NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Lindsay Nichols was shot to death on June 21. The 31-year-old's body was found inside the trunk of a burned-out car, and as the investigation unfolded, detectives discovered that Nichols had called 911 hours earlier as she was being attacked.
NOPD help, though, didn't arrive in time. When police did make it to the scene, the incident was marked as "unfounded," which, according to police code, means it didn't happen.
In a recent Lee Zurik investigation in partnership with NOLA.com | The Times Picayune, we reviewed years of data and found on average, it takes the NOPD one hour and 13 minutes for officers to respond to a crime scene.
As it turns out, the late arrival of officers and the use of the "unfounded" disposition has become all too common.
"Every time someone calls for a crime, and then says never mind, they didn't show up, that crime is no longer reported. It doesn't mean it didn't happen. It just means we no longer report it," PANO President Mike Glasser said.
NOPD's log of all calls for service from June 21 revealed that in Nichols case, she called 911 at 4:48 a.m. from the 5900 block of Chef Menteur Highway. An officer was dispatched eight minutes later. He found nothing and the incident was marked unfounded.
According to court documents obtained by FOX 8, Nichols told the 911 operator "that a male subject whom she had only met once before, was outside of her vehicle and was pointing a handgun at her." As the call progressed, an irate male subject's voice became audible and he began to scream profanities at her. Nichols moaned and sounded as if she was being attacked.
That's the last time anyone heard from her.
Hours later, firefighters found Nichols body in a burned out car at Michoud and Lake Forest boulevards. Police say in this case, the operator failed to provide crucial details to the responding officer. Without specifics, the officer marked it unfounded. The operator later resigned after being placed under review.
"So, the victim is victimized twice - once when they suffer the crime and again when police don't show up," Glasser said.
More than 37,000 calls for service so far this year have been marked as unfounded. That's roughly 11 percent of all calls. Police Chief Michael Harrison said changing that practice will require training.
"We've been addressing it, and we continue to address it because the crime was committed and the complainant is just gone on arrival," he said. "The proper disposition is 'gone on arrival,' and so 'unfounded' means it didn't happen."
He says officers should be making attempts to contact those complainants, knowing that a crime has been committed.
Harrison is putting a new system in place. He said commanders will now receive all gone on arrival and unfounded dispositions each day for review.