911 call provokes policy discussion

ALBANY, Ga. -- A 911 phone call received by dispatchers on March 24 from local restaurateur Bo Henry has provoked the city to review the efficiency of existing policies and procedures regarding emergency calls.

In a phone interview with The Herald, Henry said he has concerns about the communication between 911 dispatchers and officers.

According to Henry, on March 24 around 10 a.m. he called 911 to report a suspicious person on the 2000 block of Lullwater Drive.

A copy of the 911 call revealed that Henry reported to the 911 dispatcher that a black male, around six-feet-tall and wearing a backpack was acting suspicious and was near a vehicle that was parked at a stop sign.

"We've been having issues in the Lake Park area," said Henry. "We have been trying to keep up on this issue with crime and be vigilant."

The owner of Harvest Moon and other local businesses said Lake Park has experienced numerous burglaries throughout the past couple of weeks.

During the 911 phone call, Henry advised the dispatcher that a silver Impala was sitting at a stop sign for an inordinate amount of time and was not moving.

Henry said that during Neighborhood Watch meetings police officers advised Lake Park residents that potential burglars will often be dropped off by a car in the neighborhood and then picked back up after committing the crime.

Around 10:30 a.m., Henry informed the dispatcher that he was going to follow the suspicious vehicle. The dispatcher warned Henry not to chase the vehicle.

"I'm so sick of this crap and I'm done with it and it's time somebody started catching them and I'm going to help," Henry responded to the dispatcher.

Throughout the 911 call, the dispatcher repeatedly asks Henry to discontinue pursuit of the vehicle in which the restaurant owner replies that he is aware of the risks but will continue to follow the car until an officer can take over.

According to a timeline of the 911 phone call provided by the city of Albany, Henry chased the driver of the silver Impala throughout the Lake Park neighborhood, down Slappey Boulevard and through downtown on Pine and Broad Avenue. The chase continued for about 30 minutes.

At one point during the call, Henry becomes frustrated when in pursuit of the driver of the Impala they pass a marked APD unit on Broad Avenue.

"The dispatcher said she could not tell the cop (that I passed) to follow me," said Henry. "I don't understand that."

The restraunteur said he was concerned that the dispatcher was unable to communicate with officers and request help with the pursuit.

Henry also addressed his concerns to the dispatcher during the 911 phone call about the time it took the police to locate Henry and the driver of the Impala. The dispatcher informed Henry that a unit had already been informed of the chase and dispatched to their location.

Eventually, Henry lost sight of the driver of the Impala while trying to stop another officer for help. The driver of the Impala was later located and interviewed by police.

According to police, the driver was a black female who told investigators that the reason she had stopped at the stop sign for a lengthy period of time was because she was reading a sign about a tutoring program.

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said the city was not aware of any probable cause that supported chasing the woman.

"He (Henry) was asked on several occasions to stop," he said. "What if a child had run out into the street or someone had gotten hurt? We are hopeful that this is an isolated incident."

Smith said once Henry provided the dispatcher with the tag number of the vehicle the police could have handled the situation from there. The 911 dispatcher, with whom Henry was speaking during the incident, also stated that the tag number would be efficient for police to perform a follow-up investigation on the driver of the vehicle.

"We do not recommend citizens start pursuing vehicles. We need to let the police handle things like this," said Smith.

Tuesday, EMA Director and Albany Fire Chief James Carswell, Albany Police Chief John Proctor and city officials met to review the current procedure for emergency calls.

"We are going to review the tapes and look at how communication occurs during these situations," said Smith.

The driver of the Impala, whose name has not been released, and Henry currently do not face any charges stemming from the pursuit in which both vehicles were reaching speeds of over 50 mph in neighborhood zones, police said.