911 Dispatchers Can Give Bad Advice

The quality of the operator that you contact with a 911 call varies greatly.  Some departments start their officers as dispatchers, so that they understand what is happening on the other end of the line;  in some jurisdictions, the job is a political plum to be awarded; in others the position is a heavily protected union  job.  In many departments, the person answering the 911 call is a dispatcher; in others there are separate operators that hand the call to dispatchers.  In all cases, the operator or dispatcher is not there with you; they do not know what you know, and they do not face the danger that you face. All 911 calls are recorded, so know that everything that you say during a call, or that is caught by a phone mike, can and will be used both for and against you in a court of law.

Operator suggestions given over the phone are not commands backed up by the force of law.   People often misunderstand this, as was seen in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, where many people claimed that Zimmerman did not obey police “orders”.   That was never the case.  A dispatcher/operator does not give orders; and Zimmerman appears to have done what he was asked.

There have been many cases of dispatchers/operators giving bad advice.  Many times an armed victim has been asked to “put down the gun” in the face of a deadly threat.  In a recent case in Texas, an armed citizen was told to do exactly that.   From click2houston.com:

“I grabbed my firearm and took after them and when I caught up to them I told them to get down,” he said. “I shot one round into the ground… to show them I wasn’t carrying a BB gun.”

Meeks said while holding two of the three teens at bay with his gun drawn, he dialed 911, but when he told the 911 operator he had a gun on the kids, the operator told him to put the gun down. Meeks said when he did, one of the two teens bolted off.

In this case, no one was hurt by the “warning shot”.  I have known of cases where armed citizens fired shots to inform antagonists that what they carried was a real gun.   I generally advise against “warning shots”, but there are exeptions to every policy.

The lesson to be learned from this case is not to accept the dispatcher/operator suggestions as commands.   When the armed homeowner put down his gun, one of the burglary suspects ran off.  He could as easily have attacked the homeowner and attempted to access the firearm.   That suspect was captured by police; a third suspect is at large at the time of this writing.

Commenters at click2houston see this obvious point.  From one_head_light:

Finally.A happy ending.With one sad note.The 911 operator being an untrained idiot.You got the bad guys under gun point?Well put the gun down,so they can all run off,or pull out their gun and kill you.Really?

Remember, operator/dispatchers are not there with you.  Their suggestions do not have the force of law.   They may have valuable information and/or advice, but it is up to you, the person at the scene, to use it wisely.

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch

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