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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.

The city of Rochester (NY) spends 60 percent of its budget on wages and other personnel costs, including $133,200 paid to a single dispatcher during 2010, more than even the city’s mayor made. Dispatcher James Felice boosted his usual salary by earning $80,000 in overtime last year, despite the city’s attempt to reduce overtime and make other cutbacks in the face of a $50 million budget deficit. Besides Felice, 113 other city employees made over $100,000, payroll records note. The city’s 911 center tallied 27,000 hours of overtime during 2010, paying out about $1.1 million. The center expects dispatchers will work 24,000 hours of overtime during 2011. Director of emergency communications John Merklinger says Felice logged over 2,200 hours of overtime during both 2009 and 2010, more than the 2,048 hours of regular time he worked. “The reality is, it’s cheaper to pay that overtime than to hire temp employees and pay the benefits and everything else,” Merklinger told a reporter. He said overtime is offered on a first-come, first-served basis, and the city can’t limit how much overtime a dispatcher may work. He added that the center is understaffed because 10 employees were working on computer upgrades. Read about the payroll situation here.

A Pascagoula (Miss.) police dispatcher was arrested on Friday after a month of surveillance, and charged with possession of child pornography. William Brushaber, 23, was arrested by Jackson County sheriff’s deputies without incident. He has been suspended without pay from his job, sheriff Mike Byrd said. Deputies from the Internet crimes task force searched Brushaber’s residence during the investigation, Byrd said, and seized his computer. He was booked into jail on $10,000 bond, and faces from 5 to 40 years in prison if convicted, Byrd said.

The public safety director of Lorain (Ohio) has fired an officer for acts of “dishonesty, misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in office,” apparently associated with his relationship with one of the agency’s dispatchers. Director Phil Dore made the decision after an internal investigation of officer Zachary Iannantuono in 2009 and 2010 found that failed to follow several departmental policies. According to the department’s investigation, Iannantuono had a relationship with dispatcher Adrianne Nieves. During 2009 the two had off-duty conflicts, and the department ordered Innantuono to have no contact with Nieves. While on-duty in 2010, Innantuono made a traffic stop on Nieves as she left the department’s Christmas party, then followed her after the stop and surveilled her. The investigation found he then tried to pull over another dispatcher who was driving to pick up Nieves, but instead pulled over an uninvolved citizen. Afterwards, he found the dispatcher and pulled her over on the pretext that she was intoxicated, the report says. Dore said Innantuono failed a polygraph test related to the Christmas incidents. Read more about the situation here.

The Clinton County (Iowa) Sheriff’s Office has released logging tapes made from a rural farmhouse last Monday, documenting the last minutes of life of a mother and one of her children. Taren Burris, 26, dialed 911 just after 8 a.m. to report the house was filled with smoke, and followed the instructions of a sheriff’s dispatcher to stay close to the floor. At one point the dispatcher asked if she could break a window to escape, but Burris said she couldn’t see or find the window. Seven minutes into the call, Burris went silent, and two minutes later firefighters arrived on-scene and began searching for her and her 2 year-old son. Firefighters found both on the second floor of the smoke-filled house—neither survived. A second child managed to run from the house and he also dialed 911. Listen to the 911 call and the various radio channels here (#1 the son’s call, #2 the victim’s boyfriend, #3 Burris, #4-47 other calls and radio traffic).