Saturday, February 9, 2002

Unanswered 911
call shows flaws

After an attempted robbery in
Kailua, the victims could not
get in touch with police

By Rod Antone

A robbery attempt in Kailua has pointed out some inefficiencies with the Honolulu Police Department's backup communications system.

An emergency call involving a robbery attempt last week never made it through to 911 dispatchers because the "lines were busy," according to the victim's father.

"Basically, we made a mistake," said Acting Assistant Chief Karl Godsey. "It shouldn't have happened."

CrimeStoppers and the Hono- lulu Police Department want the public's help in identifying a male suspect who tried to rob an Enchanted Lake Subway store last Saturday.

Charles Davis, a retired Honolulu police detective, said: "The frustrating thing is calling 911 and hearing that all the lines are busy and to please stay on the phone. How can you stay on the line when something's happening to you at that moment?"

Davis' son was working at the Enchanted Lake Subway store last Saturday when the robbery attempt took place.

"What if this was a domestic case?" Davis said. "Someone calling 911 while their angry spouse was kicking in the door? ... I wasn't too happy Saturday night."

According to an HPD CrimeStoppers news release, the suspect walked into the Subway store at 10:15 p.m., armed with a large knife and carrying a "bomblike" device. Police said the suspect then ordered the employees to open the register.

When the employees told the suspect they could not, he tried to pry it open with his knife, police said. The male suspect was unsuccessful and fled on foot, police said.

In a letter Davis addressed to Mayor Jeremy Harris, Davis told the same story about the incident but added that the suspect told his 17-year-old son and another worker, "You are so lucky tonight," before walking out the door.

The letter then described how for the next 15 minutes, neither he nor his son was able to get through to a 911 dispatcher to explain what happened.

"When I arrived at Subway several minutes later, my son was at the door still holding his phone waiting for a 911 police operator to answer the call," Davis said in the letter.

"By now it was 10:30 p.m., and we still couldn't get through to police!"

Godsey said the problem with the call appeared to be a combination of equipment and procedure. At the time of the incident, HPD's communications system had been operating out the Kapolei Police Station -- where the designated backup system is located -- while HPD hurricane-proofed the windows in the communications offices in town.

Godsey said that unlike the communications system at police headquarters at 801 Beretania St., the Kapolei station does not have a dedicated urgent-call line. Because of that, Godsey said, the caller has to rely on the call-taker to alert someone of calls that require immediate attention.

"Apparently, at least in this instance, whoever took the call initially did not say, 'Look, I got an emergency call over here, let's get the information and get it over to someone. There's an in-progress case here, and we need to get somebody dispatched out there right away,'" Godsey said.

Godsey said there were several other, similar complaints about the 911 system while it was operating out of Kapolei from Jan. 27 to Feb. 3. After reviewing Davis' son's incident, Godsey said HPD will install a dedicated urgent-call line in Kapolei while commanders go over procedures with call-takers.

"We should be treating emergencies as emergencies immediately," Godsey said.

In response, Davis said, "This is not a complaint against the police or dispatch personnel; it's a complaint against the system."

The suspect in the robbery attempt is described as a male, 18 to 20 years old, 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall, 140 to 160 pounds, with a medium build, olive complexion and long curly eyelashes. He was last seen wearing a gray hooded jacket, black jeans and work shoes, and had what was described as a SWAT-type scarf covering the lower portion of his face. Police said he was armed with a silver knife and carried a square plastic box with wires attached.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call Detective James Anderson directly at 529-3436. Those wishing to remain anonymous may call CrimeStoppers at 955-8300 or *CRIME on a cellular phone.

E-mail to City Desk

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