911 Operator Declined to Send Police After Shots-Fired Call in Phoenix Serial-Shooter Case

On July 11, a 911 operator turned down a woman's request for police to come to her home after she reported hearing multiple gunshots that police believe were fired by the Serial Street Shooter.

Police say the suspect is responsible for seven homicides, two woundings, and the near miss on July 11 at 30th and Sheridan streets, his last known attack.

"Do you want to speak to an officer?" the 911 operator told the caller, who reported hearing five to seven shots nearby at about 5:30 p.m. July 11.

"Would you please?" the woman replied, sounding frazzled.

"Let's see," the dispatcher said. "Actually, they don't come out on that unless you have follow-up information, but we'll broadcast the shots fired in the area, okay?" (Scroll down to hear a recording of the 911 call.)

The woman's son called 911 again a moment later — they were among several people who reported the shots at about the same. Police did eventually go to the woman's home, which turned out to have potential relevance to the case because it was equipped with an exterior-mounted video camera.

Sergeant Jonathan Howard, Phoenix police spokesman, said the 911 operator was later "reminded" of department policy, which dictates that when someone calls 911 and asks for an officer, they ought to get an officer.  According to a police report released in August, the suspect had pulled his black BMW sedan up to a Phoenix man's car at the four-way stop at 30th and Sheridan and begun firing a handgun. In an interview with New Times in August, the victim showed off his bullet-ridden car — one bullet hole was in the dashboard — saying it was "God's deliverance" that spared him and his four-year-old nephew, who was in the passenger seat. Police found five shell casings.

New Times also interviewed family members who lived in a home a few blocks away, who said they thought it was odd their first call had been rejected. New Times requested 911 audio from the shots-fired call, but the recording was not included in a batch of 911 calls related to the serial shooter that was released to news media in October. Police did not release the call until Wednesday.

In a written statement, Howard noted that the city receives 15,000 to 20,000 shots-fired calls each year (see below for full stats), and that police must prioritize them.

"When information is so limited that an immediate police response would not generate enough information to conduct a reasonable investigation, officers can  officers are notified by radio of the incident to allow them to make independent evaluations of the circumstances and generate further investigation if necessary," Howard said. "In this particular case, the caller reported hearing shots but had no additional information regarding a suspect, property damage, or possible injury."

Listen to the July 11, 2016, call to 911 regarding shots fired near 30th and Sheridan:


Read the Phoenix Police Department's statement that accompanied the release of the July 11, 2016, call to 911:

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.