Ten Remarkable Talking Points on the 9-1-1 Calls Related to the Shooting of an Arlington Heights Police Officer


9-1-1 telephone audio of hostage incident when an Arlington Heights police officer was shot and critically injured and a female victim as held hostage by ex-boyfriend Eric Anderson.

The shooting of an Arlington Heights police officer is not something any Arlington Heights residents would expect. Every police officer nationwide faces the chance that it could happen every day he or she goes to work, but it is really not something expected in Arlington Heights. When the shooting of a police officer occurred in a neighborhood just northwest of Palatine Road and Arlington Heights Road it was also remarkable that the shooting occurred in the Enclave neighborhood. The neighborhood is one of the last major neighborhood single-family developments in Arlington Heights — consisting of well kept, maintenance-free homes built in the early 1990s. The neighborhood is probably one of the least-visited by police in Arlington Heights with neighbors that look out for each other, and homeowners that are members of a neighborhood association that comes with its rules and regulations to keep properties in good shape. However, on Thursday, December 12, 2013 about 6:52 p.m. police responded to the normally quiet neighborhood, and here are additional remarkable points about the incident.

1. “Man with a Gun” or “Shots Fired” ???
Shots are apparently fired before police arrive during 9-1-1 call. In a press conference, police referred to the call as a “man with a gun” call. The call was actually a “shots fired” call. “Shots fired” takes it up a notch regarding the seriousness of the nature of the call. In the first call to 9-1-1, a gunshot is clearly heard 14 seconds into the call, and the caller states, “He’s shooting again.” This call should have gone out as “Shots Fired” not “Man with a Gun”. It might seem overly exacting, but the devil is in the detail.

2. Fast Response by 9-1-1 and Officer McEvoy
The first caller hears a “cop” at door as early as 1:12 into the 9-1-1 call (FAST RESPONSE). Arlington Heights police are well known for fast responses to emergencies in many points in the village. The nearby major intersection of Arlington Heights Road and Palatine Road is known for frequent police presence, and officer Michael McEvoy was likely close by. Seventy-two seconds is still a remarkable response time, considering this is the time from the start of the first phone call to caller contact by an on-scene police officer. It usually takes at least 15-20 seconds to exchange information with the caller. That leaves a possible response time by Officer Michael McEvoy — from dispatch to walking in the front door of the townhouse — perhaps as little as 52 seconds. The speed that this incident unfolded would have been highly stressful to all involved.

3. “And Who Are You?”
The first caller says, “And who are you?” as police apparently arrive (WHO IS SHE ASKING?). When the first caller answers the door, she urges someone to please hurry. That is apparently Police Officer Michael McEvoy. The caller is apparently telling Officer McEvoy, “Please hurry, he’s got a gun!” But then she mysteriously she says (1:24), “And who are you?” It is puzzling who she is asking the question. Is it the gunman Eric Anderson? … who maybe “up close” she didn’t recognize? Or perhaps when she called 9-1-1, she hadn’t really had a good look at Eric Anderson. Or was there a neighbor at the door that arrived to help? Immediately after the first caller asks, “And, who are you?” a voice is heard saying, “Get in the house!” It is hard to tell if that is exactly what is said. But it could be McEvoy’s voice seconds before he was shot. Is it possible the gunman, Eric Anderson, came outside without the caller’s awareness? Is it possible the gunman came outside to greet McEvoy, pretending to be one of the victims? And then ambushed McEvoy?

4. “Are the Police There?”
One of the most difficult things for callers to 9-1-1 is the process involved when a caller calls for help and is asked a barrage of questions that may seem irrelevant to the caller. “Is anybody hurt?” “What does he (offender) look like?” “What kind of weapon does he have?” Most people just want to get the police at their scene now. Usually other 9-1-1 staff are dispatching the emergency personnel while the calltaker is getting as much information as possible to provide a safer operating scene for responding police or firefighter/paramedics. The caller might think the police haven’t even been alerted yet, but actually they have been dispatched by another 9-1-1 staff member.

It’s very common for 9-1-1 dispatchers to confirm that police have made contact with the caller or the victim in an emergency call. Often the dispatcher makes sure there is police contact with the caller or confirms that the caller sees the police before the phone is disconnected — and in this incident disconnection would have been intensely avoided. Deliberate phone disconnection depends on the type of call, and almost always the caller disconnects with 9-1-1 … it’s not 9-1-1 disconnecting with the caller. What is remarkable is that at 1:22, the dispatcher asks “Are the police there?” The tone of his voice suggests that he is surprised that the police are there. The calltaker doesn’t seem to speak as though he is confirming that he knows the police are there. This is NOT a criticism of the dispatcher/calltaker, but begs the question: How integrated were the dispatchers and calltakers during that incident. Sure, the dispatchers did a fantastic job, but did Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS) function properly in clarifying the awareness for police on the scene and in clarifying awareness of dispatchers in the 9-1-1 center. If the dispatcher that is talking to the primary caller — who is reporting a man with a gun and shots fired — doesn’t know that the first police officer is on the scene and walking up to the townhouse, there was a serious deficiency in the functioning of the 9-1-1 center.

5. Bravery and Possible Lack of Situational Awareness
So supposing the calltaker didn’t know that the police were on the scene; did Police Officer Michael McEvoy know that shots were already fired? As he rushed up to the front door of the townhouse, did he know the offender was identified by 9-1-1 dispatchers as Eric M. Anderson? There’s no time for a criminal history on the name, of course. Did McEvoy know shots had been fired? Maybe he heard the shots fired inside the townhouse as he approached, and decided in an act of bravery to go in before back-up officers arrived.

So how much did officer Michael McEvoy know as he was walking up to the townhouse? Usually we could rely on recorded radio traffic, but …

6. Multi-Million Radio System’s Recorder Fails
The radio communications, that are supposed to be recorded, failed during the incident. According to NWCDS Assistant Technical Services Director Pat Dollard, the recording system went offline at 10:45 a.m. Dec. 12, 2013. Also according to NWCDS, the malfunction was not noticed until late at night after McEvoy was shot. The recorder wasn’t functioning again until the early morning hours of December 13, 2013. What is remarkable is that NWCDS only has one point in the system that records their radio communications audio, and that the Arlington Heights Police Department didn’t have any redundant system so they could replay their radio communications independently of the 9-1-1 center. NWCDS has had numerous failures with their new multi-million dollar radio system, which went online on June 5, 2013. NWCDS has also had numerous failures with their Computer-Aided Dispatch System (CAD). It is remarkable that designers and administrators have not worked on redundancy in their system to assure that critical functions are available.

In many cases across the nation, the failure of the NWCDS recorders would not be a problem, because volunteers submit radio feeds recorded from police scanners that monitor public safety operations in communities to RadioRefeference.com (lately Broadastify.com). However, on June 5, 2013, when police switched to a multi-million dollar radio system from Motorola, they switched on military-grade encryption which prevents scanners from monitoring public safety communications in most of the northwest suburbs. Because of the actions of NWCDS and the Executive Committee decisions, there is no record of the radio communications of this extremely important and critical event.

The integrity of NWCDS is in question. There should always be checks in government to validate that an agency is performing as expected. It is reprehensible that there is no radio communication recording of the incident, especially since police radio communications were secured from public monitoring less than one year ago. It also begs the question: Is it TRUE that there was a recorder malfunction? Or is there something else that NWCDS is trying to hide? This is exactly the type of issue that proponents of open public dispatch radio communications say is the reason that communications should be open and monitored by the public.

7. Malfunction? Did Radios Fail? Or Something Else?
RADIOS FAILED 5 DAYS BEFORE MCEVOY WAS SHOT. The dispatch console radios at NWCDS went down overnight starting at about 10:55 p.m. Friday December 6, 2013 and were down for most of the night and early morning hours into Saturday morning. As often happens, dispatchers at NWCDS were performing in a manner with extra effort to make up for the shortcomings of the technical operations of their 9-1-1 center. They used portable radios to dispatch calls.

For the safety of our police officers, an investigation is needed to determine whether there were any malfunctions or NWCDS operational problems the night that McEvoy was shot. Was there another radio failure? Also, police have reported in past months that volume controls on police radios are often accidentally turned down. It has caused some officers to miss calls, and resort to phone calls to make sure they have received communications or received dispatched calls. A newer compressed TDMA digital technology with the new system also makes it more difficult for police officers to recognize each other’s voices. Several police officers have joked that they all sound like Apple’s Siri. This could be extremely critical in a situation where multiple officers are communicating at a scene such as Thursday’s shooting. For example, if a police officer doesn’t use a unit number, other police officers could have difficulty interpreting who was talking and where they are located as a scene unfolds. It just adds mental load to the decision-making and operational tasks of the police officer — a mental load that is unnecessary. Months ago, Schaumburg police even turned off their encryption for a day to see if that would improve voice quality. It didn’t help.

With the lost radio communications, experts cannot study the incident and learn from the way communications were handled. It would be crucial to have the precise time sequencing of the 9-1-1 phone calls and the police radio communications. Note how football teams study their plays on video during the week following a football game to improve their individual performance and strategy. They also study the video of the teams they are about to play. Each player is placed in a database that is correlated with their performance in the game day video. In the NFL they are looking for their own mistakes, and ways to play better. And in the NFL they’re looking for their future opponents’ weaknesses, so they can perform at an advantage. Did something in the operations fail on Thursday? Could it have been done better? Is there some analysis of the sequence of events that could save the life of a police officer or a civilian in a future incident? Considering how unreliable the system of NWCDS has been in recent years, someone in administration at the Arlington Heights Police Department should have taken the initiative to have a secondary source of recordings. They should have been watching the NWCDS organization more closely. After all, the dispatchers voted no confidence in their system in July 2012, and look how well they perform their jobs in spite of a flawed system. They are reliable people. Instead, in July 2012, the executive board replied that they are confident in the performance and the management at NWCDS.

At minimum, the recordings could have been managed by a second entity with a couple of inexpensive $100 Olympus voice recorders. The lost radio communications are a disgrace. So far the NWCDS solution is to automatically send an e-mail to technicians when the recorder goes down. How about the recordings that are necessary while the system is down and waiting for technicians to respond? As we’ve learned, it takes less than 2 minutes to go from 9-1-1 call to officer down. Where’s the redundancy?

8. NWCDS Calltakers Stretched to the Limit
The scenario that took place on Thursday, December 12, 2013 runs like something out of a brutal final exam for public safety staff. A man with a gun. Shots fired. Hysterical caller. A police officer shot. His transport to a Level I Trauma Center. An offender calling 9-1-1 with threats of more killing. An out-of-state call from the victim’s father about text messages regarding important details about the incident. A call about a text message from the victim’s friend with important details about the incident. The acceptable use of deadly force to neutralize a threat.

9. PEOPLE Pulled Together to Mitigate a Horrible Situation
Police officer’s, 9-1-1 dispatcher’s, 9-1-1 calltakers, a deputy fire chief that happened to be in the neighborhood, and NIPAS Emergency Service Team police officers overcame a horrible situation. Several lives were saved by the action of dedicated, highly-trained human beings.

10. Emotionally Rewarding
Rarely has such gratitude been captured on 9-1-1 phone call audio. The final call when the victim’s father calls from Las Vegas to thank the calltaker/dispatcher for saving his daughter is monumental. Have you every heard a 9-1-1 audio recording showing how rewarding the work of a dispatcher can be? Never before.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the article. I hope it makes a difference. I’m wondering about the loss of recording, also. At the very least it highlights major flaws in the system. At the other end, it makes one question what would have been revealed had it been working properly.

    The father’s last call with the 9-1-1 dispatcher brought me to tears. He kept it so cool until his daughter was safe. Then his emotions came out and the call captured the intensity of them.

    That call also brought another question to mind. The dispatcher called the father to tell him he was going off shift and had no other news. The father informed the dispatcher his daughter was in a squad car. Isn’t there any communication with the dispatcher and the police officers on the scene? Also, why wasn’t a mediator patched in when Eric and his girlfriend called asking for a phone? Very confusing, I thought.

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