Atlanta PD says 'human error' delayed response to EMS crew confronted by hostile crowd

Police officials said the trainee 911 operator who took the call mistakenly labeled it as a lower priority call

By Laura French

ATLANTA — Atlanta police say "human error" by a rookie 911 operator delayed the response to an EMS crew's call for help. 

Grady EMS providers were at the scene of a medical emergency on Dec. 11, 2020 when a "hostile crowd" surrounded them, according to WSB-TV. Dispatchers had been given the wrong address of the medical emergency by a 911 caller, and members of the crowd were upset with how long the ambulance had taken to get there, officials say. 

The EMS crew called 911 to ask for assistance from Atlanta police in dealing with the irate crowd, then called a second time emphasizing that they needed officers there as soon as possible, according to dispatch records. In a third 911 call from EMS providers, the 911 operator told them the call was still pending and couldn't tell them when help might arrive. 

Atlanta officers arrived 14 minutes after the crew's first 911 call, and an investigation found that a police unit hadn't been dispatched until nine minutes after the first call. Grady dispatchers, unsure of when Atlanta police would arrive, also called for help from Georgia State University Police, Georgia Capitol Police and Georgia State Patrol.

State troopers were the first to arrive and saw a man attempting to break into the back of the ambulance. They arrested the man and found that he was carrying a handgun with a 30-round magazine, according to a state patrol report. 

Atlanta police officials told WSB-TV this week that the delay in dispatching a police unit to the scene was the result of a mistake by the 911 operator, who was still in training at the time. 

"We have learned that a trainee took [the] call. They incorrectly labeled it as a lower priority than what it should've been, which led to it being held for that nine minutes," Atlanta Police Department Spokesman Sgt. John Chafee told the news station. "This call should have been immediately dispatched ... It was a case of human error." 

Chafee did not specify if the department would be taking any action as a result of the incident but said the department hopes to be able to respond more quickly when Grady crews need them in the future. 

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