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Consumer Reports

Sniper calls 'missed' among flood of tips | (UPI) -- Law enforcement officials believe that they missed at least two calls from the sniper who has terrorized the Washington region over the past three weeks, but they disputed media reports that there is a rift among the investigators and denied that federal authorities were considering taking over the investigation.

"We are sure that between two and four calls were missed on the tip line," said a Justice Department official. "But we are not complaining to the FBI. You have to understand the volume of calls that line gets every day."

According to the Justice Department, more than 67,200 calls had been received by the tip line -- which is staffed by federal and local law enforcement officers -- by Sunday night.

"At that point, we were receiving 400 calls an hour," the Justice Department source said of the missed calls.

"That has practically doubled at this point. Are we mad that we missed the calls? Yes. But we also get dozens of calls a day from people claiming to be the sniper."

A letter that police believe the sniper left at a crime scene Saturday listed six calls that had been "ignored" by tip line operators. Law enforcement officials could not confirm that all six had been received and ignored.

The sniper has killed 10 people and wounded three others in 14 incidents since Oct. 2.

The same Justice Department source disputed media reports that the FBI was considering taking over the investigation to mend a rift among the various jurisdictions.

"The task force is being run through a system of consensus between the federal agencies and the top guys at each jurisdiction," the source said.

"To send in the FBI to run it would just create a new barrier in the investigation. Plus, what would we charge the guy with? Unlawful flight over state boundaries?"

FBI Director Robert Mueller was scheduled to visit the joint command headquarters on Wednesday but wasn't expected to address the media.

Another law enforcement official explained that the Rockville, Md.-based task force -- also called the Joint Operations Command Center -- includes representatives of every jurisdiction that has seen a sniper attack in decision-making alongside every federal law enforcement agency.

The official also said that while evidence collection and lab work is done by the federal agencies -- either Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or the FBI -- that is standard procedure for any big investigation.

The official's statements came as a response to complaints by an unknown number of officers through anonymous media reports that some officials and jurisdictions felt excluded from the investigation and major decision-making.

"(These claims) are just lazy journalism," said a Justice Department official. "Any claim that the investigation is hurt by a lack of cooperation is irresponsible and laughable.

"(The reports) came from obvious sources (and) it's easy for a reporter to find four or five people out of the thousands involved who are angry that they aren't being listened to."

Another senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation also downplayed reports of disunity among the law enforcement team.

"Anytime you have an investigation when you have over a thousand police officers and agents, you're going to have somebody who is unhappy," the senior official said.

"I've not heard that there's been any complaints as far as the investigation is going," the official added, "considering that this is a multijurisdictional effort ... I'm not aware of any breakdown in communications."

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