When Gary Granger saw four teenagers kicking and beating a homeless man in downtown Portland on Aug. 31, he called the cops.
It was almost midnight on a Saturday, and Granger, 60, was walking downtown, photographing nests of crows. He saw the four teenage boys assaulting the homeless man at the corner of Southwest 1st Avenue and Morrison Street, one block from where he stood. He photographed the attack as he called 911.
But he was astonished by what happened next: A 911 dispatcher told him police wouldn't respond unless the victim of the assault reported the crime himself.
"You don't need to follow them anymore because the guy that was assaulted didn't even call this in," dispatcher Adelaide Blanchard told Granger, in a recorded call obtained by WW via a public records request. She told him she would send an officer to the area.
Granger hung up, called again, and again reached Blanchard. "Officers will contact you if the victim calls in," Blanchard told him. "That's how this works, sir, OK?"
Granger then waited 22 minutes for the officer to arrive. By then, the teens had left and the homeless man, who appeared mentally ill, had also left.
Officer Sydne Wheeler told Granger that without a victim, the case would be difficult to investigate. She wrote a report saying there wasn't sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation—even though Granger had taken photos that clearly showed the teens' faces.
After questions from WW, the Bureau of Emergency Communications now concedes Blanchard, the dispatcher, didn't follow "established bureau guidelines and values." The Police Bureau says the case is suspended—and that Wheeler, the officer, was correct in telling Granger that prosecutions are difficult without a victim.
"I was trying to convince the dispatcher that they needed to send somebody," says Granger, who works as director of campus safety for Reed College. "I was pretty incredulous."
Neither bureau has explained how Blanchard came to believe only a victim can call 911.
UPDATE, 12:27 pm: A Police Bureau spokesman says he can't speak to the training of other bureaus, but it's police policy to respond to reported crimes whether or not the victim cooperates.
"With more than twelve years of law enforcement experience, I have responded to thousands of calls for service that had victims, witnesses and even suspects calling 911 to add their view and/or perception of what they thought occurred," says Sgt. Brad Yakots. "You do not have to be a victim to call 911 as thousands of Portlanders demonstrate yearly."
Dan Douthit, a spokesman for the Bureau of Emergency Communications, says the dispatcher misunderstood the law. "The calltaker had a mistaken understanding that the person who had been assaulted must be the reporting party and remain on scene, and therefore misprioritized the call."
Granger's story comes at a key moment in the city's response to homeless people in distress. City officials, led by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, are weighing a plan to send civilians, rather than police, to distress calls involving the 4,000 people living in the city without permanent residence.
WW reported earlier this year that the single most common reason Portlanders call 911 is to report "unwanted persons" trespassing on their property—a term that usually translates to homeless campers ("What's Your Emergency?" WW, Feb. 6, 2019). Yet with the city facing a police staffing shortage, this incident raises questions about the training emergency dispatchers receive in dealing with incidents involving the city's most vulnerable people.
Hardesty oversees 911 response. Hardesty tells WW she trusts the bureau director to "implement any necessary changes, including current work to upgrade our dispatch system."
Meanwhile, Granger has not been easy to placate. He once served as a security specialist in the U.S. Air Force. "To watch a person beaten when you've spent a lifetime trying to protect people, putting yourself in harm's way for other people, it is traumatic for me," he says.
The next day, he filed a detailed complaint with the Emergency Communications Bureau.
The bureau tells WW in a statement that Blanchard, a dispatcher in her third year at 911, has not been disciplined but is remorseful. "The employee has taken an active role in this meeting with her supervisor and has taken responsibility for her choices," bureau officials wrote. "The bureau believes she recognizes her error and that it is her intent to learn from this incident."
Granger still isn't satisfied. "The help that came was no help at all," he says. "As far as I know, no one went searching for that victim."
Correction: This story incorrectly stated that dispatcher Adelaide Blanchard only forwarded the report of an assault to police after two phone calls from Gary Granger. In fact, she forwarded his first call to police, although she did not properly prioritize the call. WW regrets the error.
Don't Call Us, We'll Call You
Gary Granger made two calls to Portland 911 on Saturday, Aug. 31. These are partial transcripts. Listen to the full audio.
Call 1, 11:33 pm
Gary Granger: "On 1st Street headed north from Morrison. There are four teenagers that just beat up a guy on the corner of 1st and Morrison."
Dispatcher Adelaide Blanchard: "Did you see any weapons?"
"I did not see any weapons."
"OK, and is the person that was beat up still on the corner?"
"He's walking toward Naito on 1st."
"OK, the kids that were involved, how old are they?"
"They looked to be teenagers. Maybe 15 to 17."
"And three of them?"
"Four of them, OK. And, do you have a description? What race?"
"I'm a block behind them."
"You don't need to follow them anymore because the guy that was assaulted didn't even call this in, so…"
"Well, he couldn't call it in, he's a homeless guy. He doesn't have a phone."
Call 2, approximately 11:45 pm
Blanchard: "Officers will contact you if the victim calls in. That's how this works, sir, OK?"
Granger: "The victim is not going to call in because the victim's a homeless person…"
"Like I said, if he decides to make a report, at that point we'll have a victim where we will have a crime to pursue, OK?
"I need to report. I witnessed a crime."
"You can't make a report on his behalf."
"Yes I can. Is there a supervisor working?"
"I can have you talk to my supervisor or I can have an officer give you a phone call and explain it as well. Whatever you choose."
"So, I just witnessed four people attack someone in the street. They're marauding around the street right now. They're going to attack somebody else."