A diligent Chula Vista (S. Calif.) police dispatcher tried to keep a 911 caller on the line after he confessed to fatally shooting his wife, and also tried to keep him from killing himself, but didn’t realize the caller had spoofed the ANI/ALI information and the call was a SWATing hoax. After three hours, police entered the condominium where the man said he was and found it empty. Police say the March 17th call was made with a VoIP connection and the ANI/ALI displayed the condo’s actual phone number and address. The call generated a significant police response, and included the lock-down of a nearby school. The caller, who said his name was Christopher, spoke softly and authentically. He hung up several times, despite the dispatcher’s request for him to stay on the line. He said his wife’s name was Jennifer, and said he’d also tried to drown her. The female resident of the house showed up at the scene during the incident to say she lived there with her fiancé and a roomate, and that she didn’t know who made the call. Now police have released logging tapes of about three minutes of the 911 call, hoping that someone will recognize the man’s voice. Read more about the incident here, and listen to the call here.
When Chancey Smith began loading ammunition into several firearms and talking about a murder-suicide, a friend dialed 911 to warn police that he intended to kill his ex-girlfriend. But despite the man’s call to a Lexington County (SC) 911 dispatcher, Smith finished readying his weapons and drove several miles to his ex-girlfriend’s house, where he shot and killed her, her 9 and 6 year-old children, and then himself. The 911 caller knew Peake’s name, but not her address, so deputies tried to intercept him before he left home or on the way. At one point a deputy passed the suspect going the opposite direction, but didn’t realize it. Now sheriff’s officials are piecing together the timeline of the incident to determine what happened between the 9:54 p.m. 911 call and the 10:11 p.m. arrival of deputies at Amanda Peake’s house. Read more about the incident and listen to the 911 call here.
As a 75-car train carrying tanks cars of flammable alcohol approached Rockford (Ill.) back in 2009, the locomotive crew hadn’t yet been notified that a 10-foot section of trackbed ahead of them had been washed away by heavy rains. In fact, passing motorists had noticed that the railroad tracks were hanging unsupported five feet above rushing water, and dialed 911 to report it to the Winnebago County sheriff’s comm center. But it was 62 minutes before the washout information was relayed to the train crew, at almost the same moment that 17 tank cars derailed and caught fire. A motorist stopped at a nearby crossing died when she tried to escape the growing flames. Now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has finished collecting factual information about the incident, and has posted it on-line for public review. It includes logging tapes, photographs and transcripts of interviews with Winnebago County sheriff’s and Canadian National train officials. Browse the collection of NTSB documents, including logging tapes and photos.
A Connecticut State Police dispatcher was arrested last month and charged with computer crimes after investigators allege she illegally accessed the state’s criminal justice database by running her mother’s name. Nataya Davidson, 31, was also reassigned to clerical duties at the Hartford barracks during an internal investigation. According to an arrest warrant, during a routine audit of criminal history inquiries made in June 2010, the state police discovered a request without the required supporting case number. When questioned about the inquiry, Davidson said she didn’t know why the name was run, but later said a trooper requested it. She provided a supporting case number, but investigators said that number was actually for a traffic stop that occurred the day before Davidson was initially questioned. Finally, she admitted running her mother’s name in connection with her mother’s arrest in 2009 on child endangerment charges. Davidson was released on bail and next appears in court this week.
Officials in Erie County (Penn.) say they will pay $54,000 in back pay to 54 current and former comm center employees in the wake of a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) investigation into overtime pay related to a 3×12 shift configuration. The pay ranges from just $48.36 owed to one employee, up to $2,167.33 owed to another. According to county officials, they obtained permission from the dispatchers’ union in Feb. 2009 to change comm center shifts from the standard 5×8 configuration to 3×12. The county-union agreement was that dispatchers would be paid straight time for all hours under the 3×12 plan. Dispatchers would not receive federally-required time-and-one-half overtime pay for time they would routinely work over 40 hours each week under the 3×12 shift plan. Last November the DOL received a complaint and began an investigation that confirmed the shift configuration, and that time worked beyond 40 hours had not been paid at the federally-required time-and-one-half rate. The DOL said that the dispatchers’ union may not waive the dispatchers’ right to overtime pay. Union officials said their negotiators must have been unaware of the overtime pay requirement, while county officials said were unaware of the shift change. Read more about the labor law issue here. [Editor: In general, a 3x12 shift configuration creates some overtime each week, requiring overtime pay. There are several types of 3x12 shifts, but you can see several examples here. View the DOL overtime regulations here, and download (pdf) a DOL opinion on overtime here.]
Over half of the 87 suspensions handed out by the Boston (Mass.) police department last year were to civilian dispatchers or sworn police officers in the communications center, according to records obtained by the Boston Globe newspaper. Most of the comm center discipline involved excessive sick leave and not showing up for work, the newspaper learned. Of the 161 civilians assigned to the comm center, 21 were disciplined for abusing sick leave or being absent without permission during 2010. The newspaper noted that several employees missed more than 30 days of work in one year. In 2009, one employee was out 81 days. Ironically, a BPD spokesperson praised the staff, saying most employee excel under very stressful conditions. Elaine Driscoll said, “Like any organization that employs human beings, the potential for human error exists, which is the exact reason why we have a very strong management and supervisory structure in place.” A union spokesperson told a reporter that comm center management is part of the problem, with uneven staffing for some shifts. Read more about the situation here.
A study sponsored by the Canadian government has concluded that public safety agencies in the country will need 20 MHz of spectrum in the near to mid-term to handle wireless communications needs, a figure twice that of what has been proposed in the United States, which has 10 times as many law enforcement officers. The consultant’s study for Public Safety Canada was based on various mobile broadband scenarios, each generating various bandwidth and speeds for current needs and out to 20 years. The consultant used LTE technology to model the spectrum needs and concluded: “to satisfy the needs of public safety to conduct their missions during commonly re-occurring major emergency situations with modern tools and applications is greater than 20MHz in the near-to-mid term, and likely to also exceed 20MHz in the long term, despite advances in technology.” The consultant determined that even with a full 20 MHz allocation, public safety, “will need to take measures to efficiently manage broadband data communications carefully during periods of peak demand.” The study presents alternatives, including increased spectral efficiency, lower intensity of the networks, and various compromises for a 10 MHz allocation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other groups are debating wireless broadband in the U.S., and are considering a 10 MHz allocation for public safety agencies. Download (pdf) the full Canadian report with a list of the scenarios and technical evaluation here.
Officials of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) say that neither a veteran officer or a dispatcher will be disciplined for an incident that allowed a convicted sex offender to drive away with a kidnapped girl after a car stop because an officer failed to receive key information about the driver’s criminal history. The 10 year-old girl had been kidnapped earlier from a shopping mall, and the suspect dropped her off unharmed at a fast food restaurant shortly after the police car stop. In a somewhat confusing account, RCMP officials said the 25-year veteran officer did request a records check of the driver, and the radio dispatcher did properly run the man’s name. The man’s conviction and sex offender status were displayed to the dispatcher during the records check, officials said, and were relayed to the officer via radio and his in-car laptop. However, the officer said he did not hear the “special interest to police” (SIP) portion of the radio broadcast, and the SIP information wasn’t “flagged high priority” when sent to the laptop, officials said. Had the officer know of the SIP status, he might have investigated further and detained the driver, officials said. Read more about the incident here.
Public safety agencies using Sprint Nextel‘s iDen push-to-talk service will be offered a substantial service upgrade later this year, but only if they upgrade to new CDMA handsets before iDen base stations are turned off in 2013. The company said the new push-to-talk handsets will be available in the fourth quarter of 2011, and will cover triple the area of the current service and improve in-building coverage “significantly.” Voice and data capacity, and data speeds will also increase with the new handsets. Sprint said the handsets will have “most” of the current Sprint push-to-talk features, and will include a rugged flip phone by Motorola and a smartphone by Kyocera. The devices will feature push-to-talk for up to 200 participants, what Sprint calls “Land Mobile Radio (LMR) interoperability,” and availability notification. More features, including international push-to-talk, will arrive in 2012, the company said. The company didn’t provide an exact date for unplugging the iDen network, but said it would occur in 2013, “as the customer base shifts to more broadband-centric push-to-talk applications on the CDMA network.” Nextel handsets and its push-to-talk technology have been adopted by thousands of public safety agencies in the U.S., both as a alternate and back-up for the agencies’ two-way radio systems. Agencies like the private and encrypted nature of Nextel transmissions, but critics note that communications are not recorded, there is a monthly, per-handset fee and that service quality is beyond a subscriber’s control. Read the company’s press release on the announcement here.
A national public safety communications group has voted to endorse the concept of a single, nationwide broadband network, instead of a so-called “network of networks,” saying a unified system would avoid duplication, overbuilding and unnecessary expense. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) voted earlier this month to back the nationwide network concept for building a future communications system for first responders and public safety comm centers. The group said the network-of-networks concept would require roaming, roaming agreements, separate subscriber fees, upgrade issues and other system incompatibilities. On the other hand, a nationwide network would have a consistent roaming procedure and fees, upgrades would be made nationally and there would be just a single user agreement shared among agencies. NPSTC has posted information (pdf) about its concept, including a press release, a slide presentation, a position paper, and conceptual drawings.
A new California law intended to provide some protection for 911 callers under 21 years-old who report people who need medical assistance because of alcohol intoxication, may require additional training by the state’s dispatchers. The law was prompted by several under-age deaths attributed to alcohol, usually during parties, and which were not reported by witnesses for fear they would be prosecuted themselves. Section 22667 of the state’s Business and Professions Code says anyone under 21, “shall be immune from criminal prosecution if”:
- The underage person calls 911 and reports that either himself or herself or another person is in need of medical assistance due to alcohol consumption
- The underage person is the first person to make the 911 report
- The underage person who makes the report remains on the scene with the other person until medical assistance arrives, and cooperates with medical assistance and law enforcement personnel on the scene
In this case, calltakers may need to ask more questions about the circumstances of the intoxication, including if anyone is under 21 years-old, the identify of the caller, and advice for the caller to stay at the scene. Download (pdf) a copy of the law here.
When a Florida pilot crashed his helicopter into the Florida Everglades last Saturday, his first telephone call for help went to a relative, setting off a confused and lengthy rescue, complicated by a dispatcher’s misunderstanding of geography. The incident points out the need for dispatcher training to interpret locations beyond street names and intersections, including latitude and longitude. Pilot Mark Palmieri was safely hoisted from the crash site by a rescue helicopter about five hours after his early-morning crash, seven miles from the nearest roadway. Although a Broward County sheriff’s spokesman claims his agency had only a “vague” location, sources say Palmieri eventually provided dispatchers with his latitude and longitude. However, the dispatchers misunderstood the format of his location—it was given in decimal format, but dispatchers believed it was in minutes-seconds format. The difference mistakenly sent rescuers several miles to the northwest to search desolate swampland. The sources also say there was also a delay in notifying the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as dispatchers contacted various other public safety agencies to assist. At some point the latitude-longitude mistake was discovered, and a helicopter crew that had been searching for the victim quickly located the crash site. Read more about latitude and longitude after the break. [click to continue…]
An investigation into the shooting death of an Orange County (Fla.) sheriff’s deputy found a series of procedural, tactical and performance errors by an anti-crime task force and sheriff’s dispatchers, but determined that none of the mistakes were directly responsible for the deputy’s death. Dep. Brandon Coates was shot and killed last December by the driver of a truck he pulled over as part of a anti-crime unit operation. In a report issued today by sheriff Jerry Demings, investigators learned the task force was using a radio channel that wasn’t monitored by dispatchers or other patrol units. After the shooting, the first notification came from neighbors near the vehicle stop who heard gunfire. The report also noted that dispatchers who fielded 911 calls reporting the incident did not immediately dispatch units to the scene, but instead skeptically questioned the callers, and tried to confirm by radio if any patrol units were on a car stop. Task force members had heard Coates call out the car stop, but since they were not monitoring the patrol channel, they did not hear the dispatchers’ inquiries. The questioning process added about three minutes to the response, investigators determined, and at least four patrol units were nearby the shooting scene and could have quickly arrived. Coincidentally, the comm center’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system crashed during the incident, further complicating the handling of the incident. [click to continue…]
The state of Tennessee could be the latest to make 911 calls entirely confidential, under a bill being considered by a legislative committee. State Rep. Mike Sparks (R) introduced the HB 1539 last month with the intent to protect victims of crime from retaliation, and callers from hearing their emotional incidents played out in the media. The proposed bill does provide paths to disclosing 911 calls—with written consent from the caller or by court order. Several states have laws that provide some measure of privacy of 911 calls, balanced with the public’s need to know that their communications centers are being properly operated. Download (pdf) the proposed law here, and a news story about the bill here.
In preparation for taking over as mayor of Lexington (Ken.), newly-elected Jim Gray commissioned a study of the city’s public safety agencies, and found that the city’s E911 center suffers from lack of training, recruiting difficulties, high staff turnover and position vacancies that create overtime. There is no funding for an improved radio system to fill in dead spots or meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) narrowbanding deadline in 2012, the report team found. The city’s police and fire department’s also received low marks, saying they had high overtime budgets, inadequate training and equipment problems. Download (pdf) the report section pertaining to the E911 center here, or the full report here.