Police took four hours to respond to a violent robbery at a Chinese bakery in San Francisco, but a top emergency official said in a newly obtained email that dispatchers “appropriately handled” the situation.
The delayed response to the Good Orchard Bakery in the Excelsior on Jan. 19 has drawn scrutiny for both the Department of Emergency Management and Police Department. City supervisors are concerned that the response could discourage already apprehensive immigrants from reporting crimes.
Two suspects robbed the bakery owner as he returned to his store with cash from a nearby bank. The owner called 911 shortly before 12:30 p.m. and spoke with a Cantonese translator, but he had to wait until around 4:30 p.m. for police to arrive despite suffering a broken hand in the attack.
On Tuesday, The San Francisco Examiner obtained more than a dozen emails from DEM in response to a public records request. The emails shed some light on the situation, but questions remain as to whether the seriousness of the call was lost in the Cantonese translation.
“We have already reviewed the call from our end and it seems appropriately handled,” DEM Deputy Director Rob Smuts said Jan. 25 in an email, referencing a preliminary review of the English portion of the 911 call. Smuts also directed a supervisor to review the Cantonese translations.
DEM spokesperson Victor Lim softened the statements Smuts made in the email on Wednesday.
“The comments are not reflective of findings from the ongoing quality assurance process,” Lim said. “The findings from the process will determine whether proper protocol was followed and if appropriate and accurate language interpretation was provided.”
In another email, DEM spokesperson Francis Zamora said dispatch categorized the call as a Priority B. That means it was considered an urgent call rather than an emergency Priority A call.
Whether the call should have been categorized as a Priority A is unclear because DEM refused to release a copy of the 911 call to the Examiner, citing an open police investigation in the case.
Factors such as whether a suspect is present and how recently the crime occurred are used to determine priority.
What has also yet to be seen is if the owner communicated his injury to the translator and if the translator passed that information on to dispatch.
Regardless, Police Chief Bill Scott has admitted that a four-hour delay is too long no matter the call priority. Scott previously apologized at a press conference and said that there were no available units to respond.
“The Department is committed to do better and is working with our partners at DEM to that end,” Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a police spokesperson, said in an email Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee and Supervisor Ahsha Safai called for a hearing on the delayed response time.
“When the word out there is ‘even when you report this nobody even comes until four hours,’ it’s really unacceptable,” Yee said.
The Police Department, Fire Department and DEM have all been requested to present at the hearing.
“Our insistence is to try to get to the bottom of this and try and make some structural changes,” said Safai, who represents the area.
Since the robbery, police have arrested 18-year-old Taiepisi Gutu and an unidentified 17-year-old juvenile in connection with the case.
Surveillance video led investigators to the suspects Feb. 7.
Gutu is being held on $215,000 bail on felony second-degree robbery and felony battery with serious bodily injury.