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Red Deer man loses sight of his stolen vehicle while on the phone with 911 dispatcher

Joe Thompson believes quicker dispatching was needed
A Red Deer man spotted his stolen car earlier this month but police weren’t able to catch the thief. (Advocate file photo)

A Red Deer man who had his SUV stolen on Friday had the surreal experience of seeing his own stolen vehicle passing him on Highway 2 on Saturday.

“What are the chances of me spotting it the next day?” said Joe Thompson.

He had been driving a company truck loaded with the B.C. fruit he sells at about noon on Saturday when the thief passed him in his stolen black SUV.

Thompson said he knew it was his SUV because the original license plate was still attached when he saw it being driven by the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame.

As he began following his vehicle northbound, he called 911. “I tried to keep it in sight while talking to dispatcher,” he said.

Thompson told the 911 dispatcher that if she sends police officers right away they would likely catch the thief. “But (she) absolutely refused until she got all my information — even though I assured her that I would stay on the line while she sent police cars,” he recalled.

When police officers were sent out, they got there quickly, “which was great,” said Thompson.

Unfortunately by that time, Thompson had lost sight of his SUV somewhere along Orr Drive in Oriole Park.

He believes the extra time it took to provide information to the dispatcher was enough for the thief to evade police.

“This just shows how much difference two or three minutes delay can make,” added Thompson, who believes the dispatcher should have used more discretion, “common sense” and urgency in a situation that required a quicker response.

Corp. Deanna Fontaine, acting media relations manager for Alberta RCMP strategic Communications Group, reviewed the 911 call following Thompson’s complaint. She found the only thing that could have been omitted was asking about Thompson’s date of birth.

All other questions were necessary, she said, to establish his location, to get his name and number in case the call was accidentally disconnected, and to find out what the officers would be dealing with to determine the safety risk and how many police cars to send.

Asking for Thompson’s birth date only lengthened the two-and-a-half minute call by about five seconds, said Fontaine, who noted the dispatcher was given feedback on this for future reference.

She added 911 dispatchers can sometimes start dispatching police officers through their computer systems even while still on the phone, collecting information.

Fontaine believes many central Albertans don’t understand the difficulty 911 dispatchers have trying to pinpoint locations.

Triangulation turns up a very wide area, “and to ping somebody’s cell phone is not a given,” as special requests have to be made to cell phone service providers to do this. And even if approved, getting this takes time, she added.

Even some home addresses don’t pop up at the dispatch centre when 911 calls are made from landlines as some people get this service from internet providers —which means they do not have true grounded landlines, she added.

“It’s an illusion…. and hang-ups are very challenging to follow up.”

Fontaine acknowledged a two-and-a-half minute conversation can seem longer when callers are in stressful situations — and, in this case, the car thief was able to cover a lot of ground during that time.

Thompson’s SUV still has not been recovered. His 2003 black Nissan Murano SUV was stolen at around noon Friday from what was supposed to be a secure compound in Gasoline Alley.

Thompson credits Blackfalds RCMP for “great response and communication” after he reported it stolen. He also believes police officers responded quickly on Saturday, once they were dispatched.

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Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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