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Canton police to make shots-fired calls a top priority

July 28, 2017
Canton Rep News

In the wake of a slow response to a 911 call, Canton police dispatchers are changing the way they do things.

CANTON An hours-long response to a 911 caller who was nearly hit by gunfire into her home has prompted Canton police dispatchers to change the way they do things.

Callers reporting shots fired into their home previously were categorized as a lower priority if the shooter was no longer present and everyone was safe, according to Capt. Jack Angelo, who oversees Canton’s 911 dispatching center, or CanCom. Such calls were a lower priority when there was “no imminent danger or bodily harm,” he said.

Now an emergency call about shots being fired will bump up to the highest priority.

“I’m very thankful, and I thank the police department for doing that,” said Cameron Miles, an E. Tuscarawas Street resident whose wife, Desiree Miles, was nearly struck by a bullet last week.

The newlyweds called 911 four times July 19 after Miles, cooking mashed potatoes in her kitchen, was nearly hit in the head by a bullet through her kitchen window. Police did not show up for several hours, an account detailed in a July 20 Canton Repository article.

Chief Bruce Lawver pledged to investigate the slow response, calling the dispatch and patrol divisions into question and directing Internal Affairs to investigate. Angelo, who heads the communications division, and Capt. Dave Davis, who heads the police department’s Patrol Division, also conducted investigations. Lt. Les Marino, officer in charge of the patrol shift on-duty when the incident took place, also filed a report with Internal Affairs.

Changes

Lawver said Friday that changes are being made as a result of those investigations. The review “did identify maybe a crack in how we code certain calls and how this did slip through that,” he said. “We’re going to make some changes in how we code calls.”

Calls are placed on one of three priorities with “Priority 1” needing emergency attention and “Priority 3″ getting the lowest priority. Lawver said the couple’s calls were a Priority 3 because they reported what amounted to, as far as dispatchers were concerned, destruction of property because no one had been hit by a bullet.

The report submitted to Lawver said that on the first call reporting the gunfire, Cameron Miles told police that someone shot into his home and that a bullet went through the window when his wife was cooking. The report said he didn’t say it hit anyone and that he didn’t need paramedics, “just the police.”

Still, Lawver said, “It was almost a perfect storm. For lack of better terms, (the call) kept on getting pushed down (the list). But this was a person standing by a window when a projectile when through it...

“It’s unfortunate that this couple had that experience. This might be the one time in their life when they actually need the police, and none of us want that experience for them. We took this to heart and we really looked into this matter and we’re making some good changes.”

Lawver said he spoke with the couple who “were pretty understanding. They probably identified, honestly, a problem.”

New priorities

Angelo said dispatchers must prioritize each call, awarding them a code or priority number. Previously, destruction of property was a Priority 3, he said.

Now if someone calls to report “somebody just shot up my house,” it’ll be a Priority 1, regardless of whether the gunman is still at the scene.

CanCom has six lines that answer 911 calls. When more 911 calls come in, they roll over to other departments, beginning with the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and the Regional Emergency Dispatch or RED Center.

According to the Internal Affairs review, the night the Mileses’ home was struck, officers responded to 122 calls for service between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. the next morning. Nine of those were reports of gunshots. Four calls were from people reporting a “person with a gun.”

The majority of those 122 calls came within a six-hour time frame.

Angelo said that within that time, dispatchers handled 74 calls. He said that many of them were Priority 1 calls, which can include reports of trouble, shootings, stabbings, domestic violence incidents, person with a gun calls, ShotSpotter Alert gunfire reports, accidents with injury, robberies and suicides. Other calls can be upgraded to Priority 1, such as reports of burglaries in progress.

Cameron Miles welcomed the news that shooting into a home will now get the same priority.

“I think that’s an awesome gesture, something that’s well overdue,” Cameron Miles said. “We live in a good side of town and I think (the gunfire) was an isolated event. I’ve been living there for 12 or 13 years and that’s the first incident. We just need to see police more.”