Delayed Police Response to Powell Emergency Raises New Questions

911 call powell emergencyWashington state dad Josh Powell's murder-suicide story is so nightmarish, it's only natural for people to obsess over the details and even point fingers needlessly in a desperate attempt to make sense of it. Now that the log for the 911 call by a social worker has been released, attention is shifting to the 911 dispatcher and whether he caused an unnecessary delay in dispatching an emergency response team to the Powell home.


According to the call logs, almost eight minutes lapsed between when the social worker called 911 to report that Josh Powell's children were in danger and when the police were dispatched. The dispatcher spent nearly seven minutes of this time questioning the social worker (he had a hard time understanding that she was there to supervise the child custody visit). Then, because he didn't believe the situation to be life-threatening, he dispatched it as a "routine" call instead of an "emergency." When the police finally arrived at the Powell home 22 minutes after the social worker first placed the call, it was too late: The home had already been torched.

Of course, the frustrating delay raises the inevitable question: Could a quicker response time have prevented this tragedy?

Sadly, I think we all know the answer to this question: No.

I don't know about you, but this is one of my greatest anxieties: That in an emergency, no one will arrive in time to help. This story plays right into that. But remember: Powell set his house on fire a mere minutes after his children arrived home. There are reports of explosions at the house at 12:16 p.m. -- eight minutes after the social worker placed the called. Even if the dispatcher had been able to shave a few minutes off the response time, it still wouldn't have been enough time to save the two kids. Washington state authorities have even said that while it was "bad etiquette" for the dispatcher to leave the social worker with the impression that help was not "immediately" on the way, it didn't result in an unnecessary delay.

In the rush to point fingers, we have to remember who the real villain here is -- not the social worker who couldn't rescue the kids, not the dispatcher may have fumbled the call, not the police who didn't arrive in time. Rather, the villain is Josh Powell who planned the whole thing and knew exactly what he was doing. Nothing could have prevented this tragedy and that's perhaps why it's so hard to move on from it.


Image via SierraTierra/Flickr

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