From a very early age, we are taught to call 911 in case of an emergency. What if the 911 dispatcher feels that what we think is an emergency isn't an urgent issue at all? This is the question that has sparked debate over dispatcher protocol when a call placed to 911 minutes before a shooting spree was not made top priority.
A local woman called 911 to report a man walking around armed with a handgun and a rifle. She also told the dispatcher that the man apparently had gas cans on him as well. The 911 dispatcher originally classified the call as a priority three but upgraded it to a priority two shortly after, neither of which represents an imminent threat to life. The dispatcher told the woman that Colorado is an open carry state, making it legal for the man to walk around armed. However, the dispatcher did admit that the man having gas cans on his person seemed suspicious. The dispatcher asked the caller if she or others were in immediate danger to which the caller answered no. The dispatcher then ended the call telling the woman to have a safe day.
A few minutes later the woman called back stating that the armed man had shot and killed a bicyclist and police were dispatched. Within 10 minutes of the original call to 911, the shooter had killed three people. When officers arrived at the scene, the shooter fired at the officers and they returned gunfire hitting the shooter and killing him.
In the wake of this tragic event, intense debate has been sparked over police dispatch protocol regarding armed individuals in the public. Since Colorado is an open carry state, many individuals feel that calls to 911 reporting armed individuals should still be treated as urgent regardless of state law. It is unknown if the victims' families will file any type of lawsuit, but with so much focus on open carry laws, it would be understandable for the family members to seek change in dispatch protocol.
Source: The Denver Post, "Colorado Springs police release tape of 911 call warning of man with gun," Kieran Nicholson, Nov. 4, 2015