This Phone Made Us Pay

Allan Appel PhotoIn his three years working at the Columbus Market and Deli, Mohamed Qabbaj (pictured) can barely remember anyone coming in to ask for change to use the pay phone that sits outside his store on the trim triangle between the Kiley Post Office and Roberto Clemente Leadership Academy.

Someone did use it Monday morning. Downtown New Haven became a panicked armed village as a result.

It was from this phone that someone called 911 to report, apparently falsely, that a shooter was heading for Yale’s campus in order to shoot it up. Yale went into lockdown; the city closed off downtown streets; local, state and federal agents spent hours checking potential threats.

Assistant Police Chief Archie Generoso said Tuesday afternoon that police have some leads on a suspect: “We don’t have a name. We have a physical description. We have some leads of people we’re running down.”

The phone on Columbus Avenue is beaten up, has a base with so much grey paint peeling off, there’s more rust than color left. On the side is a torn sticker for a number to call if you are contending with cocaine abuse.

The phone was, despite appearances, obviously working just fine.

The phone is operated by R & B Communications in Port Chester, N.Y.. According to an employee at the office, R & B has installed and currently operates 50 pay phones within New Haven’s city limits.

That’s a large number extant in the city in this era of cell phones. The employee declined to provide a list or map of other pay phones in town.

The phone that launched Monday’s massive lock-down is, according to pedestrians along Columbus and shoppers at the Columbus Market, the only pay phone in the area between Howard Avenue and Ella Grasso Boulevard.

Phones are usually associated with a store nearby. Between the Columbus Market and the Boulevard there is only Walt’s Liquor Store, and no phone near it, or anywhere nearby, according to Andre Gulley. He’s been delivering beer for 14 years and knows the area.

Officer Sal Ricci, working an extra-duty assignment Tuesday for a road crew in front of the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center on Columbus at Redfield, the only pay phone he knew of in the area is one at the Boulevard and Kimberly Avenue.

Before the era of cell phones, store owners and residents have often asked the phone company or the the pay phone operators to remove their equipment. That’s because whatever convenience they provide can be outweighed by problems, including the public phone’s use by drug dealers.

“The city only requires permits for pay phones placed in the public right of way (not for phones placed in restaurants, gas stations, etc.),” reported mayoral spokeswoman Anna Mariotti in an email message. “The city has not received a permit request since 2007. In the mid-2000s, the pay phones that were in the City were typically not owned or maintained by SNET or ATT, but by much smaller companies.

Sgt. Siclari Looks In
Tuesday morning Sgt. Darcy Siclari slipped out of her cruiser at Washington and Columbus avenues. The 16-year veteran has recently been reassigned to patrol after five years in records, she said.

She was dropping by the Columbus Market and Deli to buy a bottle of water and to reassure Mohamed Qabbaj after Monday’s hoopla.

He said that he is fine and that people are asking him if police have caught the perpetrator.

From his perch behind the thick glass barrier, Qabbaj does not have a direct view of the phone. If he leans back, he can see who uses it, but he did not see who might have used it on Monday to make the notorious call.

Siclari said that yesterday officers descended on the market to gather what information they could. That’s why she was there to offer a word of support and thanks.

Whoever made the call from the pay phone in front of the market, it would have been a rare caller. “Everyone has cell phones,” said Qabbaj.

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posted by: meta on November 26, 2013  4:15pm

Hey- This is in my neighborhood- known for breathtaking vistas, friendly folks, and absolutely no crime or nefarious actions.

I’m sure the caller was an upstanding citizen with no mental illness, criminal background, or other reason to activate the hundreds of storm troopers from their underground bunkers..

Strange there is so much attention to our quiet little slice of paradise.

posted by: Walt on November 26, 2013  4:15pm

As these phones are likely to be ill-used, for dope sales, threats,  et.c seems a good idea to require (or even install via City law,  full,  covert full video coverage and recording

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on November 26, 2013  5:25pm

I am curious as to the number of “crank” calls that are received through 911 weekly, monthly, annually?

Have there been any of a similar type and what was the response by the police to those?

There has been no description of the caller’s voice? Male or Female? Young or Old? Accent? Was it a single statement, with a hang up? (the classic sign for phony or crank calls, to provoke a dramatic police response.)

Was there any review of the call to determine the quality of the source, versus the amount of a response that was truly necessary?

Did all officers responding to the campus notify their dispatcher of their location, and direction of intended travel? Did any and all plainclothes officers entering the area announce their presence, location, description, and direction of travel, before they began walking around with a gun in hand? (there are national standards for this, and it is recommended that any plainclothes officer entering onto any active scene advise to the dispatcher of their presence, which is then relayed to all radio frequencies being used by all responding officers, so that there will not be an accidental shooting of an officer. New Haven used to do that, but it has been discarded by civilian dispatchers, and their supervision as not necessary, although it creates an extremely dangerous situation every time it occurs.)

The lack of organization, planning, effective management, and the ability to make sensible analysis of information while the event is in progress, is grossly lacking between the NHPD and YPD, and in failing to prepare endanger officers from other agencies in danger of being shot or shooting another officer from a different agency
    It is as if the command staff is paralyzed by fear of making a decision their Chief will disapprove of, for whatever his reasons might be(as they are not based in practical police experience).

posted by: Bill Saunders on November 26, 2013  7:45pm

Any Fingerprints?

posted by: Charl on November 26, 2013  8:42pm

Superb analysis, JustATPayer!

Those are the questions I hope the New Haven Independent will dig for, press for, exert pressure on NHPD, YPD, CT State Police, and FBI to answer.  And then some.

I want that 911 call.  If the Independent won’t file a FOI request before December 8th, 2013, then I will.

I think this story stinks, and if there is push-back on releasing the 911 call & pertinent information, and anything other than complete transparency from those agencies, my concerns of this being a planned drill will be strengthened.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on November 27, 2013  3:16am

Yeah!  And this damn government cabal continues to posture that we landed on the moon.  Can you look into that too, NHI? If you don’t, I will!

posted by: sorabji on November 29, 2013  4:25am

The writer of this article (can’t remember his/her name) attempts to blame the payphone and R&B Communications for the Yale lockdown.


To paraphrase a paraphrase of a paraphrase: Payphones don’t make bogus 911 calls. People make bogus 911 calls.

As JustAnotherTaxPayer asks: What was the quality of the call?

Before blaming R&B Communications and ignorantly stigmatizing the payphone itself why not focus instead on the poise of 911 responders?

GRAMMAR CHECK: “there’s more’s more rust than color” should probably be “there’s more rust than color”