City officials, residents talk police response time

Published 12:03 am Friday, April 28, 2017

NATCHEZ — Following complaints from residents, City of Natchez officials are looking for answers to why police response times seem slow.

At Tuesday’s board of Aldermen meeting, resident Karen Stubbs appeared before the board to voice concerns about an incident earlier this month during which she waited more than 30 minutes for police officers to respond to a call.

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On April 19, Stubbs said, she called 911 after vandals, who she said were teenagers, caused a disturbance at the building in which she works near Merit Health Natchez.

Stubbs confronted the vandals and was attempting to get police there before they left the scene, she said.

While waiting for an officer, Stubbs said she called back multiple times, at one point trying the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, only to be told deputies were busy responding to traffic accidents.

Stubbs also said dispatchers were also rude when she called back to see why an officer had not arrived.

More than 30 minutes later, an officer arrived, and Stubbs made a report. When she went to the police department to pick up the report, Stubbs said, staff members told her that NPD has new computer, phone and dispatch systems, and “things were not working perfectly.”

“We have a crime problem,” Stubbs said. “We keep beating this dead dog with meeting after meeting,” she said. “Don’t suggest a Neighborhood Watch is a solution. … Neighborhood Watch is only as effective as who you can call (for help).”

Stubbs said Police Chief Daniel White personally apologized for the incident and attempted to get the dispatch call log to investigate the response time.

“The police chief couldn’t get the call log from his own department,” she said.

Natchez police and the county sheriff’s office recently consolidated dispatch systems into one e911 dispatch center, with Natchez police updating its systems and the department to work with the consolidated dispatch system.

The E911 dispatch center has been unable to create a call log differentiating which calls are sent to NPD officers and which calls are sent to ACSO deputies. Officials have said they are working to correct that problem.

Stubbs said consolidated dispatch “was supposed to be one of the big answers” to effective law enforcement in Natchez and Adams County.

“That has not happened,” Stubbs said. “Is this a training issue? Are we shorthanded? Is there an issue (with) organization of law enforcement? What prohibits timely and effective police response?

“Could a consolidation of our law enforcement help? Where is our leadership on this very important matter?”

Those are all questions city leaders say they are seeking to answer.

Following a call from Stubbs and a call from another resident who waited 45 minutes for an officer to respond to the scene of an accident, Mayor Darryl Grennell said he called a meeting with White, Sheriff Travis Patten, Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, who is chair of the city’s police committee, and dispatch officials last week.

Grennell said he was told no officers were available to dispatch to the incident because they were responding to other calls. White later said, however, that his records indicate two officers were available when Stubbs called.

White said he attempted to pull the dispatch tapes in order to investigate the matter further. Grennell said, however, he did not think the matter was one of pulling tapes; it was simply a matter of response time.

“Response time should not be over 30 minutes,” Grennell said. “To me, it appears, mechanically, we’ve got to do a better job of moving much more expeditiously to (decrease) the response time.”

Grennell said Patten informed him that if deputies are not available to be dispatched to ACSO calls, deputized personnel from the office would respond to calls. White said similarly qualified office personnel and investigators not regularly on patrol do the same at the police department.

Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford, who has led the efforts to consolidate dispatch systems, said Thursday the breakdown is not at the e911 center.

“If a resident calls 911 and they don’t get a dispatcher, then there is a problem,” Bradford said. “We can only dispatch officers that are available to go out on calls.”

Police vehicles are not outfitted with GPS trackers, meaning dispatchers must rely on officers radioing in their locations and whether they are in service.

“If you don’t have a GPS, you can say anything on the radio,” Bradford said.

“I’m a firm believer in taking ownership, and I can strongly attest to that it was not a 911 problem.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Frazier told White officers need to buckle down to improve response time.

“I understand we have a lot of new police (officers),” he said. “I understand the frustration … you’re just going to have to buckle down.”

Frazier said that with any new system, issues will arise and will need to be worked out.

Grennell said he thinks the consolidation of the dispatch services was done in a rush, and “we did not work out all the kinks.”

“There should not have been any kinks in that process,” he said. “There’s no excuse.”

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith asked that the specific incidents mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting be investigated and that the city continue with its plan to look at the feasibility of consolidating government services.

Grennell said after the meeting that because he is getting conflicting reports, he cannot pinpoint “who dropped the ball,” but said the city would look further into the matter.