A failed attempt to report an unsafe driver in the Cleveland area Tuesday evening was a case study for regional 911 systems to replace municipal call centers.
I was westbound on I-90 approaching the Columbia Road exit in the west Cleveland suburb of Westlake when a white sedan passed me in the exit lane at well over the speed limit and then cut across the ramp split in front of me. The car made several more dangerous lane changes before it disappeared from sight.
Although listening to Toledo’s police radios on a regular basis gives me no confidence that reckless-driver calls routinely result in arrests -- or even tickets -- I tend to make 911 calls in such situations anyway, if for no other purpose than to establish a behavior history for the drivers in case they end up in a collision like the one Thanksgiving night on the Ohio Turnpike.
Making the call even easier for me this time was that the car had a vanity plate, so that information was easy to remember. But getting through to the right police agency proved to be a daunting task.
I don’t know which 911 center initially got my call, but when I described what I was calling about and where I was, I was told I’d be transferred to Rocky River, which I found odd as I thought I had already gone by that community (which a quick map check confirms).
So I went through the same description with Rocky River’s 911, and was promptly told I needed to talk to Westlake. Of course, by the time I got connected to Westlake, I was approaching the next exit, and I hadn’t seen the offending driver for more than a mile. And Westlake told me, based on my current location, that I really should be talking to Avon Lake, the next community to the west, so they told me to hold the line while they transferred me. Again.
Sure, they were doing their jobs, but at this point, all I could think of was that Discover Card commercial in which the exasperated cardholder who wants to talk with the competitor's customer-service supervisor gets transferred all over the boiler room before ending up with the call-taker he started with.
“911. This is Peggy.”
I hung up.
At this point I had no confidence about Mr. White Sedan’s current location, if he was even still on I-90. Should I be talking to Elyria instead? It was no longer worth the trouble.
With a regional 911 center, my report probably would have been handled by the first call-taker, and if a call transfer had been needed, the chance of that being botched would have been much smaller.
Mr. White Sedan, whose license plate I remember two days later, there’s no report on you with any of those police departments -- at least, not from me. Maybe somebody else also thought you were worth reporting and had better lucking calling you in.
In any case, be safe out there, y’hear?