Community has E911 concerns after Sunday shootings

Published 12:27 am Tuesday, October 3, 2017

NATCHEZ — In the wake of multiple early Sunday morning shootings, dozens of concerned residents gathered Monday evening at the Natchez Senior Citizens Center to voice concerns about public safety.

The Ward 4 neighborhood watch meeting was much more high profile than a typical meeting, as officials recognized the public’s concern following the approximately five different shooting incidents, one of which led to the death of 34-year-old Richard Frazier.

The shootings prompted many residents to call 911, and some at the meeting voiced displeasure with the city’s E911 dispatch system.

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Approximately 20 people at the meeting raised their hands that they had heard gunshots from that night, and three residents present at the meeting said they called 911.

One concerned citizen, who was so fearful she requested her name not be published, said she called 911 at approximately 4:59 a.m. The woman claimed the 911 dispatcher with whom she spoke was “very uninterested” in her report of shots fired, telling the woman that officers were in the area and hanging up soon afterward. She also said she had heard of people that night calling 911 but receiving an automated message.

The citizen then addressed another concern, which was the communication between dispatchers and Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong, Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten and Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, all of whom attended the meeting.

“I, personally, would like to know who is supposed to communicate to the three of you — Mr. Mayor, Sheriff, Chief — who is supposed to communicate that to you. I think it’s pretty important because this is not the south side of Chicago; this is Natchez.”

She said to her understanding, none of the three officials had been made aware of gunfire that had occurred on the corner of Jefferson and North Union streets.

Resident and FOR Natchez President Chesney Doyle also asked about the communication between officials.

“I don’t feel safe that my mayor and my police chief and my sheriff read about automatic weapons fire in downtown Natchez in the newspaper,” Doyle said.

Numerous other residents cited concerns about both E911 and other communications issues.

Addressing both topics, Armstrong gave two potential, tentative explanations, one being that a car accident late Sunday that took out two main-line electric poles on U.S. 61 North may have led to complications with the dispatching system.

His other theory was that the calls regarding the shooting on Jefferson Street were never dispatched, though he said he would look back in the call log to try and figure out what happened.

“It sounds as if those two or three of you that called about the shooting over there by Jefferson (Street), it sounds like to me it was just a matter of somebody not passing the message along, but I’ll know a little bit more about that tomorrow,” Armstrong said.

Grennell then chimed in to give his thoughts on the E911 system. Grennell said if, indeed, the wreck caused issues with the dispatch system, that means a problem with the system must be addressed.

“People should be able to call 911 and get an answer,” Grennell said.

Grennell then told an anecdote that occurred just prior to Monday night’s meeting, in which he had coincidentally called 911.

Grennell said when he was preparing to head to the meeting, his neighbor alerted Grennell that the neighbor’s daughter might have found a pistol in their back yard. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun, but the mayor’s 911 call was less than seamless, Grennell said.

Multiple times, the dispatcher asked Grennell to provide his name, though she was unable to understand him even after repeating himself multiple times, Grennell said.

“Finally, I got frustrated — because I don’t like to use titles — and I said, ‘It’s the mayor. Send them to (the address).’

“It’s the mayor. You can’t understand me. Evidently, we have an issue.”

Grennell received both laughter and applause after that final statement.

Later, Grennell said he would arrange a meeting to delve deeper into any E911 issues.

“This week, I will be calling a meeting with the E911 director, Robert Bradford, the sheriff and the police chief to see what’s going on,” Grennell said.

A separate complaint heard during the meeting concerned the ability of the police department and sheriff’s office to collaborate. The same concerned citizen that raised the E911 issue said she believes the police have had a history of personnel unwilling to cooperate with the sheriff’s deputies.

“If y’all can’t get it together, then we’ll consolidate,” she said. “We’ll come out — we’ll vote for the consolidation, because it is unacceptable.”

She continued that she was glad Armstrong is now the city’s chief because she believes he is willing to work with the sheriff.

Both Armstrong and Patten responded to that issue, aiming to dismiss any notion the two law enforcement entities could not cooperate going forward.

Patten said Armstrong had come to the sheriff’s office three or four times a week to meet with Patten.

“For the two years since (I’ve) been in office, we’ve been trying to dispel that (problem).”

Armstrong agreed, calling any unwillingness to work with the sheriff’s office “asinine” and “ignorant.”

“If I think there is a law enforcement officer that won’t work with these guys —” he said while gesturing toward Patten, “— then he’s out of there.”

Patten also said his department would begin running more “sweeps” within the city to try and aid the police department in alleviating the city’s gun problems.