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Officials of the Hamilton County 911 Emergency Communications District (Tenn.) have completed an investigation into allegations that dispatchers sent inappropriate chats using their computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software, and that the’ve suspended six employees and fired one. The district also released 8,764 pages of chat messages sent during 2001 that include expletives, four-letter words, racial terms and other expressions that officials describe as, “unbecoming in any professional business.” Dispatcher Teresa McIntosh was fired after the investigation, and the other dispatchers were suspended without pay from three to 28 days. McIntosh went public with the personnel actions in May, and told WRCB-TV that the messages were a way of “venting” by employees who were under stress and confined to a console. She also claimed that such chats and language were common practice, and that supervisors knew but took no action. District officials say the chat activity did not affect any dispatching operations or incident responses. Watch a news report after the break that includes some of the messages, and read the TV report. [click to continue…]

A senior Vancouver (Canada) police official retook the witness stand last Friday at a months-long commission hearing on a series of prostitute murders in the 1990s, and disputed previous testimony by a police dispatcher that officers were racist and sexist, and failed to properly investigate rape and missing women reports. Deputy chief Doug LePard said he listened to two telephone calls mentioned by former dispatcher Rae-Lyn Dicks and another civilian employee during their testimony last April, and that the calls were handled properly. The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was formed to investigate why it took over 10 years to identify and arrest a suspect in the series of 25 murders. Dicks told the commission that police routinely failed to properly investigate certain crimes. “This was a pervasive culture, within the ranks of male VPD officers, of a demeaning attitude toward women, people of other races and toward people less fortunate,” she told the commission. But at last Friday’s hearing, LePard said he located the logging tapes of a call mentioned by Dicks in her testimony, and found factual differences in what Dicks claims was said during the call and how the case was handled. In fact, LePard testified, the suspect was identified and convicted of rape. Read about Dicks’ original testimony here, and about LePard’s dispute of Dicks’ account here. Also read the transcript (pdf) of Dicks’ testimony, and written testimony (pdf) from other communications center personnel disputing Dicks’ claims.

The Toronto (Canada) police department has confirmed that one of their communications dispatchers fielded a call from a U.S. citizen warning them of an on-line video that appeared to show the torture and murder of a man, and even naming the suspect. A police spokesperson also said the calltaker properly referred the caller to Crime Stoppers, and didn’t take information from the caller or have officers investigate the video. Two days later, police say they found a suitcase containing the dismembered body of a unidentified man, and have now issued an international arrest warrant for Luka Rocca Magnotta, the man named by the caller. Police believe Magnotta may have already fled to France. The caller, Montana attorney Roger Renville, says he telephoned Toronto police last Sunday. He described the video and its content, asked for an email address to provide a Web link to the video, and gave them Magnotta’s name. However, Renville says the call taker wasn’t interested in viewing the video or obtaining the link so detectives might determine if the video was authentic. Read about Renville’s call and the murder case here.

The distinction of being a pioneer for building a state-wide public safety radio network is still weighing heavily on Pennsylvania, as officials consider spending another $68 million to improve reception, on top of over $400 million that’s already been spent. The Harris. Corp. radio network was approved by the legislature in 1996 and was expected to cost $179 million. But engineering and construction problems, and poor reception over the state’s diverse geography have increased the cost substantially. The system was the first large-scale use of OpenSky digital technology invented by M/A COM Inc., a factor that contributed to the cost of the system and its full implementation. Other states signed radio contracts with M/A-COM, but notably, New York state terminated its contract in 2009 over problems with their partially-implemented network. M/A-COM was later purchased by Tyco Electronics, which in turn was purchased by Harris Corp. in 2009. Read the long story about Pennsylvania’s on-going radio project here. Also read a follow-up story to the original newspaper account.

An on-going and nasty feud between left and right-leaning political bloggers has spilled over into the world of public safety communications with a rash of 911 SWATing telephone calls reporting critical incidents. The incidents expand the usual list of motives for making prank and malicious calls to comm centers, hoping to generate a heavily-armed law enforcement response to someone’s home. In these latest incidents, a convoluted group of political bloggers—including a convicted felon—has been trash-talking each other on-line for the past several months. Last week the dispute between Brett Kimberlin and several others bloggers hoping to expose Kimberlin as a criminal turned serious. Someone called the Macon County (Geo.) sheriff pretending to be blogger Erick Ericksen. The caller spoofed Ericksen’s unlisted home telephone number, and reported that he had accidentally shot his wife. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to investigate, but had been forewarned by Ericksen that such calls might be made, so the man and his family were unhurt. Days earlier, Los Angeles County (Calif.) deputy district attorney Pat “Patterico” Frey was also the victim of a SWATing call (story & logging tape). He is a frequent on-line critic of Kimberlin, and believes the call was made in retaliation for recent postings about Kimberlin. A third man in New Jersey was also reportedly the target of a SWATing call to local police.  SWATing incidents more commonly are made as pranks, albeit with the potential for dangerous consequences. Several past incidents have been investigated, and notable arrests have been made in Texas. So far, no one has been injured or killed as a result of the calls.

A Montgomery County (Md.) dispatcher who answered a 911 call and then fell asleep snoring, confused a second dispatcher who thought the snoring was a person having breathing problems. The unnamed dispatcher who fell asleep has now been put on paid administrative leave during an investigation. The incident began on April 4th just after midnight with a 911 call from a woman reporting that her husband was turning blue from a breathing problem. County fire chief Scott Graham didn’t fully explain, but apparently the call was routed to a dispatcher to provide emergency medical dispatch (EMD) instructions. However, after answering the call, the dispatcher fell asleep. The answering dispatcher then took over the EMD process with the woman, for whom English was a second language. During the six-minute call, the woman’s misunderstandings of the dispatcher’s questions, and the sounds of snoring confused the dispatcher who was providing EMD. At least twice the EMD dispatcher mistook the snoring for the patient’s breathing problem. Graham said that EMS units promptly responded to the incident, and the sleeping dispatcher didn’t contribute to a delay or any medical jeopardy. Read more about the incident here, and listen to the 911 call here. Update: Fire department officials say the involved dispatcher has been put on administrative leave pending an investigation. The dispatcher was a uniformed firefighter who was 17 hours into a 24-hour shift. [click to continue…]

The mayor of South Bend (Ind.) has demoted the police chief and fired the public safety communications center director after meeting with federal Department of Justice officials about telephone logging tapes, but his explanation of the incident is contradictory, and the statements of others raise questions about the mayor’s real motives for taking action. The situation began small, but has now swirled into a public controversy that includes the city council, the mayor, the DOJ, the press and teams of attorneys for all sides. The situation began in April 2011 when comm center director Karen DePaepe says she was performing a routine tape review,  and heard remarks on a recorded line that were inappropriate. The tapes haven’t been released and no one will characterize the inappropriate remarks, believed to be racial in nature. DePaepe reported the conversations to the chief, but nothing happened publicly until January 2012, when DePaepe was contacted by a federal investigator as a witness in an investigation about the tapes. Then in March, mayor Pete Buttigieg began a personnel action against police chief Darryl Boykins, and the city asked DePaepe to resign. However, DePaepe declined to quit, and was then fired—without the appropriate notice or paperwork, DePaepe claims. Since then Buttigieg has refused to explain the matter, saying only that the DOJ officials were threatening to file criminal wiretapping charges DePaepe. Other sources dispute that the DOJ intended to file charges, and that the agency never trades personnel actions for the prosecution of a federal criminal case. DePaepe’s attorney said DePaepe is considering a federal lawsuit over her firing. Read a timeline here, DePaepe’s account of the incident to a reporter here, and Buttigieg’s justification for the personnel actions here.

A lengthy newspaper investigation of Los Angeles Fire Department dispatch times shows that fewer incidents are being dispatched within a 60-second standard over the past five years, leading to a 26 percent increase in call handling times for medical incidents. The Los Angeles Times study of 1 million incidents determined that it took an average of one minute and 45 seconds to dispatch a medical incident last year, compared to just 1:23 in 2007. The city’s fire department now dispatches incidents within 60 seconds only 15 percent of the time, compared to 38.5 percent in 2007. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the dispatch times began turning worse in 2008, at about the same time the city and departmental budgets began to squeeze staffing at the fire department and its communications center. The newspaper’s figures add to an existing controversy over overall fire department response times that erupted earlier this year. A candidate for mayor questioned how the fire department calculated response times, and LAFD officials admitted they were using a six-minute performance goal, one minute longer than the nationally-accepted five-minute goal. [click to continue…]

A Hamilton County (Tenn.) dispatcher who was fired for misusing the comm center’s computer chat system says she was singled out during the investigation, and that supervisors never told her what she and other dispatchers were doing was against policy. Teresa McIntosh worked at the Hamilton County 911 Unified Emergency Communications District, and was among 11 dispatchers disciplined for using the chat system for personal communications that included “disrespectful, mutinous, insolent or abusive language.” McIntosh spoke to a WRCB television news reporter about the incident, and said supervisors have known about how dispatchers were uing the system “for a long time.” She admitted the chat messages included conversations about favoritism among supervisors, including racial preferences. “There were those, both black and white, who agreed that there is favoritism with the supervisors,” she said during the interview. “As far as respect, I have given as much respect as I received,” McIntosh said. The comm center apparently does not have a specific policy on using the chat system, but disciplined the dispatchers under general provisions of the district’s Code of Conduct. Read more about interview here, and watch the video news report after the break. Update: KCCB-TV has learned more information about the situation, including the involved dispatchers’ personnel files. [click to continue…]

A Denver (Colo.) 911 dispatcher has been fired for mishandling a 911 call from the victim of a road rage incident who was later murdered when he returned to the scene of the incident at the dispatcher’s instruction. The unnamed dispatcher had been on paid administrative leave during an investigation of the April 1st incident. The family of victim Jimmy Reat said they are still upset about the incident, but feel the city appropriately fired the dispatcher. Reat was involved in a road rage incident in suburban Denver, and then drove home a short distance to Wheat Ridge to report the incident. However, the Denver dispatcher told Reat he would have to return to Denver to report the incident to police. When Reat and three friends arrived in the area of the incident, they waited in their parked car for police. However, the other person in the incident drove by and opened fire on Reat and his friends. Reat was fatally injured. The suspect’s vehicle was later found, but was determined to be stolen. No suspect has been arrested. Carl Simpson, executive director of Denver 911, said the dispatcher should have contacted Wheat Ridge police to coordinate taking a police report. “I will tell you we didn’t do our best work that night,” Simpson said. Read more about the firing here.

An analysis of a Tucson (Ariz.) father’s 911 to police shows that his 6 year-old daughter was not kidnapped, according to a Web blogger, but the analysis falls short of concluding what really happened to the girl. Isabel Celis disappeared from her room during the night of April 21st, and her father Sergio dialed 911 about 8:48 a.m. the next morning. “I need to report a, uh, missing child,” Celis told the calltaker. At one point Celis appears to laugh or chuckle, and throughout his demeanor is calm and detached. The father’s 911 call has generated public debate about the fate of the girl, and even speculation the father is involved in his disappearance. On a Web site devoted to the practice of “statement analysis,” blogger Seamus O’Riley looked at the words that Celis uses in reporting his missing daughter, and also outlined how 911 calls in general can be analyzed. For example, he says repeated use of the word “and” indicates missing connective information, and the word “just” should be used when comparing two or more thoughts. Read the statement analysis of Celis’ 911 call here (transcript, pdf), and O’Riley’s conclusion that the incident was not an abduction here. Also ready O’Riley’s remarks on caller emotions during 911 calls here.

When a Gilbert (Ariz.) dispatcher answered a 911 call last week, she was immediately swept into an horrific murder-suicide that took five lives, with the lone survivor on the phone hiding in a bedroom and sobbing uncontrollably. Over the next eight minutes the unnamed dispatcher worked to obtain information from the 19 year-old caller, whose mother, sister and two other relatives lay dead at the front of the house of gunshot wounds. Also dead was Jason Ready, who killed himself. On the dramatic logging tape of the call, the dispatcher tries to balance the safety of the caller and the need for information as officers arrive. The dispatcher’s questions move from basic to specific, eventually leading to what Ready looks like and what he’s wearing, as officers arrive and need to confirm the shooter is dead. The call ends as it began, with the caller crying and sobbing, being led from the house by an officer. Listen to the daughter’s 911 call here, and also a dispatcher’s call-back to a neighbor who dialed 911 to report that he heard gunfire.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has released a consultant’s 134-page report critical of the city’s $2.1 billion 911 calltaking system—after a judge ordered its release—and critics immediately said the original document had been heavily edited by the mayor’s office to delete even more criticism by the consultant. The report confirmed what critics and even the city’s auditor have said previously about the system, including poor call handling by calltakers, lack of standard calltaking policies, poor performance analysis, and a lack of complete integration of the city’s public safety communications. The analysis by Winbourne Consulting LLC also clearly demonstrates the complexity of creating an effective and efficient emergency response system in America’s big cities. The report was ordered after response probles to the 2010 blizzard that hit the city. However, after Winbourne delivered the report to the city last year, Bloomberg refused to release it to the public, saying that its release would inhibit his administration from making decisions on the recommendations. A state judge disagreed with Bloomberg’s position and last month ordered him to release the report. Last Friday Bloomberg’s office released only paper copies of the report, and said it was the complete Winbourne analysis. However, the city firefighters’ union and other critics claim the as-delivered report was 216 pages, and that pages were removed. City officials have denied that claim. [click to continue…]

Ready or not, public safety comm center will begin receiving 911 text messages from some Verizon Wireless customers starting early next year, the company has announced. In a press release last Thursday, Verizon said it has selected TeleCommunications Systems Inc. to “participate in an initiative” to allow its cellular customers to send SMS text messages requesting emergency assistance. The press release did warn its customers they should, “always first try to contact a 911 center by making a voice call,” but said SMS text messages, “will offer an alternative for customers on the Verizon Wireless network who are deaf or hard of hearing and cannot make voice calls or who could be placed in additional danger by speaking.” Verizon spokesperson Marjorie Hsu described Verizon as, “at the forefront of 911 public-safety innovations.” However, Hsu did also not describe the many identified problems with using text messages to transmit emergency messages, including no intelligent routing, no guarantee of delivery, no guarantee of timely delivery, no acknowledgement to the sender, and no location data sent with the text message. There are just a handful of comm centers now accepting text messages sent to 911, and there are no standardized policies and procedures for handling emergency text messages. Some comm center managers are afraid 911 text messaging will dramatically increase the number of prank and accidental messages to comm centers. Read a comparison of a 911 voice calls and 911 text messages here, and on that Web page also download (pdf) a study of text messaging limitations written by an independent group.

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has waived its long-standing narrowbanding mandate, but only for public safety agencies that will eventually have to vacate T-Band frequencies under new legislation. The ruling last Thursday means that cities that are assigned 470-512 MHz frequencies can now focus their time and money on moving to other frequency bands—possibly 700/800 MHz—and not on the process of upgrading their radios to allow narrowband transmissions. The FCC issued its original narrowbanding orders in 1995, and set a deadline of January 2013. The order requires users of 150-173 MHz and 421-512 MHz frequencies to move from 25 kHz-wide channels to 12.5 kHz channels. For medium and large-sized users, the process can be time-consuming and expensive, especially since the radio systems must be in continuous use. The narrowbanding process has been complicated by passage of tax legislation in February that also funded a nationwide public safety wireless network, but also mandated a give-back of the T-Band spectrum. In its waiver last week, the FCC acknowledged the dual requirements for T-Band users that the legislation crated: narrowband by next January and vacate about nine years later. “Continuing to require narrowbanding could force many licensees in the band to invest in narrowband systems that may subsequently have to be relocated,” the FCC noted. “We conclude that it would be inequitable and contrary to the public interest.” The commission said it’s still committed to a “timely” transition to narrowband technology relieve spectrum congestion, and will consider how long waiver relief should remain in effect. Download (pdf) the FCC’s order and read a news story about one agency’s reaction.