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Gresham park attack victim faced 90 minute wait due to calling wrong police number

Police said the victim called the non-emergency line rather than 911, raising concerns over confusing messaging on when and when not to call 911.

GRESHAM, Ore. — Gresham Police are looking for a man who attacked a woman early Thursday afternoon at Pat Pfeifer Park near Northeast 172nd Avenue and Burnside. 

Rockwood Park. It happened around 12:15 p.m. on Thursday at Pat Pfeifer Park near Northeast 172nd and Burnside.

"This was an unprovoked attempted sexual assault," said Gresham Police officer Jarom Sweazey. "She fought off her attacker and ran away from the park and then called it in. Unfortunately, the call was routed in through the non-emergency line so there was a delay."

According to police, it took 90 minutes after the 12:15 p.m. attack before the victim was able to report what happened. Once she did, police said they responded right away and searched the area, but by then the suspect was nowhere to be found. 

A spokesperson for Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications told KGW that in a case like this, it would have been appropriate for the victim to call 911, and it raises questions about why she wasn't certain that she should do so.

"It's terrible. Somebody needed law enforcement right away and they weren't able to connect with us," he said. "It just shows that we need to keep working to make it so that people are not waiting a long time to reach our call takers."

Douthit added that it's important to remind people when they can and should call 911. In recent months, victims of many crimes have been asked to call the non-emergency number to keep 911 open for urgent responses. 

Douthit admitted that the messaging can be sometimes be confusing, and said emergency staff hope to clarify any confusion.

"For example, if someone is in the act of breaking into a vehicle and they're still at that vehicle trying to break in, you would call 911 because you need to have law enforcement right away," said Douthit. "If you find your vehicle broken into many hours later, that would be an example of when to call the non-emergency."

If ever in doubt about what number to call during an emergency, Douthit said, it's best to call 911. Dispatchers can re-rout callers to the non-emergency line if it turns out to be a matter that can wait. But as the Gresham case shows, the reverse is not true.

According to BOEC, the average hold time for calling 911 was 45 seconds in November. That’s still below the national standard, which recommends 90% of 911 calls be answered within 15 seconds. 

Douthit said the city is dealing with 15-30% more 911 calls than they were a few years ago, and is also short on dispatchers. A few months ago, Douthit said the city had 37 unfilled positions, although he said they're on track to all be filled in about the next year.

"With the increase we've seen in total 911 calls, this will help us be able to manage that better," he said.

The suspect in the park attack was described as a Latino male in his 30s, approximately 5-foot-3 inches tall with a medium build. He was wearing a beige or pink colored hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Gresham Police Tip line at 503-618-2719.

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