Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis held a hastily called press conference today announcing a number of Police Service Communications Center staff have been placed on administrative leave after concerns surfaced regarding the handling of a 911 call connected to the recent murder at the Opera Night Club at 441 Main Street.
On May 4, 2014, at 1:39:36 am, staff at the Club contacted the 911 Communications Center reporting a number of people had been fighting outside of the establishment. Some of these people were still present when staff requested Police attend as they felt the situation may escalate.
Police offered the following timeline;
- 1:39:36 – staff at Opera Night Club call 911 reporting fight call
- 1:42:30 – a call for service was generated and entered
- 1:59:45 – the call for service was cancelled from within the 911 Communications Center
- 2:03:13 – the 911 Communications Center received another call from the Night Club indicating a firearm had been discharged. Numerous emergency services personnel were dispatched and responded
- 2:06:04 – the first Police Unit arrives on scene
Clunis advised he’s ordered an internal investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the first call for service.
The WPS Communications Center is almost entirely staffed by civilian members of the Police Service. These civilian members perform many functions including the handling of emergency and non-emergency calls for service. The highest ranking member of the Communications Center is a sworn Police Officer called the “Duty Officer.” The Duty Officer normally holds the rank of Inspector however, the position may be filled with a Staff Sergeant in an acting capacity when circumstances dictate.
Clunis did not provide any information regarding the rank, position or number of staff members placed on administrative leave.
Media reports indicate the Duty Officer was one of the casualties.
The news sparked a media frenzy with crime reporters gravitating to some of the most controversial and speculative aspects of the situation.
- Who cancelled the call?
- Why was the call cancelled?
- Could the murder have been prevented if the Police would have been dispatched to the call?
These questions are now the subject of an internal investigation that may take days or weeks to complete.
In the mean time, I’ll try to shed some light on some of the controversial and speculative media enquiries.
Why was the call cancelled?
There could be any number of reasons that contributed to the cancellation of the Opera Night Club call. The reason why the 911 call was cancelled remains the subject of the internal investigation. Reasons that can contribute to the cancellation of these types of calls could be;
- The staff call Police and indicate they are no longer required as the people causing the problem have left
- A considerable amount of time passes since the call was entered and someone makes the decision to close the call
- Police are dispatched, check the area and advise dispatch the problem appears to have resolved itself
It’s important to remember this incident happened after midnight on a Saturday night. In Winnipeg, and most other major urban centres, Saturday nights can be extremely busy nights for the Police. The dispatch queue is often overwhelmed with dozens of calls for service putting immense pressure on Police, dispatchers and support staff.
It’s interesting to note the call was cancelled at precisely 1:59:45 am. The Opera Ultralounge closed that night at 2:00 am. Considering seventeen minutes and fifteen seconds (17.15) elapsed since the call was originally entered it’s not difficult to assume someone may have used their discretion to close the call under the belief Police were no longer required.
Duty Officers, Dispatchers and Call Takers are on the front lines in Winnipeg’s emergency command center. When the Police queue is jumping someone has to take the responsibility to assess the priority of calls and in some cases, close calls where the Police may no longer be required. If they don’t triage these calls, prime response cars can be needlessly tied up when someone has a legitimate emergency. It’s a balancing act that comes with a certain degree of risk.
Considering the Opera Night Club was essentially closed and with no follow-up call from staff for almost eighteen (18) minutes, it’s tough to view the cancellation of the call as grossly negligent. Of course, in light of what happened, a decision that may have been made in the best interests of the Police Service and public now comes under the microscope.
It’s unfortunate the focus of a criminal gang related murder now turns to an investigation into Police Communication Center Staff. Especially when a killer remains on the loose.
Make no mistake, the WPS Homicide Unit is tirelessly working the case and chances are they’ll file this one in the solved column as they do with almost 90% of murder cases they catch. The internal investigation now becomes a side-show and an annoying distraction for Homicide investigators.
There are those in the Police Service who question the need to make the internal investigation public?
Confederates of murder victim Rustom Paclipan may now view the Police as adversaries who contributed to the Homicide by neglecting to respond to the 911 call. That hostility may prove to complicate things for the investigators. That leads me to the other burning question;
Could the murder have been prevented if the Police would have been dispatched to the call?
While it’s possible, the answer requires wild speculation and consideration of literally dozens of scenarios that may or may not have played out. You can play the “what if” game all you want on this one but no one will ever be able to say, with certainty, the murder could have been prevented if Police had been dispatched to the call.
The entire investigation now becomes an unfortunate quagmire.
Having been intimately involved in the last 911 controversy (circa 2000) I’m reminded a career in Law Enforcement is not for the faint of heart.
On February 16, 2000, William Dunlop brutally murdered his girlfriend Corrine McKeown and her sister Doreen Leclair after the women made several telephone calls to 911. The case put the operations of the WPS 911 Communications Center squarely under the microscope and proved to be an extremely painful and difficult time for WPS Communications Center staff.
The incident contributed to significant changes to the 911 call center and the WPS domestic violence policy.