911 calls from north Tulsa shooting investigated

Posted at 10:38 PM, Apr 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-04 23:38:22-04

TULSA - One day after north Tulsa store owners shoot a man they say was making threats, they stand by the fact that all of it could've been prevented if 911 had answered the phone.

911 directors say police were sent within minutes of the store's calls.

The dust has settled at the Zenzel Plaza after police say a man threw trash cans, hit the windows and attacked customers on Sunday.

“I called 911. It was about 2 p.m. I got a recording and I was shocked. This was an emergency,” said Owner Elvia Gist.

Gist told 2 Works For You she hung up after she was put on hold by the emergency service twice.

911 directors say Gist was placed in their police queue after going through a human switchboard system that filters calls to Fire, EMSA, as well as police.

When they say she hung up after 18 seconds, they say they called back as part of policy, but no one spoke on the other end.

“We heard the chaos, and it was like, eh, we really don't know what's going on, but let's assume the worst, put it in as a priority 3 and send officers,” said City of Tulsa 911 Director Terry O'Malley.

O'Malley says other calls to 911 at the same location revealed that a man had been shot – later sending fire and EMSA to the scene too.

Now directors are hoping residents will take the time to let the system do its job.

“We're there to help whether you help us or not,” she said. “Stay calm, know your address. That's what I need to tell you.”

But Gist believes the system needs reform.

“I thank God the man never died, but still, all of this would have been avoided if 911 had answered,” Gist said.

Directors agree.

They say this isn't the first time residents have been frustrated by the hold times they experience with 911.

They say while Fire and EMSA calls are immediate transfers, police calls can sometimes take longer because of staffing.

Directors tell us Tulsa is only one of two systems in the country that still use this human switchboard system, but that's soon to change.

“We do it the way we've done it mainly because we want to get those Fire and EMSA calls as quickly as possible,” said O'Malley. “But we are changing our tune once we get to better staffing levels, you're going to call right into law and someone will answer. And you won't be put into a new queue.”

Directors say those changes could happen as early as the end of April.

In the meantime, 911 operators say they will always help everybody that calls in.

If you stay on the line, know which agency you need and have a physical address or location, they say first responders can reach you in a matter of minutes.


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