How CHP Handles 911 Calls Reporting A Suspected DUI
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A Good Samaritan witnessed a suspected drunk driver sideswiping a tanker and endangering lives, but when she called 911 five times begging for help, CHP did not come, and she was eventually told to stop calling.
We've all seen those signs on the freeway urging us to report drunk drivers, but when a local woman did just that, she says she was ultimately scolded by a dispatcher and ignored by the CHP.
DiDi McElroy assumed CHP was on the way the first time she called 911 to report a suspected drunk driver. She began recording video of the driver on her cell phone and about a minute later recorded the driver crashing into a tanker truck.
Debris sprayed Didi's car, but surprisingly to DiDi, the car bounced off the truck and just kept driving.
"She didn't even budge him because he was a big heavy truck," DiDi said. "Had she hit a car with children or an elderly person it would have been catastrophic."
After witnessing the hit and run, DiDi called 911 again.
Listen to the 911 call below
Once the threat escalated from potential danger to an active crime, DiDi was certain CHP was on the way, so she continued to follow the car, keeping a safe distance, assuming officers would need a witness statement and the video from her dash-mounted camera phone.
But CHP never showed up.
DiDi's phone records indicate she made five calls over the course of about 30 minutes while she followed the car for about 30 miles on Highway 99 between Galt and Sacramento.
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CBS13 obtained the call logs and recordings from four of DiDi's calls.
In each, she can be heard getting progressively more anxious. One operator sounded surprised she had called in more than once, asking, "So you called this in already?"
"I did but no body's coming and she's gonna kill someone," DiDi responded.
The dispatcher said, "M-kay."
She got a similar response from another dispatcher when she told him she had video of the hit-and-run. that operator also responded, "Mmm-okay."
It wasn't until DiDi said a dispatcher made her feel like the criminal that she finally gave up.
The dispatcher can be heard telling DiDi, "If you're going to continue to follow her, I'm going to have to disconnect from you… are you going to go ahead and continue on your way safely or no?"
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That's when she reluctantly gave up and stopped calling.
"I'm doing what I think the police want us to do, but when I call I eventually end up getting treated like the bad guy," DiDi said.
CBS13 brought DiDi's case to CHP's attention to find out why no one responded.
"No one was able to respond immediately in that particular situation, but we do respond," CHP Officer Mike Harris told CBS13.
Harris explained that the four units assigned to that stretch of the freeway were all tied up on other calls that day.
But CBS13 dug deeper into 911 dispatch data to see just how often CHP does respond to these calls.
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Over the first two months of the year, Valley Division dispatchers got 1,394 911 calls. Records show units responded to 79 of those calls, about one out of every 18, and arrested 51 drivers, about one out of every 27. In all, about 3.6% of DUI 911 calls led to an arrest.
"You got to take the totality of it," Harris said responding to those numbers. "Just under 4%, that shows that we take it serious. It shows we're responding and that we're handling these situations the best we can."
Harris noted, not all of these drivers are actually drunk. Some may be distracted, tired, or just bad drivers. In each case, he says officers must weigh the risk-benefit of responding based on the likelihood of catching up to the driver without putting the public in danger.
CBS13's investigation found that when CHP officers do respond to the DUI 911 calls, more often than not, they not only catch the driver but also make an arrest. The data indicates that when they do respond, CHP has a pretty good track record of catching up to these drivers.
When we dug deeper, we found the car DiDi called about is registered to a woman with a criminal history and a range of traffic offenses CBS13 asked Harris if he thought this may have been a missed opportunity to get a potentially dangerous driver off the road.
"I can't speculate, she could be licensed and turned her life around," he said. "I can't speculate what was going on with her because I don't know. Obviously, she collided with a tanker truck and just kept driving so immediately that is a crime that needs to be investigated."
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But it wasn't investigated until CBS13 got involved. DiDi did call the CHP office the day after the crash, offering her video evidence again and a witness statement. But, no one responded, leaving DiDi feeling helpless.
"Somebody could have died that day. But if the police didn't do anything, statistics show she's gonna do it again," DiDi told CBS13, fighting back tears.
Harris said it was not acceptable that the office did not return DiDi's call. He clarified, while they may not have been able to catch the driver that day, they should have responded when DiDi called the office to follow up.
Prompted by our investigation, Harris says CHP is implementing new policies for tracking and responding to followup calls like DiDi's.
"I don't want anything to discourage people from calling in the future. We take it very serious… and we're out there doing everything we can to get these dangerous drivers off the road," Harris said.
DiDi said she is optimistic that officers will handle calls differently from now on.
"I don't want to badmouth the police because I love our police officers, but, I think things may have been handled differently," DiDi said.
After we started asking questions, CHP did finally reach out to DiDi and opened an investigation. She says she was asked to come in and identify the suspect via a photo lineup, but CHP tells us they were unable to track down the suspect driver after the fact.
CBS13 also spoke with a manager of the trucking company for the driver who was hit. They chose not to pursue the incident with police.
It's worth noting that CHP advises against following a suspected drunk driver on the road. If you are traveling in the same direction, you're advised to leave as much space as possible between you and the suspect car.
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