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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.)

A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s dispatcher has been arrested and charged with computer crimes after he accessed a co-worker’s smartphone and emailed himself a nude photo of the woman he found on the phone. Omar Trevino, 31, was also suspended with pay from his job during the investigation. According to deputies, while off-duty last November, a female dispatcher took a topless photo of herself and another dispatcher using her smartphone. Then last May Trevino and the woman were working together in the comm center. When the woman left on her 15-minute break, Trevino took her smartphone, flipped through its photo album and found the photo. He emailed to himself, then deleted the “sent email” list to cover his tracks. Three weeks later Trevino allegedly showed the photo to a co-worker, who alerted sheriff’s investigators. Deputies say Trevino told them he frequently looks through female employees’ smartphone for photo. Trevino faces up to five years in jail, although court records indicate he is seeking a plea deal from state prosecutors. Read more about the incident here.

The parents of a Dallas (Tex.) man who overdosed on Xanax last year have filed a lawsuit against AT&T and Apple Inc., claiming the two companies are withholding technology that could locate cellular 911 callers with within 30 feet. The lawsuit also states that AT&T did not properly train Dallas dispatchers on how to use their 911 system. However, the lawsuit does not address what the city of Dallas already admits, that two overdose incidents were reported at the same apartment complex, and that first responders mistakenly believed there was only one, thereby missing one victim. When Matthew Sanchez collapsed in Nov. 2012, an unknown companion dialed 911 to report his condition. That person then left the location. Police and EMS units were on-scene at a second overdose within the same complex. When Sanchez’ incident was received, field units believed it referred to the same incident they were handling, and so did not investigate the second location. Sanchez’ body was discovered about 40 minutes later by his parents. In their lawsuit, the parents claim Dallas dispatchers “misused” their computer and phone systems, and didn’t realize the 911 calls were from separate locations involving separate victims. They also state the dispatcher negligently hung up “on a pending 911 prior to the arrival of 911 responders and/or a malfunction of the phone system in question caused the caller and the 911 operator to become disconnected.” The lawsuit asks for funeral and burial expenses, for pain and suffering, mental anguish and “loss of companionship.” [click to continue…]

A Hialeah (Fla.) police dispatcher’s judgement not to send police in response to a paranoid man’s 911 call was correct, police officials said Thursday, even though the man shot and killed six people and set his apartment on fire five hours later. The incident raises questions of policy, procedure and decision-making by dispatchers who may not have the training or experience to judge situations that aren’t entirely criminal. Pedro Vargas, 43, may have suffered from psychiatric problems, and last Friday dialed 911 to report feeling threatened. During the 12-minute call, Vargas asked a Hialeah dispatcher to run the registration to a vehicle outside his apartment, and said he was being followed. The dispatcher then spoke to Vargas’ 89 year-old mother Esperanza Patterson, who said she had slipped two Xanax into Vargas’ food to calm him down. During the call, the unnamed calltaker entered the call for dispatch, and another dispatcher actually assigned the incident to two officers. At the end of the call, the mother declined police help, but the dispatcher told her, “I have to send you the unit because he was asking for police.” During several exchanges, the dispatcher pressed the mother to decide if the police should be dispatched. “I cannot make this decision for you,” the dispatcher said. “Do I cancel the call or not?” The mother said that Vargas had left, so the dispatcher told her, “OK, then. I will cancel the call.” The two responding officers were then told to cancel their response. About four hours later, Vargas returned to the apartment with $10,000 in cash, poured gasoline over it and lit it on fire. When the two apartment managers arrived to investigate, Vargas shot and killed them with a handgun. He killed four other people during an eight-hour stand-off with police before officers killed him in a shoot-out. At a news conference today, police spokesperson Carl Zogby said about the 911 call, “All the right questions were asked and answered.” He added that he would not second guess the dispatcher’s judgement in canceling Vargas’ original request for the police. Read more about the 911 call here, and the police defense of the dispatcher here. Download (pdf) the translation of the 911 call here, and listen to the call here. [click to continue…]

In the middle of the night an unknown intruder cut several guy wires supporting a wireless transmission tower in the hills east of Oakland (Calif.) used by law enforcement, fire, alarm and power agencies. A group of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies is investigating the sabotage. Damage to the facility was estimated at $1 million. The agencies have not yet determined if the damage was simple—but serious—vandalism, or was done for some specific criminal purpose. Principal among the users of the 200-foot tower is the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District, the East Bay Regional Park District, East Bay Regional Communications System Authority and Contra Costa County. The agencies provide public safety services over a wide region that includes the East Bay and Diablo Valley. Spokesmen for those agencies said their radio gear at the tower is part of multi-site systems, so public safety communications was never disrupted. Other tower users include the regional electric, gas and water utilities, a large alarm company and a regional bus district. When the tower fell, it damaged radio antennas, transmitters and microwave dishes. Officials said nine of 11 steel guy wires were cut, indicating those responsible came prepared. The tower is sited at the 2,000-foot crest of a hill in a regional park. Officials said the surrounding area is open to the public, but sturdy gates prevent vehicle access. The site is surrounded by tall fencing and barbed wire. Dispatchers received an alarm early Tuesday morning that the site had gone off-line. Technicians discovered the damage when they investigated. So far, there are no leads as to who did the damage or why.

The Florida Highway Patrol says a 5 year-old boy’s 911 call on a deactivated cellular phone last March led to a fatal accident involving a Lee County sheriff’s deputy and an elderly couple. In a 60-page investigative report, the Patrol said the child’s parents had given him the telephone to play with after their cellular service ended, unaware that it was still capable of dialing 911. In fact, the child accidentally made one voice and three non-voice 911 calls. In response, a sheriff’s dispatcher dispatched two units to the child’s home. The deputies were responding together in separate vehicles, about a mile away from the residence. As they approached a signaled intersection, a vehicle entered from the right intending to make a left turn. The first deputy swerved and missed the vehicle. The second patrol car, traveling 78 mph, struck the vehicle. John and Marilyn Stefffen, 84 and 77 years-old, died from the collision. Dep. Roberto Torres, 28, was slightly injured. Investigators said during the first call, the child said to send, “a cop and a fire truck.” Deputies had previously been to the address for a domestic violence incident, perhaps hastening the deputies’ response. Call-backs to the cellular phone were not answered. Investigators said the boy had actually pressed “a very long series of numbers (one sequential string),” not the specific number 911. However, embedded in that string were the digits “911,” the report said. The State Attorney’s Office ruled there was insufficient evidence to press criminal charges against the child’s parents. Read more about the accident here, and download (pdf) the full collision report here.

In the wake of continuing personnel and technology problems at New York City’s emergency comm center, a leaked memo reveals that city leaders are considering mandatory 16-hour shifts for dispatchers, no weekends off for senior dispatchers, and the assignment of police officers to the center to increase staffing. City officials acknowledge the memo, but say the changes were the result of a “brainstorming exercise,” and no final decisions have been made. Comm center operations have been implicated in several high-profile response delays, including to a fatal vehicle accident in which a 4 year-old girl died. The center’s ICAD dispatching software system has suffered several outages that required manual incident handling, including earlier this week. Union officials claim that 20 to 30 dispatchers are resigning each month because of the stress of the job and forced overtime. Read more about the staffing and technology situation in the NY Daily News.

Even though its training meets state requirements, Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) is lax on updating dispatchers about revised procedures, a city audit has found, and hasn’t implemented recommendations made in a 2002 audit. In a 26-page report, the city’s auditor also said the center also doesn’t analyze complaints sufficiently to determine how policies and procedures might be revised to improve service. But in response to the audit, comm center director Lisa Turley said that low staffing and an inadequate budget don’t allow sufficient time for on-going training. “Unfortunately, when there are barely enough people to cover the floor, we cannot schedule time off the floor,” Turley wrote to the auditor. The audit noted that it found deficiencies in its earlier audit and made specific recommendations for improvement. Ironically, the report notes that a recommendation to develop an action plan for “hiring, training and retaining sufficient staffing levels” is one of those that hasn’t been implemented. A graph accompanying the audit shows that the number of telephone calls and dispatcher “actions” has been essentially flat over the past six years. However, the number of calls/actions per dispatcher has increased 25 percent over just the past year. Download (pdf) the audit for more details, and read a news story about the report.

For an occupation that is heavily dependent upon locations, Google’s latest Maps update provides additional ways to identify addresses and track incidents for public safety dispatchers. The update rolled out generally today, and improves on the standard Maps features of showing street maps and satellite images for almost every point in the United States. The street maps have been re-colored and given a cleaner look, and the typography has been simplified. Searching is much easier now—you don’t even need to press the Return key to begin a search. Instead, Maps will immediately start moving the map view to the location you’ve typed into the search box. Once you’re centered on an region, you can determine a specific address simply by clicking on a building outline (map view) or image (satellite view). The exact address is instantly displayed. You can now quickly view the Streetview version of a specific location with a single click (previously it took 3 clicks). And Maps now displays kive traffic congestion on the roadways for many urban areas, and traffic incidents are displayed as icons (click for information).

Norfolk (Virg.) dispatcher Jessica Camarillo called a reporter at WAVY-TV and asked for the opportunity to make a public apology for remarks she posted on a Facebook page last month. Camarillo’s posting suggested that the family of a man shot and killed by police should pay for the bullets that killed him, and other police response expenses. During the extraordinary TV interview at her apartment Camarillo explained that her posting was intended to “lighten the mood” of anger that was generated after the incident. In fact, the posting had the opposite effect, polarizing the community over the police shooting. At one point Camarillo became emotional, saying she truly cares about the people who call for help, and that she treats everyone equally. Her full posting stated, “I think the officers should sue the family for putting the officers lives in danger, making detectives work past the time they were suppose to get off, the gas it took for them to get to the scene, the bullets used, the hospital bills, the equipments needed for forensics, and making me work the channel instead of reading my hot sexy book…LOL.” The single mother told the reporter that she does not believe the family should pay anything, and said she does not read books during her shift. After learning of the posting, the city suspended Camarillo without pay, and recommended termination. Update: Questions have been raised whether Camarillo received appropriate representation and due process through the disciplinary process. Update:[click to continue…]