What's the rule for 911 callers reporting gunmen?

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El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder is so busy he can't take time to discuss procedures and how they did or didn't play out during the Oct. 31 shooting spree near downtown that resulted in four dead, including the shooter.

We asked for an interview with the sheriff, who's been in office less than a year, Tuesday afternoon and got an earful. (We also planned to ask Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey the same questions.)

We wanted to ask what the procedure is for dispatchers when they receive a 911 call from someone who's spotted someone with a firearm. This is what happened the morning that Noah Harpham shot three people. A neighbor, Naomi Bettis, says she called 911 when she saw him with the rifle and was told there's nothing illegal about carrying a firearm around. A short time later, he claimed his first victim by shooting a bicyclist. Bettis again called 911 to report what she'd seen. Police responded and gunned Harpham down several blocks away, after he'd claimed the lives of two women who lived in the 500 block of Platte Avenue.

When we said we wanted to talk about such procedures, Elder said, "Unfortunately, I'm not going to want to sit down and answer those things." He said people "a lot closer" to the situation and people who "manage policies and procedures" would be the ones to address such questions.

He then said he and Carey are planning a news conference later this week at which we could ask questions.

When we again asked Elder for an interview instead or in addition to the news conference, he said he was "crazy" busy, given the officer-involved shooting investigation being handled by sheriff's officers, 2016 budget hearings and "a lot of other things" going on.

He then accused the Independent of "trying to stir the pot."

If and when such a news conference takes place, we'll try to ask the questions that are on our readers' minds, including how dispatchers are trained to respond when a caller reports an armed gunman walking a residential street.

 Meantime, here's what Colorado Ceasefire had to say about this incident:
Halloween morning erupted in a horrible carnage on the streets of a near-downtown Colorado Springs neighborhood. A gunman armed with an AR-15 shot and killed a bicyclist and two women before being shot and killed by the police.

Quite alarming was response of the dispatcher to a 911 call reporting a man with an assault rifle walking down the street. According to the Washington Post, when “Naomi Bettis called 911 to report a man with a long black rifle outside her home,” the dispatcher began telling her about the open carry law, indicating it was legal for the man to be carrying the rifle publicly. Bettis then hung up, but called back when the “man with the gun opened fire on a bicyclist outside her door.”

Bettis said “I don’t think she thought it was an emergency until I made the second call.” The shooter then continued walking down the street, shooting and killing the two women.

Although all the details have yet to emerge, it appears that police were not dispatched to the scene until the shooting began (Colorado Springs police have yet to release the 911-dispatch tapes).

Carrying a rifle, especially a military assault rifle, on public streets and in the public arena is not normal behavior. Tom Mauser, who lost his son at Columbine High School, said “this is what happens when we try to normalize abnormal behavior. The delayed response might very well have cost one or more lives. “

Ted Pascoe, board member of Colorado Ceasefire, noted that “there is no way for an average citizen to ascertain whether the gun-toting individual is a good guy or a bad guy.”

Ceasefire asks: Should citizens be required to wait until the shooting starts before invoking a police response?

Eileen McCarron, also of Colorado Ceasefire, summed it up by stating, “Open carry gives rampage shooters a head start. It is time for Colorado legislators to return our streets to normal. The open carry of weapons is bizarre and dangerous behavior. It should not be blithely accepted in an era of deadly mass shootings.” 

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