A New Orleans Police Department sergeant can be reprimanded for failing to call back a woman who waited three hours for police to arrive after her dog was beaten to death, the city’s Civil Service Commission ruled this month.
Sgt. Joseph Scanio was accused of a minor administrative lapse, and the only result of the disciplinary action against him will be a letter of reprimand on his personnel record. But the Police Department’s case against him showed there are gaps in the force’s regulations meant to reassure irritated 911 callers that help will — eventually — be on the way.
A woman returning to her apartment in the 5700 block of Chartres Street in the Holy Cross neighborhood on the afternoon of June 7, 2012, was greeted by a shocking sight. Someone had brutally slain her pit bull Tiger, the father of two puppies, by smashing his skull in.
The victim dialed 911 for help at 4:07 p.m., according to call logs, and told the dispatcher that she worried her dog’s killer might still be inside the apartment. The dispatcher told her to stay on the scene and not to enter the apartment so as to preserve any evidence.
Then the woman started waiting.
Minutes and hours passed. Although an NOPD regulation states that supervising officers must dial 911 callers back after an hour to let them know that officers are attending to other, more urgent calls, the Civil Service Commission found that Scanio, a 5th District sergeant, did not do so.
Finally, about 7:15 p.m, officers arrived at the scene. They found Tiger with his eyes bulging out of their sockets and with his ears full of blood. He was dead.
Scanio told internal police investigators that a 911 dispatcher had told another police sergeant there were no calls waiting for more than an hour, according to his Fraternal Order of Police attorney, Donovan Livaccari. He also said he was trying to prioritize his other supervisory duties.
“He’s got enough stuff on his plate,” Livaccari said. “Why is he going to go sit there and look back at the computer, when the dispatcher just finished telling him there was nothing to be concerned about?”
The Civil Service Commission decided otherwise. Even though no one may have told Scanio about the woman’s unanswered 911 call, the three-person board found, it was still ultimately his responsibility to call her back.
“In the past, the Civil Service Commission has been hesitant to hold people responsible when the Police Department puts them in no-win situations,” Livaccari said. “But apparently this commission is not so inclined.”
The commission dismissed Scanio’s appeal on Nov. 3. Livaccari said that in the wake of the June 2012 incident involving Tiger, his client has taken pains to extensively document his callbacks to 911 complainants.
The department, which did not previously stipulate how long after the 60-minute waiting mark a call to the complainant must be made, has clarified its rule.
The problem of long response times in general has grown far more prevalent since 2012.
In that year, 5th District officers took 37 minutes on average to arrive at the scene of a low-priority call like that from the woman in this case, according to a New Orleans Advocate/WWL-TV analysis. But the victim’s dispiriting experience then is now the norm: The average 5th District low-priority response time through mid-August 2015 was two hours, 38 minutes.
In the Holy Cross victim’s case, a police report suggests, officers weren’t the only ones to arrive late on the scene. Officer Nyketi Addison’s report states that the Louisiana SPCA did not arrive to retrieve the battered and bruised Tiger until the next day.