Standard procedure was not followed when a girl, Brittany Zimmermann, called 911 for help and when the dispatcher heard nothing on the line, just went about her business instead of calling the number back. Brittany was murdered that night.
A reporter, Jason Shepard for Isthmus, a weekly Madison newspaper, broke this story open wide when he discovered that the 911 dispatcher did not send a car out to see if help was needed after Zimmermann called. In fact, as more information emerged, the dispatcher never even returned the call to see if it was a real emergency.
Brittany Zimmermann, 21, was murdered in her off-campus apartment near the University of Wisconsin after calling 911 for help.
Shepard also maintains that it took considerable media pressure to break the story which he says shows a lack of transparency into the investigation.
After the story broke the director of the Dane County 911 Communications Center, Joe Norwick, held a press conference and admitted that his staff member did not follow up on the call for help.
Norwick also said, "A dispatcher answered this call, and inquired several times to determine whether an emergency existed on the other end of the phone and received no answer to the inquiries."
Shepard says, "It's disconcerting that they hid the 911 call. The reality is nobody wanted this to come out."
As details emerged Shepard reported that an assailant forced his way into Zimmermann's apartment and she suffered multiple stab wounds as well as blunt trauma to the head. he also reported in his original story that the scene was such a mess, that police initially thought Zimmerman had been shot. These details were not confirmed by the police.
Four weeks after Zimmermann was murdered, her killer or killers remain at large, and little is known about the investigation. But Isthmus has been able to confirm several new details.
The most significant is that the 911 Center received a call from Zimmermann before she was killed, did not dispatch police, and then did not immediately or accurately inform the Police Department about the call after cops found her body, law enforcement officials tell Isthmus.
Although in Shepard's initial story he suggests that it was possible that the dispatcher did try to make a return call to Zimmerman, Norwick explains that the dispatcher did not do so.
After receiving the 911 call and got no answer to the inquiries, the dispatcher moved on to another waiting call, which was also a hang up, and called that second number back and confirmed it was not an emergency, then dealt with a third call but never "circled" back to the initial call by Zimmerman.
That decision broke dispatch protocol and jeopardized the possibility that police could have arrived more quickly and either prevented Zimmermann's death or captured her killer.
Norwick admits this was a break in policy, as he explains, "Under current policy, if dispatchers answer a 911 call and either don't hear a voice on the other end of the call or are unable to determine if there's an emergency, the dispatcher calls that number back."
Unfortunately for Zimmerman, current policy is that police are only automatically sent if a 911 call comes from a land line, not a cell phone and Zimmerman had placed her call from her cell phone.
Norwick defends the dispatcher by stating the statistics of 911 calls, saying that typically they receive 115 hang ups a day, 89 of which are from cell phones which he says, "range from children playing with phones, buttons inadvertently bumped on phones left in coat pockets or purses, or crime victims looking for help."
A press release on the Madison Police Department website states:
During the course of the investigation into the murder of Brittany Sue Zimmermann Madison Police detectives were able to determine a 911 call for service was made from Zimmermann's phone to the Dane County 911 center on April 2nd, 2008. That day the MPD brought this call to the attention of the Dane County 911 Center. Also on this day Command Staff from MPD requested that the 911 Center not release information pertaining to this call. The request for non-disclosure has been reviewed throughout the investigation and is currently in force.
The MPD investigation also revealed that this was not an accidental 911 call, it was not an intentionally erroneous call, nor was it a hang-up call.
The press release also says that it would be "be accurate to state that there is evidence contained in the call, which should have resulted in a Madison police officer being dispatched. That would have been consistent with both Madison Police Department Policy, and national 911 standards. The 911 center did not call back to the telephone number, MPD was not notified of the call, and no officer was sent. "
The actual 911 call has not been released as of yet.
If not for Jason Shepard persistence and determination as he relentlessly pushed and reported on this story for three weeks, the fact that Zimmerman had called for help and was basically ignored before she was murdered, might never have seen the light of day.