A 911 call from a murdered college student's cell phone featured sounds that should have been significant to a 911 operator, but they were not heard by the dispatcher during the call, Dane County's top official said Tuesday.
County Executive Kathleen Falk apologized for errors in how the call was managed, but said even if it had been handled correctly, it probably would not have saved Brittany Sue Zimmermann's life on April 2.
"From what I know, I do not believe that had the errors not occurred in the 911 center, that her murder could have been prevented," she said.
Global positioning satellite information would have dispatched police to a 24-unit building next to Zimmermann's apartment in downtown Madison, and a more extensive search of cell phone subscriber records would have taken as long as 30 minutes, county officials said.
Authorities have refused to release the call, describe its content or say when it was made or how long it lasted, saying that could compromise the murder investigation.
On Tuesday, Falk ordered a review of training and personnel qualifications at the county's 911 center and said a national association should also review the matters. She also said she has sent apology letters to Zimmermann's family and fiancé.
County officials and investigators trying to solve the murder of Zimmermann, 21, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student from Marshfield, acknowledged last week that the 911 center had received a call from her cell phone the day of the murder.
Madison police said evidence in the call should have triggered the dispatch of an officer, but that they weren't notified. The head of the county's 911 center said it doesn't have the ability to accurately track emergency calls made from cell phones.
...Falk said residents should have confidence in the system, but acknowledged a series of problems with how the 911 operator responded to the call. She said the 911 dispatcher's failure to hear critical sounds was just one of the errors:
• A new chronology provided by Falk indicates the dispatcher asked three questions during the call from Zimmermann's phone before it ended, but did not make a follow-up call as required by 911 rules.
• After the call from Zimmermann's phone, the dispatcher fielded a hang-up call from a land line. Although she did call that number back, she didn't alert law enforcement - another breach of protocol. Police were first told the call back was to Zimmermann's phone and wasted time focusing on the two men who made the second call, thinking they had used Zimmermann's phone. Falk said records reviewed later showed no connection between the calls.
• Police investigating the murder were falsely told the 911 dispatcher did make a follow-up call to Zimmerman's cell phone. That call did not happen.
Falk said the 911 center was fully staffed at the time of the call and that there were no distractions that would have prevented the operator from hearing the sounds on the call.
Falk is not addressing this matter properly.
Sending apology letters to Zimmermann's family and fiancé is appropriate but that fails to adequately address the multiple errors by the 911 dispatcher.
Falk's call to review training and personnel qualifications at Dane County's 911 center is the right thing to do, but again, not enough.
The dispatcher should at least be reprimanded for failing to follow policy. I think she should be fired.
The community can't have confidence in the 911 system knowing that such an incompetent woman was on the job. Clearly, there are serious problems in terms of the hiring and training of dispatchers.
Worst of all, it's wrong for Falk to declare that Zimmermann would have been murdered even if the 911 call hadn't been so horribly botched.
She can't be certain of that, unless the "critical sounds" are of the actual murder.
But even in that case, quick action may have led to the arrest of the murder suspect. So under any circumstances, the errors have had serious consequences. Zimmermann is dead and no one is in custody for her murder.
...Falk said she continues to have confidence in Joe Norwick, director of the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center, but she and other county officials are still reviewing whether the operator should be disciplined.
The dispatcher asked to be transferred to a different department in county government; it was granted.
It should have been demanded.
Falk doesn't seem to get that this a very big deal.
This has to be torture for Zimmermann's loved ones. They have to cope with their loss as well as comes to terms with the fact that when their beloved Brittany called for help, her call was ignored.