by Max Brantley
You might remember the news that a man was mugged at Fourth and Louisiana about 10 p.m. Nov. 27. His leg was broken, but he waited 46 minutes for assistance after calling 911. No ambulance or police arrived and he finally was taken to a hospital in a private car.
Police Chief Stuart Thomas talked to the Downtown Neighborhood Association recently about police response to that episode. Some changes have been made. Kathy Wells reports on yesterday's session, which included a discussion about the demand on police for special events such as Razorback games and the resulting negative impact on coverage of the rest of the city:
Chief Stuart Thomas of the LR Police Dept. briefed residents at the DNA Mayor's Public Safety meeting yesterday about what action has been taken to remedy response shortfalls that occurred Nov. 27. A man was mugged and his leg broken at La. & Fourth, and at 10 p.m. that night he called 911 for aid. For 46 min. there was no response from police or ambulance crews. He got himself to the hospital in a private car. City Manager Bruce Moore apologized personally to the victim.
Thomas added more detail yesterday to what had been provided previously. He outlined these remedies and status reports:
* The damaged radio part has finally been replaced and put in service. Obsolete equipment meant the part had to be custom-manufactured. This part had been struck by lightning, so was not in service Nov. 27, resulting in no on-screen notations for the dispatcher to learn which patrol cars were available, or still answering a call for help. Slower radio reports on status moved by a secondary channel and were relayed to the dispatcher.
* Replacement of the obsolete radio equipment would cost $8 million, which remains out of reach despite efforts over the years to find this capital sum in the city budget, or by grants.
* The shift commander and deputy commander on the midnight shift have been replaced because of what Thomas concluded was "inadequate management by supervisors." Part of the shortfall in officers available to come to the aid of the victim resulted from the fact shift change was occurring in that hour from 10 to 11 p.m. This put a staggered array of cars out of service, while the afternoon shift officer returned to base, vacated the unit, and the midnight officer checked the condition of the vehicle, loaded his gear, and moved into service.
* Thomas said four more cars should have been brought into service sooner on the midnight shift, in view of the "perfect storm" of cascading problems in meeting the doubled calls that came in that hour. He repeated the observation that by the hour's end, calls had dropped back to normal for a Saturday holiday night (Thanksgiving). the fast-moving nature of the surge in calls meant there was no time to call in officers to come from home, get gear, and move into service. However, a typical response by supervisors to heavy call loads is to bring incoming officers in earlier, and to hold over the departing shift longer, and both actions were taken that night, he said.
* There were 31 officers protecting Little Rock on that shift that night. With some out of service moving prisoners, and some on calls that demanded three officers for one incident, and some changing to the next shift officer, the available officers dropped to 20 at times in that period.
* The Razorback game crowd was policed that day with a force that included 8 - 12 officers from the mobile unit, START unit and the DWI unit, so these were off the streets by the hour of the overwhelming surge in calls. These squads normally would serve as backup to supervisors in a time of high calls.
* The priority level for this medical-aid needed call was upgraded to Level 2. this had been on Level 3, and officers were dispatched on a same level with a burglar alarm being triggered.
* A discussion was held with heads of the fire and ambulance services, and more consideration is to be given by those supervisors on whether to proceed in the event no officer is able to come speedily. These have held back until an officer cleared the scene, to assure no further attacks or injuries occurred.
* Current policy is for the department to police major events held annually, and $1 million is budgeted for this purpose. These include popular crowd-pleasing events such as Razorback football games, RiverFest and the State Fair. To juggle the shortage of available officers, Thomas said, he has offered compensatory time off to officers to cover all tasks. These must eventually get that time off, Thomas continued, and that still leaves thin ranks to respond to all needs. He said he does urge event sponsors to provide more private security, and this is an element supplied in part at events today. He conceded he would always want more money, and more officers.
Sec. Kathy Wells asked Mayor Mark Stodola whether he would change this policy to require more security be provided by event sponsors, leaving more LR police to protect the city at large. A reply is pending.