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Police defend delay after call about drugs



Published: Thu, March 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The police captain said bad timing prevented officers from responding.

By SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

NILES -- While a city resident questions why it took police so long to respond to his call that someone tried to sell him drugs, department officials say there's good reason: They were handling a higher priority call.

The 23-year-old man said he was waiting Monday night in the parking lot of MCI on U.S. Route 422 for his wife to finish work when he was approached by a young man wandering the lot.

"He said, 'Hey man, you looking to buy some chronic?'," referring to marijuana, said the Niles man, who asked that he not be identified. "I asked him if he was crazy."

Called police

The man said the second man moved on, and he immediately called police and gave them a description -- black, between the ages of 18 and 20, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing about 145 to 150 pounds, with short black hair and wearing a rumpled white dress shirt, white slacks and a tie knotted around his head. He added that the man was still in the lot, going from car to car looking for interested buyers.

"The dispatcher told me ... she would send a unit, but no one ever showed," he said, saying he waited almost 40 minutes.

Capt. Richard McFalls, the department's afternoon turn commander, said the city's K-9 unit did respond that night, but not until after clearing another call. That call, he said, took priority.

"We got several calls of shots fired on South Butler Street," McFalls said. "Every unit on duty that night was dispatched to that call. The call came in at 10:27 p.m., and basically the whole shift was on that scene by 10:28 p.m."

According to dispatch logs, officers were dispatched to South Butler Street, located on the other side of the city from the MCI building, shortly before the call to MCI went out over the radio.

"Unless we were on the south side of the city on Salt Springs Road, we could not have been farther away" from MCI, McFalls said.

The MCI call was dispatched at 10:30 p.m., records show. None of the officers cleared South Butler Street until 10:42 p.m., and the K-9 unit arrived several minutes after that at MCI, but was unable to locate the caller or the suspected drug dealer.

"Even when the call came out, all of my guys were out of their cars, canvassing the neighborhood, checking houses and vehicles to see if they were hit, questioning neighbors, basically investigating anything that moved," McFalls said.

He noted that the caller gave an excellent description of the suspect and said that officers do consider such calls a high priority. However, the timing was just bad in this situation, he said.

"The guy was just gone by the time we could get there," he said.

slshaulis@vindy.com




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