April 28, 2014

Leawood police apologize for misdirected phone alert

Calls on Saturday night alerting residents to an at-large suspect in a domestic-violence case were meant for a small part of southern Leawood. The calls instead were sent to about 125,000 phones throughout Johnson County. Leawood police apologized Monday.

It’s not the kind of call a parent wants to get on prom night.

“This is the Leawood Police Department …” began the recorded phone message that was sent Saturday night to thousands of residents of Johnson County, where some schools were holding their proms.

Police intended the call sent through the year-old “Notify JoCo” alert system to go to only a small part of southern Leawood to let residents know police were searching for a suspect in a domestic-violence case who had escaped on foot in their area.

Instead, “errors were made,” causing calls to be sent to about 125,000 phones throughout the county, Leawood police said Monday. Residents as far north as Westwood and Mission Hills reported receiving the call.

“The Leawood Police Department would like to apologize for the ill-advised alert and the unnecessary contact of people who should not have received the alert and anyone else otherwise inconvenienced by it,” the department said in a written statement.

Among the recipients was Teresa Miller, who used to live in southern Leawood but now lives in northeastern Johnson County.

“It was a weird deal being awakened by a police voice mail on a Saturday night when a lot of kids are out at prom,” she said.

But after the initial shock, it wasn’t that big of a deal, Miller said. She said the Notify JoCo system is a good use of technology.

“It was just a blip,” she said of the error.

Johnson County and a number of its cities use the system to let residents know of issues ranging from water-main breaks to snow removal to police activity, such as Saturday night’s Leawood incident.

In a statement issued Monday, Leawood police said they hoped the incident would not have a negative impact on how people view the system.

“When used properly, the system is a powerful communication tool for Johnson County residents,” the statement said. “We hope residents continue to have confidence in the system.”

Since the calls went out, the department has heard from a number of people who want clarification of what the message meant. Some comments have been positive about the usefulness of the system, but quite a few, particularly from outside of Leawood, have been “less than complimentary,” according to police.

Miller for one, still thinks the system is a good idea.

“If police are looking for a suspect in my area, I would like to know,” she said. “I think it is a useful tool.”

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