow protocol.
“The dispatcher absolutely made a mistake. This is not the way we do business.”
TPD spokeswoman Laura McElroy added:
“The dispatcher should’ve kept the mother on the line, should’ve found out where she was and then immediately dispatched both a police officer and fire rescue.”
How have budget cuts affected 911 response?
If the dispatcher’s reluctance to send help was an unintended consequence of budget cuts, that wouldn’t be surprising. Four decades of conservative policies — including deregulation of banks, tax cuts for the rich, stagnant wages, the 2008 housing market crash, and a relentless focus on deficit reduction and austerity measures — have left cities strapped for cash.
In 2012, WTSP reported Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn asked all city departments to trim 5 percent from their budgets. This cut Tampa Police Department funds by $1.4 million.
Similar cuts across the nation have caused other cities to struggle with responding to 911 emergency calls.
- In 2013, an Oregon woman was sexually assaulted after making a 911 call because no law enforcement was available to help, according to a dire report from CNN.
- A February 2014 investigation by KXAN, uncovered an internal City of Austin, Texas email that discussed a deliberate plan to save money by cutting back on 911 dispatchers’ hours. As a result, 5,693 911 calls got put on hold between July and September 2012.
- In April, 2014, The SF Bay Guardian reports 911 dispatchers organized a protest because the toxic combination of tax breaks for tech companies and crippling budget cuts have left them unable to handle the 3,000 calls per day they receive.
Here’s the video with WFTS’ report on Tampa 911’s botched reponse:
h/t Yahoo! News.