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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Overcast
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CRIME

Falk releases 'fact sheet' on botched Zimmermann 911 call
Callback error leads to two weeks of misdirected investigation


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The fallout over the mishandling of a 911 call made by UW student Brittany Zimmermann preceding her homicide on April 2 continues this week, as Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon addressing the call and an internal investigation conducted by the Dane County 9-1-1 Center.

Promising further details about the call, Falk and her staff issued two documents to the assembled media; a "fact sheet" providing limited information about the handling of the call, and a memo to Dane County Public Safety Communications Director Joe Norwick responding to the center's internal report about the call.

Falk, who recently sent letters of apology about the handling of the call to the Zimmermann family, made only a brief statement. She noted her personal concerns as a mother about the safety of her children, and declared without reservation that the public should continue to maintain confidence in the operations of the Dane County 9-1-1 Center.

The "fact sheet" consists of seven points about the call and the 9-1-1 Center's handling of it, but does not go into detail about the contents, time, or other context of the call itself. As noted in its introduction:

The following facts are provided by the County Executive's Office and the 9-1-1 Center, after having been reviewed in advance of release by representatives of the Madison Police Department, the Madison Mayor's Office, and the District Attorney's Offcie in order to provide clarification regarding the 9-1-1 calls related to the Brittany Zimmermann homicide investigation. This statement has been reviewed to ensure that the investigation and any potential prosecution are not harmed through the premature sharing [of] information with the public at this juncture of the investigation, while providing the maximum amount of allowable information to assist the public in learning what occurred.

The points note: the 911 call made from Zimmermann's cell phone that included "sounds that would have significance to a communicator, but were not heard by the communicator during this call" and was subsequently terminated after three inquiries; a subsequent and unrelated hang-up 911 call made by two males from a land line and answered by the same communicator; the communicator's callback to the second call; the lack of a callback to Zimmermann's cell phone; a misdirected investigation into the unrelated landline call that continued through April 15; the Center's systems for documenting incoming and outgoing calls; and, the likely procedure for locating Zimmermann's cell phone had a callback been made, one that concludes that another 5-30 minutes would have passed before the call would have been tied to Zimmermann's subscriber information and billing address.

The memo to Norwick, meanwhile, responds to the Center's internal investigation of its handling of the call, and declares, "Your investigation appropriately reviewed and responds to three matters: personnel performance, adequacy of existing technology, and dispatch protocol and policy." Falk praises Norwick and his staff, and their cooperation with the MPD in not releasing information about the call, and goes on to discuss the findings summarized in the "fact sheet."

Falk also urges the Center to take multiple steps in response to this issue. These include:

  1. A review of the Center's "current training and personnel qualifications."

  2. A process for reviewing "automatic sound recording of calls, automated telephone call detail records, and computer-aided dispatch records created by dispatchers" when multiple incoming calls arrive at the Center.

  3. As "there is no foolproof ability to pinpoint where a cell phone call is originated," the Center should address its protocol of notifying the MPD in the case of 911 calls from cell phones.

"You have told me that as recently as Wednesday, April 30th, the MPD reaffirmed with the 911 Center that police do not want the protocol changed," notes Falk in the memo to Norwick. "Given the tragedy of April 2nd, the question is: should there by automatic alert of police for any cell phone call where it cannot be confirmed there is no emergency?" She urges that this question be brought before the Dane County Public Safety Commission Center Board and its Operating Practices Advisory Committee, and also be considered in County jurisdictions outside Madison, where it "can promptly change current practice" with significant expense.

Falk finally urges Norwick to contact the Association of Public Safety Communication Officials to request a review of this situation and the Dane County 911 Center's general performance. The memo does not address the call for an audit made by multiple Dane County supervisors.

The complete text of the "fact sheet" and memo are available in the related downloads at right.

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