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NC5 Investigates: 911 Emergency

More 911 Tapes Show Lives Endangered

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Elizabeth Bowers, burglary victim Elizabeth Bowers, burglary victim
Jennifer Bowers, 911 caller Jennifer Bowers, 911 caller
Terry Griffith, interim 911 director Terry Griffith, interim 911 director
Metro Council member Michael Craddock Metro Council member Michael Craddock

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- "NewsChannel 5 Investigates" has more exclusive 911 tapes like you've never heard.

And now a prominent Metro councilman says it's all evidence that Nashville's 911 system is broken.

Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams found these tapes in the 911 files. Every time that they get a complaint, they do investigate it.

But some errors are so basic that it raises questions about how the city is keeping its citizens safe.

In the case of four-year-old Elizabeth Bowers, she still recalls how upset her mother became when they came home back in December and discovered it had been burglarized.

"She was crying," the little girl told Phil. "I put a blanket on her. That didn't work. So I gave her a teddy bear. That didn't work too."

That's when Jennifer Bowers called 911.

"Your mind just sort of goes blank and you're relying on that person on the phone to walk you through what you're supposed to do," Jennifer recalled.

And what the the 911 operator suggested, Jennifer now knows, could have had devastating consequences.

911: "Are you hearing any noises that leads you to believe somebody is still inside the house?"
Jennifer: "I can't tell, to be honest with you. My four year old's upset, and I just can't tell."
911: "Do you have a way to safely check?"
Jennifer: "I can try. Give me just a minute."

"I'll give her credit," Jennifer recalled, "she stayed on the phone with me the whole time. But she really shouldn't have told me to go into the house."

911's interim director Terry Griffith says it's the kind of mistake for which her supervisors are always watching.

"That's not how we train people to perform here," Griffith insisted. "It's wrong for us to advise someone to go into a house that's been broken into because the person who broke in could still be there."

Then, there's the caller who ended up getting stabbed in a bar after calling 911 about a fight between a husband and wife.

Caller: "I was just yanked aside and said 'do not call the cops.'"
911: "Hello?"
Caller: "But I'm telling you, I'm telling you..."
911: "Can you listen to me?"
Caller: "This s**t's serious."
911: "Sir?"
Caller: "Bye."
911: "What number are you calling from?"
Caller: "Need to go."

The 911 operator -- a trainee -- never sent the police.

"The new person made a mistake, did not enter a call for service, which is an error -- and the trainer did not catch," Griffith said.

And our investigation found a case of elderly woman who wanted police to check to see if her diabetic nephew might need help.

Caller: "I can't get him."
911: "You can't go out to his house?"
Caller: "No, ma'am, I live over here way past Hermitage -- and I don't feel like I need to get out right now."
911: "OK. But if you don't feel like you need to get up, why do you feel like we should go?"
Caller: "Because y'all are able. I'm sick."

"She told us she was sick and couldn't do it," Griffith acknowledged. "So we shouldn't have asked her to do it."

All are examples, emergency officials say, of the fact that that 911 operators are only human.

"There's high expectations that when a million people call we get it right a million times -- and that's about how many time we get called a year," police chief Ronal Serpas told Phil Williams.

"I don't care if we get them all right, if we get one wrong."

But confidentially workers at the Emergency Communications Center say they're so short staffed that their breaks have been taken away and, every day, they're asked to give up their lunches -- which means they could end up working 9, 10, even 12 hours -- without a break.

"Are some people working 60, 80 hours a week?" Phil Williams asked Griffith.

"Some, a few -- not many," she answered.

"60 or 80 hours a week?"

"Some."

"That's a lot of hours."

"It's very few people. But they want it."

Metro Council member Michael Craddock said that's no excuse. He added that the blame doesn't lie with the 911 operators, so much as the system that's put them under such stress.

Griffith insists that the system is well-run and few errors are made -- which is little consolation for those who could end up paying the price for those mistakes.

"I can't believe that 911, who you are supposed to put your trust in, would put somebody in danger -- especially my little girl," Jennifer Bowers added.

Now, a spokesperson for the dispatch center says that supervisors have been reminded if someone is working overtime, they should not be skipping their lunch breaks.

As for the leadership at 911, the previous director resign almost a year ago.

The previous administration left the search for a new director to  the next mayor.

Karl Dean took office in September. But the 911 job wasn't advertised until last month.

The mayor's spokesperson says they hope to finally pick a successor by mid-summer.

911 Operator: 'I Don't Give a S***t'
(Listen to 911 Calls)

911 Officials Say No Excuse for Response

Mayor Replaces 911's Interim Director

Chief 'Mad as Hell,' Leads to 911 Shakeup

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