A 14-year veteran Bexar County (Tex.) sheriff’s dispatch supervisor has been arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and accused of running the criminal histories of potential partners in a drug smuggling operation in which she was involved. Agents arrested Barbara Villareal, 44, her husband and a neighbor, and recovered 800 pounds of marijuana from a tractor-trailer. Her arrest affadavit also said Villereal had used her position to warn her drug partners when law enforcement officers were operating near their stash house. Villareal was jailed, but then posted $50,000 bond. The sheriff’s department put her on 10 days paid leave, and a spokesperson said they would immediately begin termination actions.
The November election of Pittsburgh (Penn.) city council members includes Independent candidate David Schuilenburg, 33, who lives in Summer Hill and works there as a dispatcher. Interestingly, he can run for office as a Canadian citizen living here as a permanent resident, but he can’t vote for himself on election day. Schuilenburg opposes the “old guard” on the city council, and his Web sites promotes, “Decreasing the cost of local government & doing more with less, all while maintaining or improving end services to the local tax payer.” Read more about his campaign here.
The FCC has ruled on one of the first 800 MHz rebanding disputes, saying that Sprint-Nextel is not required to pay for drive-testing that the state of Maryland had requested as part of replacing its two 800 MHz radio systems. The state operates a network at two airports, and for its port authority, totaling about 333 users over six sites. Both sides conducted the FCC-established negotiations without an agreement, wen to mediation, and the matter then ended up in the FCC’s lap. The FCC wrote, “Sprint bears the burden of proving that Maryland’s relocated facilities are ‘comparable’ on their new channel assignment,” while the state, “bears the burden of proving that the funding it has requested for relocation is reasonable, prudent, and the ‘minimum necessary to provide facilities comparable to those presently in use.'” The state wanted Sprint to pay for reception testing that involves driving the county, but Sprint said the state’s radio systems are not complex enough to require such testing. The FCC agreed with Sprint. Download (pdf) the decision here.
Madison County (Ken.) and and the cities of Berea and Richmond are discussing a joint public safety comm center, but in the midst of a political campaign, it’s difficult to pin down incumbent and out-going politicians on the issue. There’s also the issue of where the consolidated center might be located and who administers the center. Richmond commissioner Mike Brewer told a reporter, “”We still hold in our minds that we are going to be in charge of our communications. We’re not interested in really turning it over to a 911 board who makes the decision on who gets hired or fired. We are responsible for the money and the people that are there and for what occurs in our communication center and it should stay that way.” Read more about the debate here.
The city of Pembroke Pines (Fla.) has been debating whether to stay with the Broward County Sheriff’s comm center or break away and create their own center to steamline operations. Now the city commissioners have voted unanimously to make the move, creating their own center staffed with their own dispatchers. Funding is still an issue–the county collects the monthly 911 surcharge, and the commissioners don’t believe the county will hand over the approximately $900,000 a year that it collects from the city’s telephone subscribers. A sheriff’s spokesperson said the county commission would have to approve any changes in how the 911 surcharge is spent, including appropriating it to the city.
Broward County (Fla.) sheriff’s deputies arrested an unnamed teenager on charges of impersonating an officer and making a false bomb threat. The youth alledgedly telephoned the county’s comm center and told a dispatcher he was a Florida Highway Patrol dispatcher. He reported an explosion at a location on the Florida Turnpike and asked for the sheriff’s bomb squad to respond. To back up his claim, he also told the dispatcher that FHP had received information about a possible bomb in a package at the sheriff’s headquarters. Apparently dispatchers were unconvinced that the caller was a dispatcher, called FHP and determined no explosion had occurred, and then FHP-Orlando called saying they had received a similar call. The teen was traced to his home in Hialeah (Fla.) and arrested.
Montgomery County (Penn.) will spend $1 million to install silent alarms in all 660 of the county’s public, private and parochial schools, linked directly to the county’s public safety comm center and dubbed the Countywide Law Enforcement Alerting and Safety System (CLASS). County commission chair Thomas Jay Ellis said the plan was sparked by the murders in Lancaster County at an Amish school. He admitted that the panic buttons and alarms would not deter or prevent violence, “but will give us more time, should such an event occur–more time for our emergency personnel to respond and hopefully save lives.” The commissioners said CLASS would be developed with the intention of expanding it to include additional features, such as wireless transmitters, or a direct, two-way communication system to allow the comm center to communicate with schools about current situations. The county hopes to have the panic alarm systems installed by the fall 2007.
Broward County officials have released the audio logging tape of a 911 call made by the made who was jabbed in the chest by a stingray that jumped into his fishing boat. James Bertakis was fishing with his grandaughter and her friend when the attack occurred, and he managed to dial 911 and explain what happened as he piloted the boat back to shore. EMS units met him and transported him to the hospital where he underwent successful surgery to remove it. “A stingray jumped in the boat. It hit me,” Bertakis told the calltaker. “OK. Where did it sting you at, sir? Where did it sting you at?” the calltaker asked. “In the chest — right by my heart!” Watch a video report that includes some of the audio here.
The problem of 911 abuse isn’t limited to America’s biggest cities, as dispatchers in Barron County (Wisc.) have discovered. They say that children are using unregistered cellular phones to make prank 911 calls. Sheriff’s offiials believe that the phones are those that parents no longer needed, and handed off to their children to play with. Communications supervisor Gay Radosevich dispatchers are fielding calls from six individual phones a day, and sometimes 15 calls from one phone. A sheriff’s department press release reminds citizens that even un-subscribed phones can still dial 911, and to properly dispose of the phones. Most cellular carriers have recycling programs, they noted.
El Cajon (S. Calif.) elementary students Kenny Hartaway and Briana Espinoza were honored by the 9-1-1 For Kids program for dialing 911 when their mothers fell ill in separate incidents, but recovered when EMS units responded. “My mom is dying,” said the 6-year-old Hartaway when he dialed 911 after his mom suffered a diabetic seizure. told an emergency dispatcher at 5:03 a.m. Aug. 31, as his mom was having a diabetic seizure. In the other incident, 11 year-old Briana Espinoza told a dispatcher her mom was having breathing problems. Briana was awarded a new bicycle during ceremonies, and Hartaway received a Sony PlayStation 2.
Congrats to Knox County (Ohio) 911 dispatcher Leslie Orr for answering a 911 line at 2:16 a.m. to find a father-to-be saying that his new baby was arriving quickly. Orr gave the man instructions to deliver the baby on the floor of the bathroom. He later told a reporter about Orr, “She made us feel like we could actually do it, and she was very calm. I never heard any panic in her voice so I felt like we could do it.” Read more and see a photo of the happy group here.
Prince George’s County (Md.) officials have put three dispatchers on paid leave while they investigate how they handled a 911 call from a man who was shot and killed shortly after hanging up. Raymond Brown, 36, dialed 911 about 2 a.m. to report his car was being towed from his home, and two dispatchers and a supervisor assummed it was being repossessed, police admit, and told Brown to call back later. Brown hung up, but followed the tow truck in another vehicle, and was then shot and killed by someone in the truck, police say. Police are still investigating the murder, and say their internal investigation might take a week to complete.
The benefits of Phase II wireless E911 were demonstrated by a 911 from a South Carolina motorist trying to report what sounded like a serious crime. A woman was flagged down by a child along the road, saying her mother was being “raped” by the husband in a nearby vehicle. The motorist was near the Hoke-Cumberland County boundary, which also defines the city limit of Fayetteville. The cellular call was answered by a Hoke County dispatcher, who questioned the woman, and then transferred her to a Cumberland County dispatcher, who again questioned the woman. Finally, she was transferred to Fayetteville police, who responded to the scene. Hoke County officials say they handle 10-12 calls a day on 911 that they must transfer to the Cumberland. Read more about the incident here.
One of the last independent public safety comm center in Allegheny County (Penn.) will close and operations folded into the county’s comm center after the Tarentum borough council voted to make the move. The town of 5,000 residents is now spending $317,000 a year to operate the center, at the same time that residents are paying $1 a month to a surcharge fund that goes straight to the county center. No word on what will happen to the borough’s three full-time and several part-time dispatchers after the closure.
A contradiction has arisen in Omaha (Neb.), where police are telling residents to dial 911 to report violations of the the smoking ban at businesses that serve food or alcohol, but they’re considered low-priority incidents. PIO Sgt. Teresa Negron told a reporter, “”[It’s like] any other crime that happens in any city — if somebody sees a crime happen, they can call 911 and report it.” She said that during the first week dispatchers handled about 10 calls related to the new smoking law. “Calls concerning the smoking ban were not high-priority calls, so we have a system in place that calls that come in and have a higher priority will be handled.”