For 911 callers in BernCo, ABQ: A dispatch debacle


ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Mike Worner was surprised when a suspected drunk driver hit his his truck on Interstate 25. But he was shocked when he called 911 and it took emergency crews an hour to respond.

His situation is not unique.

Two men tell different stories about why they needed emergency help. Both have similar outcomes: It took 911 operators nearly an hour to send help to a scene.

What caused the delays? In these cases, it was confusion over city and county lines.

“They’re going to want the closest to respond to their house,” said Robert Sanchez, vice president of the Albuquerque firefighters union. “I’m absolutely sure that they don’t care if it’s a city unit or a county unit or the truck is green, purple or red or whatever color it is, they just want someone to show up and do their job.”

Worner said that didn’t happen in February. He was driving near Lomas and I-25 in Albuquerque when he says a woman collided into the side of his truck and kept driving. Worner immediately called 911 and followed the woman’s vehicle. A city dispatcher told him help was on the way.

“We can type in an intersection and that will tell us … if you’re heading in a direction or going somewhere … who it belongs to,” said Erika Wilson, manager of the Emergency Communications Center for the city of Albuquerque.

“She’s weaving back and forth, she’s going 48 miles an hour, and she’s barely keeping it between the lanes,” Worner told a 911 operator.

Edited 911 Call

The suspected drunk driver continued south on I-25 and exited at Rio Bravo, which is in county territory. Worner’s call was transferred to a county dispatcher.

A dispatcher told him: “OK sir, they’re going to have Bernalillo County make contact with you, OK?”

The woman, later identified as 68-year-old Magdalena Christian of California, finally pulled off the interstate and onto the shoulder of Rio Bravo. Dispatchers shuffled the call back and forth, debating whether city or county officers should respond.

It was like the dispatch version of ping-pong.

And all the while, Worner waited.

“I made multiple calls, I called every avenue I could, 242-COPS, 911. I called #DWI,” Worner said. “On the phone they told me no one was in the area. I watched three bike units pass by.”

When Worner called #DWI, a dispatcher told him there were no New Mexico State Police officers in the area. But one was in the office, many miles away in town. That officer did respond. Worner said it took him 30 minutes.

At one point, the State Police Officer took the phone away from Worner, who was speaking with a dispatcher. The 911 operator tried to get that officer to take the call.

“Do you guys want to just take it?” the female dispatcher said.

“Well no, I just pulled up here. If you want to just send a unit here,” the State Police officer replied.

“Well, we have unit around there,” the dispatcher said.

“You need to send a unit. I’m here, right off of Rio Bravo and I-25,” the State Police officer said.

After nearly an hour, Worner said he had grown frustrated.

“He’s complaining that he he does not have any units there yet, that he called over an hour ago,” one dispatcher tells another on the 911 call.

“Is that the Michael Worner guy?” a dispatcher said, sounding annoyed. “We have an officer on the way,” she says to the first dispatcher.

Almost an hour later, Albuquerque police officers arrived and arrested Christian. They charged her with aggravated DWI and leaving the scene of an accident.

“We conversed with Bernalillo County, they said they had the call so we disengaged our units,” Wilson said. “Should have been more clear, and we’ve taken steps to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.”

The same city and county confusions happened last January.

On that occasion, the problem was with the city and county fire departments. A man was riding his bicycle near Edith and Jefferson and saw a wrecked car that had struck a fence. A 76-year-old man was in the vehicle. The bicyclist called 911.

Edited 911 Call

“Went through the fence, stumbled out of the car, front end’s wrecked,” the bicyclist says to a dispatcher.

“We’ll get someone out there to help him out,” a county dispatcher told him.

That dispatcher handed the call off to the city because the accident was within city limits. But when the caller biked back through the area, 40 minutes later, there were no ambulances, no fire trucks and no officers to help the elderly man.

Frustrated, he called 911 again. The county transferred him to a city dispatcher and crews finally arrived.

“One thought they had responded and the other one thought they had gotten it, it was a confusion there,” said Frank Barka, Bernalillo County fire chief.

The city and county fire departments have a new policy under which the closest unit is supposed to respond, no matter if the call is in the city our the county.

Sanchez said the policy exists only on paper and as proof he offered the elderly man’s crash.

“It’s a perfect example, showing you that there might be a chance that no one will respond. It could be a matter of life or death,” Sanchez said.

Chief Barka said the statistics speak for themselves and prove the mutual aid agreement with the city and county works.

From January 1 through March 31, Chief Barka said, “county went to city 520 times — to a closer unit — and city went to county about 213 times.”

However delays still happen.

The agreement that Albuquerque and Bernalillo County have in place to get the closest units to respond.

Sanchez said in order to eliminate delays in calls, both city and county dispatch need to be on the same computer software and currently they are not. But there have been some preliminary discussions with the city and county about getting both on the same systems.

Sanchez said residents have waited long enough.

“The citizens of Bernalillo County and the city of Albuquerque deserve better,” he said.

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