The manager of an East Side convenience store locked a would-be shoplifter in his store shortly before noon Wednesday, then called 911 for help.
He waited. And waited. And waited. He estimated that about an hour passed.
Finally, Pali Agha, who runs the Exxon Express convenience store at 1055 Genesee St. near Fillmore Avenue, said he placed a call to the district police station.
Moments later, officers responded and arrested the shoplifting suspect, Agha said.
"I have no problems with the police. They responded within two minutes," said Agha. "The problem is with the 911 dispatch system. The officers apparently never got the call."
But a police official who reviewed the case today disputed some of the facts, claiming the call was immediately dispatched by 911. While First Deputy Police Commissioner Crystalea Pelletier was unable to pinpoint the exact arrival time of the officers, she said the suspect was in a patrol car, on his way to Central Booking, less than 40 minutes after the initial call was made.
Still, a string of complaints about slow response times and improperly dispatched calls is triggering a sweeping review of the 911 emergency calling system, Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina announced Wednesday.
During a meeting of the Common Council's Police Reorganization Committee, Diina said he expects the study to be completed within two months.
"911 is the citizens' lifeline, and we take it very seriously," Diina told eight lawmakers. "Our response time is very good when it comes to high-priority calls. But we've had situations where calls are not prioritized properly. We're equally concerned."
Wednesday's incident was reported by Fillmore Council Member Karen R. Ellington.
Pelletier said today she still must listen to the actual call. But she assumes police arrived on the scene within a half-hour, which would not be an unreasonably long response time for a shoplifting-related call.
But Wednesday, several other lawmakers recounted additional incidents involving slow responses by police to 911 calls that should have been given higher priority.
For example, a woman on Dartmouth Avenue called 911 to report a burglary, telling a dispatcher that she heard noises in a closet.
"The woman waited for 15 or 20 minutes, but no one came," said University Council Member Betty Jean Grant. "She finally decided to leave her house."
Niagara Council Member Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr., chairman of the Police Reorganization Committee, said there have also been numerous complaints about callers being treated in a rude or insensitive way when they called the emergency line.
When calls come into Erie County's 911 system from callers in Buffalo, they are routed to the Police Department's 911 call center. Each call is given a priority status, from 1 to 5. The highest-priority calls include a shooting or an officer in trouble.
"We handle 250,000 calls a year, and with that volume, you're always going to have some problems," said Diina.