No set policy for city police on 'unknown trouble' calls
Pittsburgh police do not have a specific policy on how officers should handle “unknown trouble” calls such as the one at the center of a murder-suicide investigation.
City officials declined to discuss the case on Monday while police, the district attorney and a review board investigate.
“Their policies and procedures aren't that detailed,” said Elizabeth Pittinger, director of the Citizen Police Review Board. She said the lack of a policy leaves officers with discretion. “They don't have to have step-by-step instruction, do they?”
Police are investigating whether two officers followed proper procedure on Dec. 31 when they answered a 911 call for help from a woman in her Larimer home. Officers Louis Schweitzer and Lance Hoyson left after speaking to a man, through a window, who said everything was fine and refused to let them in.
The next day, police found Ka'Sandra Wade, 33, fatally shot inside the Lowell Street home after her family called with concerns for her safety. During a standoff on Wednesday with police, her boyfriend, Anthony L. Brown, 51, wrote notes to officers admitting to killing Wade and saying they could have done more to save her. Police believe Brown was the man at the window on Lowell Street. He killed himself during the standoff at his Point Breeze apartment.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he is reviewing the incident but declined further comment. His office received 911 records, which the city did not release to reporters.
Wade's mother, Sharon Jordan of Aliquippa, said she's looking for an attorney to explore a possible lawsuit against the city.
Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said “the incident is under a homicide/internal investigation and no statements will be made regarding any inquiries into this matter.”
Schweitzer and Hoyson could not be reached. Investigators interviewed them on Thursday, said Bryan Campbell, attorney for Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1, who was present for the interviews. He would not say what was discussed.
“This is not uncommon,” Campbell said. “They basically are doing an internal investigation.”
County spokeswoman Amie Downs said a review by officials who run the 911 center “indicates that all policies and procedures that are in place for dispatchers were followed.”
Wade told a 911 call-taker that she needed police to come to her house, investigators said. As the call-taker asked for more information, there was commotion and an apparent struggle that ended with the line going dead, police said.
Dispatchers sent Schweitzer and Hoyson to the home on what police refer to as an “unknown trouble” call. After Brown turned them away, the officers asked dispatchers to call Wade back. They didn't hear a phone ring and left, investigators said.
State police have specific regulations regarding such 911 hang-up calls that require more investigation by responding officers.
“We give these calls high priority,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a department spokesman. “We never know what we're getting into when we're responding to these. We don't know if it's something as simple as a child playing around with a phone, or if it's a very serious call. We certainly don't take any of these lightly.”
The regulations require troopers to look for signs of a disturbance or if someone at the home is nervous or disheveled, but “a lot will come down to officer discretion because no two calls are exactly the same,” Reed said.
The regulations are in place in part as a “good reminder not to get lax with these calls,” he said.
Pittinger said she will present her findings to the review board at its Jan. 22 meeting. The board can recommend nonbinding discipline to Chief Nate Harper.
Staff writer Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.