City leaders push for Greensboro 911 dispatchers to ask more descriptive questions

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Some Greensboro city leaders say there isn’t enough being done to prevent racial profiling.

There’s a new push to have Guilford Metro 911 Dispatchers ask callers more information about possible suspects in an attempt to reduce the amount of people stopped by police. 

Recent events and protests have pushed the conversation forward, but in Greensboro, the discussion was started two days before George Floyd’s death after a 911 call led officers to the wrong suspect.

“It scared me,” a caller told 911 dispatchers on May 23.  “He’s got an orange and white plastic gun of some sort.”

The person dialed Guilford Metro 911 after seeing a man with what they thought was a weapon near the parking lot of the T.J. Maxx on Battleground Avenue.

“You said he was wearing dark jeans. What color shirt?” the dispatcher asked.

“A black shirt with red writing on the back of it,” the caller responded.

The dispatcher asked one more question: “Is he black, white or Hispanic?” 

“Probably Hispanic maybe. He’s got dark skin. But he was just walking through the parking lot, pulled out the gun and started clicking it,” the caller replied.

Greensboro City Councilman Justin Outling said those questions were not enough. 

“The gap between the information that was provided to Guilford Metro 911 and the police and the actual teenager who was stopped was huge,” he explained. 

After that 911 call, a 16-year-old runner on the nearby Greenway was stopped by police.

“He was not holding any object, a plastic toy or otherwise, that was orange and white,” Outling said. “The teenager was not wearing a black shirt with red writing. He was not wearing blue jeans. He was not even Hispanic.”

Outling said this is part of a larger problem.

“Are we making sure that we’re not stopping any and everyone in a given area merely because they’re of a particular color?” he asked.

He’s calling for changes in how dispatchers ask descriptive questions about possible suspects.

“It may include color plus their weight. Or color plus their height. Or color plus what they’re wearing,” Outling said. “The key is there has to be something that limits the scope of the number of people who are subject to these interactions, which further no law enforcement purpose, and can really end up in a way that doesn’t help our community.”

A representative from the city’s public safety department tells FOX8 there is current a proposal being submitted to the International Academics of Emergency Dispatch, adding “the proposal includes making height and weight required elements to obtain by Guilford Metro 911 telecommunicators while taking descriptions of suspects.” 

FOX8 is told city leaders are also developing a local procedure to ask these questions as part of new training and looking at ways to reduce racial inequalities and disparities.

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