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Atlanta Mayor Plans 911 Changes After Olympic Bomb

August 22, 1996|ERIC HARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Mayor Bill Campbell on Wednesday said changes will be made in the city's 911 police emergency system in the wake of the fatal July 27 bombing in Centennial Olympic Park.

The mayor insisted, however, that the system's failings could not be blamed for the two deaths and 111 injuries that resulted from the pipe-bomb blast.

"These are not Keystone Kops," he said of the Police Department, which has been criticized for its handling of the emergency. "These are hard-working men and women who deserve our respect and our commendations. I stand behind the police 100%."

The litany of complaints voiced Wednesday at a public hearing held by the City Council suggest, however, that serious problems may exist in either 911 procedures or operator training.

One man said a burglar held him at gunpoint for 15 minutes because the call he made to 911 before entering a building where he suspected a break-in had occurred was never routed to an officer. Others spoke of calling 911 and listening to a recorded message for five minutes before an operator answered. Others said their calls were ignored.

Campbell said some problems stem from the exponential increase in 911 calls in recent years. But people who called police to report nonemergencies said they were told to call back on 911 if they wanted an officer dispatched.

Campbell, who did not attend the hearing, said he would appoint a task force to study the $35-million computerized system and make recommendations for improving procedures. He also said the 911 computer system would be updated to include addresses of state and federal property, such as the state-owned Centennial Olympic Park. In addition, he said, all addresses in the system are being cross-checked and corrected.

A transcript of the July 27 call in which a man warned that a bomb would explode in the park shows that it took an operator 10 minutes to notify a dispatcher of the threat. During that time, the operator tried to enter the call into the computer system. Then, when the system would not accept the information without an address, the operator called a law enforcement command center. The person who answered responded: "I ain't got no address to Centennial Park, what y'all think I am?"

At 1:05:10 a.m., a little more than seven minutes after the call came in, the operator called the park and was put on hold for two minutes before someone gave her the address.

Campbell insisted that the delay made no difference because state law enforcement officials at the park had already spotted the knapsack containing the bomb at 12:57 a.m., a minute and a half before the 911 call was made. "The transcript shows that the operator did everything possible to discover and dispatch as quickly as possible," he said.

No arrests have been made in the bombing. Richard Jewell, a private security guard who initially was hailed as a hero for pointing the suspicious knapsack out to state agents, had been publicly named as a suspect. His lawyers insist that he would not have had time to walk several blocks to the pay phone from which the call was made. They have repeatedly called on the FBI to apologize to him and focus their investigation elsewhere.

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