Monday, December 15, 2008

Falk’s 911 Albatross

On the last day of her life, University of Wisconsin senior Brittany Zimmerman, 21, called 911 from her cell phone about noon on April 2, 2008. She was knifed to death in her apartment near campus a short time later.

Police arrived nearly an hour later when her fiancée found her lifeless, bloody body. Zimmerman’s death and the failure of the 911 system to dispatch officers sooner shocked both Madison and her hometown of Marshfield, Wisconsin.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk repeatedly denied that there are any problems at the 911 center and said Zimmerman hung up on 911 operators. Falk defended 911 Director Joe Norwick until Falk announced she will seek another four-year term in 2009, when she suddenly announced Norwick’s “retirement.”

Even now Falk says a nationwide search for a 911 director resulted in Norwick being selected. This is hard to believe because Norwick was the chief Dane County Deputy to former Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin. It is more likely that Hamblin could arrest someone in Falk’s family and the price was continued employment for Norwick. Norwick was unable to tell the Dane County Board how many calls the 911 center received per month after Zimmerman’s death.

Falk’s version of events and repeated denial that the 911 system erred in handling the Zimmerman call appear to be lies. Local reporters have heard the tape of Zimmerman’s call when the warrants in her case became unsealed in error. A struggle and her screams are plain in her call.

The Zimmerman call was cited as the public blackest eye and Falk the leading public enemy in an Isthmus reader poll but the 911 center has mishandled more calls. Two escalating noise complaints came from neighbors of Lake Edge Park between 9 and 10 p.m. on November 11 with no officers sent. A call came about 11 p.m. that there was an unconscious man in the park. There had been a fight and one of the combatants was dead.

Although Falk is wearing the 911 albatross around her neck, her announcement to seek another term in the April 2009 election scared off other Democrats. Mismanagement of public safety and the 911 system are key issues in the campaign of Nancy Mistele against Falk.

Falk’s response to Mistele, a former Dane County school board member, was to say that Mistele lost twice and is an extremist. Most know Mistele lost twice trying to topple Democrat State Senator Jon Erpenbach, is in the private sector and is a moderate Republican. Other candidates are possible.

Apparently Falk forgot that she also lost twice. While serving as Dane County Executive, she lost for Wisconsin Governor in 2002. In 2006, Falk beat the incumbent Attorney General in the Democratic primary before losing to Republican JB Van Hollen, angering some liberals. It does not seem like Falk really wants to be Dane County Executive. Some consider her to be an extremist on environmental and social issues.

Neighborhoods in Madison that considered themselves safe are increasingly plagued by burglary and violence. Falk is only one more bungled 911 call from what many consider a politically fatal third strike.

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