≡ Menu

Friends and co-workers of a New Orleans (La.) police dispatcher are mourning her murder on Wedesnday night, along with her adult son and daughter. It was the second tragic death of a dispatcher at the center within the past week. Christine George, 39, was a four-year veteran of the center, and her death has significantly impacted the center, officials said. Police said George was shot and killed outside her home. Arriving police found her 18 year-old son and 20 year-old daughter shot and killed inside a nearby garage. Police have a person of interest, but have made no arrests. Grief counselors have been made available to 911 center employees, said Orleans Parish Communications District chair Terry Ebert. “This obviously impacts all the employees because that’s a very small group of people,” he told a reporter. Sadly, a second dispatcher died earlier this week in a traffic accident. Paulette Brown, 51, was a 32-year veteran of the agency and was enroute to work last Saturday when her car was hit by a suspected DUI motorist. Brown was taken off life support on Sunday, and died soon after. Her organs were donated to several other people. Read more about Ms. George here, and about Ms. Brown here. [click to continue…]

The mayor of Cleveland (Ohio) has disciplined the 911 calltaker who fielded a 911 call from one of three women who escaped 10 years of captivity and torture, saying he should have been more compassionate with the woman and should have stayed on the line as police responded. In a letter released last Friday, mayor Frank Jackson announced he has issued a written reprimand to dispatcher Jack Purdy, a four-year veteran of the city’s comm center. Jackson said he considered Purdy’s work ethic and minor disciplinary history when making his decision. “After speaking with you I believe that you understand how your actions violated (the center’s) policy and I am confident that you will learn from your mistake,” the mayor wrote. It was Purdy who answered a 911 from Amanda Berry last May, reporting that she had just escaped from the home of kidnapper Ariel Castro. Police arrived within minutes and rescued Berry and two other woman, and later arrested Castro. Last month Purdy waived his right to a formal hearing, and met with Jackson to discuss the allegations that he failed to follow comm center policies. During that meeting Jackson told Purdy that, “You could have demonstrated more empathy and could have been more compassionate in your dealing with Ms. Berry.” The mayor also noted, “Without question, you should have kept her on the line as I believe that that simple, required act would have enhanced her sense of safety.” Purdy agreed to plead “no contest” to the misconduct charges, and to accept whatever discipline Jackson decided to impose. Download (pdf) the mayor’s discipline letter for more details, and listen to the 911 call here.

In the face of continuing complaints about poor service at Detroit’s (Mich.) police communications center, and after two response delays that ended with fatal shooting, the city’s police chief has demoted the comm center commander and is considering criminal neglect of duty charges for the two dispatchers involved the murder incidents. ““Status quo, complacency, mediocrity will not be tolerated,” police chief James Craig said during a news conference yesterday. He announced that Cmd. Todd Bettison had been demoted to the rank of Inspector. He said both dispatchers who handled the incidents last week and in August had been suspended without pay. Craig has also ordered a complete review of comm center operations. The Wayne County prosecutor told reporters that criminal complaints had been prepared against the unnamed dispatcher in the earlier incident. However, the complaint was returned to police for more investigation. Craig took over as chief last July, but complaints about the comm center have been constant for at least a year before that. In the latest case, police said the victim’s daughter dialed 911 six times, and a Priority 1 incident was entered in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. However, a male radio dispatcher deliberately held the incident until after a shift change, even though officers were available to respond. Finally, units were dispatched 75 minutes after the first 911 call. By then, the victim was shot in the chest with an AK-47, but survived.

In response to high-profile medical incident in Bakersfield (Calif.) earlier this year, the California state legislature has passed a bill that prohibits employers from establishing a policy against employees providing CPR voluntarily. Assembly Bill 663 helps to extend the existing liability protections that ordinary citizens have if they voluntarily provide medical assistance to victims of an emergency. The bill was sparked by a 911 call from an independent living center last March reporting a woman had collapsed. The caller was a nurse employee of the center, and explained to the dispatcher that providing medical assistance was against her employer’s policies. On the logging tape of the call, a dispatcher repeatedly asked the nurse to begin CPR or to flag down a passerby to help. Later, the company that operates the center said the nurse misunderstood the policy on providing medical aid. The bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. Download (pdf) the bill and the legislative analysis for more details.

Antoinette Tuff is the type of person that every dispatcher should hope is on the other end of a  911 call. What’s more, Tuff is just the type of person you hope is calling when a mentally unstable man with an AK-47 walks into an an elementary school and begins firing off rounds. In fact, Tuff was the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discvoer Learning Academy in Dekalb (Geo.) last Tuesday when Michael Hill walked into the school’s entrance, and it was Tuff who dialed 911 for help. Over the next 24 minutes Tuff talked kindly to Hill, relayed information to Dekalb County dispatcher dispatcher Kendra McCray, and even used the school’s intercom to give students and teachers safety information. Meanwhile, scores of police surrounded the building, prepared to move but waiting on every bit of information that Tuff was providing to McCray. At one point Hill came outside the building and fired several rounds—police later said he was carrying 500 rounds of ammunition. Incredibly, as the situation dragged on, Tuff began telling Hill her own life story, complete with its serious ups and downs. At the end, she had him empty his pockets and take off his backpack. Police then entered the school and came to the office. Several shots were exchanged, but Hill was taken into custody without injuries. Listen to the entire amazing 911 call here. Update: Tuff and McCray were emotionally reunited on Anderson Cooper 360. [click to continue…]

A Cincinnati (Ohio) city council member has introduced a regulation that would require all dispatchers to be trained for emergency medical dispatch (EMD) before they can answer 911 calls. The amendment to the city’s employment regulations was sparked by a local TV reporter’s investigation of mandatory overtime in the comm center. Not all dispatchers are certified on EMD, and when a dispatcher must work overtime to fill an empty position, a non-certified may find themselves fielding 911 calls. “Never again,” vows council member Charlie Winburn, who introduced the proposed regulation. Read more here, and download (pdf) proposed regulation here. Watch a TV news report after the break. [click to continue…]

The announcement today that the Amherst (Ohio) Police Department dispatchers are now accepting text messages has a futuristic ring to it. But a closer reading of the technology shows the agency is taking a lower-tech approach to connecting with smartphones. The department hopes to tap into a younger group of people who use text messaging, and will be putting up posters about the program in local junior high schools and high schools. Police chief Joseph Kucirek said in a press release, “Your tips and non-emergency questions can be sent directly to the dispatcher on duty who has the ability to respond as time permits.” To implement the text messaging capability, the department ported one of its existing detective bureau telephone numbers to a cellular phone. The phone’s text messaging account is then accessed by a desktop computer in the comm center. [This capability is available using iMessage on an iPhone, but it’s unknown if this is being used by APD.] Kucirek included warnings that emergencies should still be reported by a 911 call, never to text while driving, and prank or malicious texts would be traced. He also told texters, “When you do text our dispatch center, please give the dispatcher several minutes to respond. Kucirek told texters that if they don’t get a response in “a reasonable amount of time, please call one of our non-emergency phone lines.” Read the full story here.

Detroit (Mich.) fire officials say they will revise a policy of not notifying citizens or the police department when ambulances aren’t available to immediately respond to incidents. A directive issued earlier this month told fire dispatchers they weren’t required to notate “N.U.A.” (no unit available) in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) record, or notify the police department when ambulances were unavailable. The policy was immediately criticized by city and union officials, saying it put the public at risk. The comm center policy meant that patients often waited several hours for an ambulance instead of finding alternate transportation to a hospital. The city’s EMS system has been struggling under a heavy workload for at least five years, often staffing just seven to 10 ambulances for a city of 700,000. “We pretty much run no units available all the time,” Detroit EMS union president Joseph Barney told a reporter. He said earlier this month one ambulance handled 23 runs in a 12-hour shift. Police chief James Craig said the police department is assisting with EMS transports. In fact, he said officers are transporting about half the injured children they encounter at incidents because of the delayed arrival of an ambulance. Read the memo and read more here. [click to continue…]

A civil liberties group has filed a lawsuit against the city of Norristown (Penn.), claiming that a three-strikes law discourages apartment dwellers from dialing 911 for help and puts domestic violence victims in even more jeopardy than usual. The city enacted the law intending to improve living conditions within the city’s rental community, by forcing out tenants who generated chronic responses for the police. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says in a lawsuit that it unfairly targets those who are victims of crime, and who cannot control the people who create crime in their apartments. The city law (pdf) sets up a procedure for the police chief to track his department’s responses to rental property occupants for reports “disorderly behavior.” The incidents can be reported by anyone, and include a wide range of crimes and behaviors. The city imposes fines on the property owner, but a fine is withheld if the offending if the owner has initiated eviction proceedings. In its lawsuit on behalf of Lakisha Briggs, who suffered visits by an ex-boyfriend and who was reluctant to dial 911 for help because of the city law. Briggs was eventually hospitalized as the result of an assault by the man. The ACLU is asking the court to invalidate the law on constitutional grounds. The city has responded that he law is constitutional and is Many cities have similar laws to discourage on-going police responses to the same location. The laws are divided into two types: those that focus on only noise complaints or rowdy behavior, and those that include more serious criminal behavior that results in a specific victim. Download (pdf) the ACLU’s lawsuit for more details, and read more about Ms. Briggs here. [For a more academic view, review a study by a Harvard University professor of so-called “nuisance laws.” The study / city comparison]

The Norfolk (Virg.) dispatcher who posted a comment on her Facebook page about an officer-involved shooting has been fired, but is appealing the action with an attorney who says the city failed to follow proper personnel procedures. Jessica Camirillo admits that her remarks were inappropriate and has publicly apologized. She says her firing has been devastating to her family, and that she may have to move out of her apartment. The city does not have a social media policy, and city officials say they cannot discuss Camarillo’s firing because it’s a personnel issue.

Statistics gathered by a California public safety group show that the state’s cellular carriers are delivering fewer 911 calls with full location information, delaying responses and putting the public at risk. Now the California chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (CAL-NENA) is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action by forcing the carriers to meet existing regulations on delivering accurate locations for all cellular phones that have dialed 911. According to data collected by CAL-NENA, less than 45 percent of the 1.6 million wireless 911 calls made within the state during March 2013 were accompanied by Phase II data, the location of the caller. Instead, carriers delivered Phase I data, which is the location of the receiving antenna tower, a less useful piece of information for someone who needs help. In fact, data independently collected by CAL-NENA from five jurisdictions shows that Sprint delivers Phase II data for just 19 percent of the 911 calls it handles. Verizon Wireless performs the best, but still only provides Phase II for 57 percent of calls for the selected agencies. FCC regulations require cellular carriers to deliver the caller’s location for every 911 call, if the handling comm center is equipped to handle the data and has made a formal request of the carrier. With rare exceptions, every comm center in California is equipped and has made such a request. In a CAL-NENA letter to the FCC, chapter president Danita Crombach noted that assisted global positioning system (A-GPS) technology may be a factor in the declining number. However, the exact cause of the declining delivery of Phase II data has not been explained by the carriers, the state’s 911 agency or the FCC. [click to continue…]

After almost four years of legal issues, funding fights, contract reversals and vendor competition, the Los Angeles region’s radio authority is set to approve a $280 million contract with Motorola for a unified public safety communications network. According to agenda documents, tomorrow the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) will approve the contract to stitch together 32 antenna sites, 326 frequency pairs and a variety of existing and new radio technology to provide voice communications for up to 64,000 users. Planning for the network began in 2010 and seemed to be proceeding normally. However, during negotiations the next year with the only other bidder, Raytheon Company, the project suddenly derailed. Legal analysis of the bid documents revealed several elements that violated state bidding regulations. The entire bid process up to that point was abandoned and the project was restarted in 2012. Meanwhile, the universe of public safety radio has been swirling with 700/800 MHz technical and regulatory changes, and various grant funding has come and gone. The LA-RICS project includes 86 jurisdictions of all sizes and in every corner of the 4,000 square-mile county. The final radio system will mainly consist of a P25 Phase 2 system using 700 and T-band frequencies. Several existing public safety radio systems will overlay the LA-RICS network and there will be extensive connections among the various components. If approved by the board, the project would be completed in five phases over the next 15 years. Download (pdf) a summary of the project bid, or the entire contract (large file, 1000+ pages).

A notorious Massachusetts computer hacker has agreed to plead guilty again to federal charges that he telephoned public safety comm centers around the country and made threats that he had explosives, VX nerve gas and was holding hostages. Nathan Hanshaw, 22, was charged by the Boston’s U.S. Attorney last Friday in connection with SWATing calls to Colorado, New York and California that led to the dispatching of heavily-armed police. The calls were placed during the period of Sept. 2012 to Jan. 2013. The practice of SWATing has become more common over the last year, but has primarily focused on celebrity homes on the west coast. In this case, Hanshaw faces up to 15 years in prison on all three charges. The criminal information (pdf) charges him with making interstate threats, threats to use explosives, and threats to use a firearm. Typically, Hanshaw would allegedly claim he was an FBI and Marshal’s Service fugitive. A Department of Justice (DOJ) press release said Hanshaw also, “demanded cash and a helicopter ride to Mexico and threatened to detonate his bombs and kill his hostages if his demands were not met.” The DOJ did not say how Hanshaw made the calls or what telephone number he dialed to reach the comm centers. However, they did say he would spoof (falsify) his address information so the call appeared to be the address of his SWATing victim. Hanshaw has previously served time in jail for SWATing. In 2008 he was arrested as a juvenile for breaking into corporate computers and for making SWATing calls. He faced up to 10 years in prison if the U.S. Attorney had tried him as an adult. However, he was charged as a juvenile, and agreed to serve 11 months in a juvenile detention facility. He was released in early 2010. Listen to one of Hanshaw’s SWATing calls here (profanity). [click to continue…]

A series of multi-state Amber Alerts about a California murder suspect who kidnapped a teenage girl were key in locating the pair in Idaho and bringing the girl home safely. Law enforcement officials in California, Nevada and Idaho say overhead highway signs along with TV and radio alerts reached millions of people with a look-out for James DiMaggio, 16 year-old kidnap victim Hannah Anderson, and DiMaggio’s car. One week earlier DiMaggio was suspected of killing Anderson’s mother and younger brother, and setting fire to their house. Within 24 hours police transmitted a statewide Amber Alert with the suspect’s and victim’s descriptions, and the description and license number of DiMaggio’s car. The alert included transmissions to smartphones in California, in some cases for the very first time. Within a day, two separate people in far-northern California reported sighting DiMaggio’s vehicle. And then in an amazing chance encounter, a group of four horse riders in Idaho stopped and talked to DiMaggio on Wednesday, deep within a national wilderness area. The riders sensed something was “out of place,” but Anderson did not indicate she had been kidnapped. When the foursome returned to town a day later, they saw the Amber Alert on TV, and called the Idaho State Police, kicking off an intensive search by several agencies. On Saturday, DiMaggio’s campsite was spotted in the woods by an FBI tactical team. Agents approached the camp, engaged DiMaggio and he was fatally shot. Anderson was rescued unharmed.

The husband of a woman who drowned in a vehicle accident last January in Little Rock (Ark.) has filed a lawsuit claiming the 911 calltaker failed to properly notify police or fire units of the incident, and also that she had a troubled history at another agency that led to her being fired. The lawsuit was filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court by Dayong Yang on behalf of his wife Jinglei and 5 year-old son who survived with brain injuries. The lawsuit names former Little Rock dispatcher Candace Mddleton, the city’s police and fire chiefs, and the comm center director. Police acknowledge that Middleton received a 911 call reporting that a vehicle had plunged into a pond, and that she notified the city’s EMS service. However, they admit, she did not notify the police or fire department. As a result, there was a 20-minute delay in launching a water rescue for Yang’s wife. The lawsuit claims Middleton had 15 complaints over 12 years while working as a dispatcher for the city of Benton. She received discipline ranging from days-off to demotion and eventually to termination. When she applied to Little Rock for a dispatcher’s job, she mentioned her termination in the application, and the city of Benton provided Little Rock with negative job reference, the lawsuit notes. Despite her past, she was hired in March 2012. City officials says Middleton resigned her position in June. The lawsuit documents a 13-minute 911 call that Yang’s wife made from inside the car, ending with the apparently sounds of water filling the vehicle. The EMS unit arrived at almost the same moment. In the 20 minutes it took to begin a water rescue, during which police and firefighters prevented citizens from performing any rescue of Yang, the lawsuit states. Download (pdf) the full lawsuit for more details, including the requested damages. [Editor—Besides the issues of a prompt response and rescue, the incident again raises the issue of how to handle vehicle-in-water incidents, such as the one last month in Arlington Heights, Ill.)