Thursday, May 1, 2008

A Real Burden

A great man, albeit a fictional one, once said, "It's a real burden being right so often." I take no pleasure in either the fact that it was, indeed, "a damn long day" today, nor the fact that everything I was afraid of is coming true.

The Isthmus broke the story today. This was a very fine piece of digging by reporter Jason Shepard. I've said before that good reporting should turn heads, great reporting should rip them off, and the shitstorm that blew up behind this article was certainly a Category Five.

As information emerged from two press conferences, I read a new version of this story on the air EVERY TWENTY MINUTES for four hours. Here's the short of it: Someone at the police department, likely frustrated, leaked to Shepard that Dane County's dispatch center received a 911 call from Brittany Zimmermann's cell phone at the time of the murder. That call was disconnected, and in their followup to the call, someone absolutely dropped the ball and may have squandered valuable time.

The police, in their infinite wisdom, won't say anything about the content of the phone call. We don't know if the dispatcher spoke to Zimmermann. We don't know how long the call lasted before the line went silent, leading the dispatcher to disconnect from it. We don't even know if it was Zimmermann who made the call. All police are saying is that something in the content of the call should have led the dispatcher to alert them immediately. Instead, the dispatcher took another call in the queue, and broke from national 911 policy when he or she did not try to call the "hang-up" back.

Dispatch center director Joseph Norwick, for his part, quibbled over the county's ability to accurately trace 911 calls placed via cell phone. None of that matters, of course, if we are to buy Chief Noble Wray's line that something about the call ought to have caused dispatchers to notify police right away. But with each side pointing its finger at the other, and neither releasing any substantive information for fear of "compromising the case," attentive citizens will just have to be satisfied venting their rage at law enforcement in general without a specific, deserving target.

The real crime here, at least the one that's not murder, is that none of this was made public until the article ran today. In all likelihood, were it not for Shepard's vigilant snooping, the public would never have known the case was mishandled from its very inception. I'm not saying police could have saved Brittany Zimmermann's life, but they VERY conceivably could have arrived on the scene in time to spot a deranged maniac with a bloody knife running down the block.

Like the decision to withhold information for a week that the home was broken into, keeping this from the public was bad judgement, and it reeks of a coverup. Norwick saying his department has "nothing to apologize for at this time" is despicable, but Wray should be ashamed of the growing lack of transparency in his department. Five unsolved murders in one year is scary. A public that doesn't know enough to protect themselves about any of them is damn alarming.

What's more, with as little information as has been released, there's no guarantee there aren't more major mistakes lurking beneath the surface of these stories. The answer to Lisa Simpson's age-old question "Who will police the police?" isn't the Coast Guard, and as much as I hate to admit it, I don't think we've seen the last cover up.

1 comment:

Cat said...

Holy sheet. That is insane.

On the plus side, I'm reading your blog! On the minus, I'm reading it because I never actually have time to do such a thing, but I've got insomnia and hey, work can't happen when you can't sleep.

Excellent writing as always, thanks for the Madison updates. I'd say wish I was there, but...