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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Officer Shortages, Call Volume, "Hold Back" Blamed For 911 Debacle

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We have new details tonight about why a man attacked and beaten had to wait nearly an hour for emergency responders.

We talked to the young man who waited for help. Police say his experience, could be happen to anyone: delay in response times are not uncommon these days.

The victim's four 911 calls are not available because of an on-going investigation.

But today we obtained the call that MEMS received after he requested medical help.

"I'm injured, I got mugged. I'm at Louisiana and 4th,” says Arsalan in his 911 call.

Lukman Arsalan was out walking around 9:30 Saturday night when suddenly he was attacked.

Intending to rob him, police say, a man beat and kicked Arsalan, breaking his leg in three places before he got away.

When we spoke with Arsalan Tuesday, he says he called 911 four times.

Police say they couldn't respond quickly because of a shortage in officers and a high volume of calls that night.

But an ambulance never came to Arsalan's aid either. Here, MEMS receives the call patched in from Little Rock 911:

"Dispatcher: Is the person that did this, are they still there?

Arsalan: No, but I asked strangers to stay around me in case he comes back.

Dispatcher: Okay. All right, all right. We've got help on the way.

Arsalan: Okay.

Dispatcher: What I want you to do is just sit there and relax, okay? And we'll be there in just a few minutes, okay?

Arsalan: Okay.(End Call)

And MEMS did respond. Within minutes they were in the immediate vicinity but they wouldn't help until police arrived.
The reason we're told is because of a procedure called “hold back:” a policy where EMT's or paramedics will not respond to a call until the police department arrives and clears the scene.

A MEMS spokesperson says it's for their safety, paramedics aren't trained like police to handle high risk scenarios. They are unarmed.

That MEMS spokesperson declined to go on camera Wednesday about the procedure or about the incident Saturday.
"We have been in scuffles with people before and it's not pretty,” said Capt. Randy Hickmon.

Little Rock Fire Captain Randy Hickmon says they also have a hold back procedure. When responding to calls with so many unknown variables, he says, it's what has to happen.

"You don't want to add to the problem and then someone else getting shot,” said Capt. Hickmon.

"I think that 45 minutes in that scenario is too long,' said Bruce Moore.
City Manager Bruce Moore, though, personally apologized to Arsalan for the delay. He says, this situation should never be repeated.

"I do think in this case and both chiefs agree that we can develop some protocols hopefully so that this doesn't happen again."

MEMS says they do have some specially trained medics for high risk situations, but even they will never respond without police.

Next week, the police, fire and ambulance service heads will meet to discuss possible changes to this procedure.
Moore also said they are budgeting for a half a million dollars next year for additional police officers and fire-fighters.

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When we call 9-1-1, we expect that help will arrive as soon as possible. But imagine waiting nearly an hour for help. That's what happened to a graduate of the Clinton School of Public Service.

The Dean at that school now asking the City Manager now for a look into what what wrong Saturday night.

"I started, yelling, help, someone help, police,” said Lukman Arsalan.
Lukman Arsalan lives in Delaware, but over the weekend he was visiting Little Rock, the town he still calls home.

Police reports show around 9:30 Saturday night, Arsalan was out walking in the 400 block of Louisiana. He was jumped, police say a man, looking to rob him, instead beat and kicked him,
breaking Arsalan's leg in multiple places, before getting away.

"Of course I did not expect that the police would not show up. It was a very scary experience,” Arsalan said.
We spoke with Arsalan by phone.

He is shocked by how long it took police to respond to his 9-1-1 calls.
"I dialed 911 the first time for help and then I dialed them again because I was scared to be by myself and then the good Samaritan dialed them again, twice. So we called them a total of 4 times and they arrived an hour after my first call,” Arsalan said.

Those 9-1-1 calls were not available because of an internal investigation. But we asked Lt. Terry Hastings about this delay.

"Many times we don't have enough officers to cover our districts," Lt. Hastings said.
Lt. Hastings says though they have more than 530 officers, they are currently 30 short.

And after the Razorback game last Saturday, they were knee deep in 911 calls.
Though they usually have fewer than 500 calls on any day-- Saturday, there were 717.

"In your mind is a 45 minute delay acceptable?” the reporter asks. “No, a 45 minute delay is not acceptable. But for now, there isn't a lot we can do about it, until we can expand, until we can get more officers, those things are going to happen,” Lt. Terry Hastings said.

Arsalan eventually filed a police report from the hospital. He's confident they'll find his attacker but with a shortage of officers it seems his long wait for help could be repeated.
"We hope it never happens again, chances are, it probably will,” said. Lt. Hastings.

Arsalan says City Manager Bruce Moore did apologize for delay in medical help but by policy, EMTs and paramedics have to wait for police to arrive at a crime scene before they can assist any victims.

We talked to Mayor Mark Stoloda today. He says he wishes they could hire more officers, but the city simply doesn't have the money right now. There is no planned growth in the police department budget in 2011.

Fifteen officers though have recently completed rookie school this year and should soon be fully functional on the street. Lt. Hastings says they hope to have another rookie school for officers in 2011. 

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