ALFRED — The chief of the state police said Wednesday that it’s unacceptable that it took two and a half hours for a trooper to respond to a day care provider’s frantic 911 call about a prowler who had broken into the building where she was caring for six young children.

Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, said his agency failed to respond the way it should have on Friday after receiving a 911 call from a Dayton day care center, and is conducting an internal inquiry.

“We did not respond in a timely manner and we will fix that problem and it won’t happen again,” Williams said at a news conference Wednesday morning at the state police barracks in Alfred. He said a three-member panel from outside the troop responsible for York County will conduct an after-action report to determine what happened.

One question will be whether the call was appropriately evaluated for urgency.

When the worker called 911 she reported that the incident had happened about 15 minutes earlier and that the prowler had fled, Williams said, an account the day care owner confirmed.

“Sure he could have come back in the house, could have been lurking in the woods. What we knew for a fact was the person said it happened 15 minutes earlier and he left the house,” Williams said. “We knew the person was not in the house – not that it makes a two-and-half-hour delay acceptable, but if you’re prioritizing cases, it makes it a little different than if the person was still in the house.”

Asked whether a facility with children should demand a higher priority, Williams said he does not dispute that police should have responded quicker.

Two teachers and six children were having lunch in the downstairs level of Little Hands Big Hearts day care center – located across the street from the Dayton town offices – at about 12:15 p.m. Friday when they heard noises upstairs. An employee who went to investigate heard a door slam as she climbed the stairs and said someone had apparently ransacked the kitchen cabinets. Later, one of the workers said her purse had been rummaged through, but as was the case with the day care center, nothing was missing.

The worker called police to report that a prowler had broken into the building, then alerted the parents of the children who were there before calling police twice more.

One of those parents was Jen Turgeon Tomah, who said in a Facebook post that she raced from her job in Saco and made it to the day care center in “under five minutes.” She wrote that she was stunned at the lack of police response. When she called dispatch herself to report that there were children 8 and younger and two female caregivers, she was told police were busy with a drug arrest and would respond when they were free, she wrote.

Tomah said she planned to hold police accountable.

“I will not stop until something is done about this,” she wrote. “I will not wait for another preschool daycare or public school to be broken into and somebody seriously getting injured.”

State Police Troop A, which has its barracks in Alfred, has an agreement with the York County Sheriff’s Office to provide police coverage for the towns of Dayton, Alfred, Lebanon, Hollis and Lyman. The troop consists of a lieutenant, three sergeants and 18 troopers. In addition to covering York County, Troop A also patrols Interstate 295 from Scarborough to Brunswick.

Lt. Louis Nyitray, head of Troop A, said routine calls are “stacked,” and troopers are assigned to them as they become available. Emergency calls are supposed to trigger an immediate response. If one of the troopers covering an area cannot respond, a supervisor is supposed to be notified, who can then draw resources from outside areas. Williams said that if needed the agency can call on the York County Sheriff’s Office or draw in troopers from farther away. Part of the internal inquiry will be determining why that didn’t happen, he said.

A call and email to the director of the state’s Consolidated Communications Bureau, which runs the centers which take 911 calls and dispatch State Police, was not responded to on Wednesday.

At the time of the call, one of the troopers assigned to cover Dayton was involved in a chase that led to the seizure of drugs. The other trooper covering the area was at a Scarborough firing range completing a semiannual firearms qualification. That process can take a few hours, Williams said. Each troop determines how to schedule work like qualification and training, and whether to schedule extra troopers for coverage, he said.

It was that trooper who ultimately responded to the day care center, at almost 3 p.m. According to the owner of the facility, the trooper did not question the staff in depth or conduct any kind of follow-up investigation. Williams said he had not spoken with that trooper and did not release the trooper’s name.

Williams said the delay apparently was caused by a number of minor problems and decisions rather than one person making a major mistake.

Dayton Selectman Scott Littlefield said he has not heard complaints about delayed police response in the five years he has been on the board of selectmen. The town has considered hiring a contract deputy from the York County Sheriff’s Office, but that it wasn’t deemed cost effective to hire a person who would just provide coverage 40 hours a week, he said.

Dayton is a rural town, with a population of almost 2,000 as of the 2010 census.

Littlefield said he is not disappointed by what happened because he doesn’t know all the facts and he is confident authorities will get to the bottom of it and fix it.

Day care owner Julie Dolbec said Wednesday that she was satisfied with the steps the police have announced.

“I feel like they definitely took the blame and know what they did wrong,” Dolbec said. The day care center had been unlocked, as it often has been during the day, she said.

The burglary remains under investigation. Dolbec said York County Sheriff’s deputies came to the day care Tuesday and took fingerprints and searched for other evidence. She did not know why county deputies were conducting the investigation. State Police said the two agencies are working together.

Sheriff William King declined to comment on an active investigation.

Williams said regardless of whether law enforcement determined the call was an emergency, a burglary can be an extremely personal and frightening incident for those victimized by it.

“Just because it may become routine to the police, to the person who calls, it is the most important call in the world,” he said. “In this case there were parents who were upset – as they should have been. The (day care) worker was less than impressed.” Williams said the incident review will take about two weeks.

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