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).
Under a law now being considered by the Florida legislature, a law enforcement officer who performs dispatching duties would be exempt from the state’s telecommunicator training requirements, which become mandatory on Oct. 1, 2012. It’s not clear what prompted the introduction of House Bill 783 by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R), who represents an area around the city of Naples. The bill is now being considered by a subcommittee. The state had no training requirements prior to 2008, but after the kidnap and murder of Denise Lee, the legislature passed an optional, unfunded certification law that requires 232 training hours of initial training, along with 20 hours of training every two years. In 2010 the legislature upgraded the law to be mandatory starting in 2012. The training must follow a curriculum (pdf) devised by the state Department of Education, and there are fees charged for certification. Read the training law here, and download (pdf) a copy of the proposed exemption law here.
Just 68 days into his second tour of duty in Iraq, Mark O’Brien was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and seriously injured—his right arm and leg were gone. But rehabilitation, family, friendship and a job as an Erie County (NY) sheriff’s dispatcher have put him back in the mainstream, handling 911 calls and radio traffic. He had intended to become a police officer after military service, but that became impossible. Sitting around at home and receiving state disability payments was also out of the question for him. “So this is kind of my way of being part of it. This is my way of helping people and I like the excitement of the job,” he told a reporter. He types incidents into computer-aided dispatch (CAD) one-handed, and wants no pity for his condition. Read O’Brien’s inspiring story here, and watch a video after the break. [click to continue…]
A calltaker for the Leicestershire (UK) Constabulary mishandled three 999 calls made in 2006 related to a murder, including two silent calls that never received a police dispatch. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) just issued its report about the murder of Joanne Butler by a neighbor, and said the police response was “wholly inadequate,” and particularly cited how the 999 calls were handled. The first two calls were from Butler’s apartment several hours before she was found dead, but no one was on the line. However, logging tapes revealed the sounds of an argument in the background. The calltaker classified the calls as “silent,” and no police officers were dispatched. Later, two other 999 calls reported Butler had caused damage to a neighbor’s car and that Butler was “psycho” inside her apartment. In the IPCC report, a commissioner criticized the calltaker. “He had the greatest awareness of what was happening and therefore the opportunity to ensure an appropriate response. However, he only made minimal efforts to do so,” the commissioner wrote. Read more about the incident here, and download (pdf) the IPCC report here.
It took Norwalk (Ohio) firefighters just three minutes to arrive at the flooded creek where Lisa Roswell’s car had been swept off the road and was now submerged in swirling water. Roswell had been able to dial 911 for help, and spoke to police dispatcher Tacy Bond as the car slowly sank into the muddy water and the connection was lost. By the time firefighters reached the car, Roswell had drowned. Now a logging tape of the call reveals that Bond was using PowerPhone protocol cards to handle the 6:05 a.m. 911 call from Roswell, but didn’t have one for “submerged vehicle.” As Roswell asked what to do, Bond could only tell her to wait until firefighters arrived to rescue her. Police chief Dave Light says Bond didn’t tell Roswell to get out of the car, fearing she would be swept away by the water. A PowerPhone spokesperson reviewed the logging tape, but said there were too many variables to draw a conclusion on what else the dispatcher might have done. He said the company’s newest computer-based protocols do include floating and submerged vehicle instructions for dispatchers. Read the entire store here, and a transcript of Roswell’s 911 call here. Also read one expert’s advice if you’re ever trapped in a submerged vehicle. (Video after the break) [click to continue…]
An oddity in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) geofile at the District of Columbia‘s comm center prevented a calltaker from entering the exact location of a fatal accident last month, delaying the arrival of emergency units by at least 10 minutes. Officials say the calltaker acted properly, and it’s not clear if the victim would have been saved by a quicker response. During a severe snowstorm, a tree along Military Rd. NW fell onto two vehicles. The driver of one vehicle dialed 911 and explained she was near Military Dr. and Beach Dr. However, those two roadways don’t physically intersect—Military goes over Beach via an overpass. Therefore, the intersection isn’t listed in the CAD geofile. The next-closest intersection is Military and 16 St. NW, and those two roads also don’t physically intersect, but are separated by an overpass. The calltaker consulted with a parks police dispatcher during the 14-minute 911 call from the victim, and eventually entered the location as Military and 14th St. NW, about ½-mile from the actual accident scene—those two streets do physically intersect. Teddy Kavaleri, interim director of the DC Office of Unified Communications, said the geofile glitch would be fixed. Read more here, listen to the call below, and check a map after the break. [click to continue…]
Two southern California men have been arrested separately for making thousands of hoax 911 calls to local dispatchers over the past year using uninitialized cellular phones. Maurice Cruz, 43, was arrested by California Highway Patrol officers and Secret Service agents at his home for misusing a 911 line. The CHP said Cruz had made 18,000 calls to 911 over the past six months, but the agency did not describe the nature of the calls. In an unrelated arrest, Orange County sheriff’s deputies arrested Israel Vasquez, 34, at his home in Stanton. They allege he made over 2,000 calls to 911 over the past year. If a male dispatcher answered, Vasquez would hang up. However, if a female answered, sheriff’s officials say he would launch into an obscene conversation. The record for hoax calls is still held by a Hayward (N. Calif.) man who made 27,000 calls starting in May 2007. John Treplette, 50, told police he called the number, “because it’s free.” Update: Vasquez later pleaded guilty to five counts of annoying or harassing 911 operators, and was sentenced to 21 days in jail and three years probation. He is in the country illegally and is eligible for deportation after his jail sentence.
In an unusual move, last year the District of Columbia council included employees of the Office of Unified Communications, where 911 calls are answered and incidents, in a furlough plan to help reduce a budget deficit. Most cities, counties and states that have furloughed employees exempt emergency workers, including dispatchers. The first furloughs hit last Tuesday, and now the dispatchers’ union claims just three dispatchers were assigned to answer 911 calls from midnight to 6 a.m. instead of the usual six, and that up to 200 calls were missed. District officials admit that seven of the usual 30 dispatchers were on furlough during that period, but say they’re unaware of any missed calls. The officials also said the center still answers 96 percent of 911 calls within 10 seconds, above the generally accepted standard of 90 percent. Read more here.
The small county of Cumberland (Tenn.) has generated some big problems after the directors of both the E911 District director and comm center resigned—a husband and wife team. Bill Hunter headed the E911 district and his wife Barbara Coffman-Hunter managed the comm center until Hunter submitted his resignation last month, saying he’d accepted another position. Coffman-Hunter resigned last Tuesday, saying she also would be following her husband to another state, and despite county officials asking her to stay until her replacement could be found. After Hunter’s resignation, the county committee overseeing 911 and the comm center received grievances from two dispatchers against Coffman-Hunter, one alleging wrongful termination in May 2010. The committee later rehired the involved dispatcher with conditions, a vote that was unanimous except for Hunter, who is a member of the committee. Read more about the grievances and personnel situation here. [In an e-mail to DM, Mr. Hunter provided additional information which was used to clarify certain details of the situation in this story.]
After hiding in an attic and fatally shooting two St. Petersburg (Fla.) police officers, Hydra Lacy Jr. continued to rain bullets down on officers who responded to the radio call for help, and later dialed 911 on a cellular phone to talk about surrendering. A report issued by the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office says Lacy hid when officers arrived last month to serve a domestic violence warrant, but his estranged wife gave up his location. When officers went to search the attic, Lacy began shooting, killing the Off. Jeffrey Yaslowitz, who had crawled up to handcuff him, and Sgt. Thomas Baitinger, who arrived with a rescue team. About 30 minutes after the shooting, Lacy made a three-minute 911 call, telling a dispatcher, “I’m coming out, but I just need to gather my thoughts.” He warned the dispatcher that he would shoot anyone who came into the house, including shooting Off. Yaslowitz, whose body was still in the attic. In fact, Off. Yaslowitz was already dead. Finally Lacy told the dispatcher, ”I’m getting ready to shoot, I’m getting ready to shoot,” and he hung up. After the 911 call, officers telephoned Lacy to arrange a surrender, but he refused. Lacy called relatives to say he did not want to go back to prison. Police eventually had a construction crew partially dismantle the house, and they found Lacy dead inside from several gunshot wounds. Download (pdf) the state attorney’s report here.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has named Beverly Bearden (right) as its Dispatcher of the Year for 2010 for her calm handling of a hit-and-run accident that involved a trooper, and also honored other dispatchers for district-level awards. The awards included veterans, rookies and one posthumous award. In Bearden’s case, she was on-duty when a trooper was struck and injured by a hit-and-run driver on last November. “Dispatcher Bearden remained calm and focused throughout the ordeal,” the Highway Patrol said in a press release. Bearden notified THP Command and Highway Patrol units, and alerted local law enforcement agencies that the trooper was enroute to the hospital. “Dispatcher Bearden kept everyone updated on his condition throughout the remainder of her shift.” Richard Dorning is a 34-year veteran and was honored for the Lawrenceburg district office. “Dispatcher Dorning has been steady in the radio room by providing gentle guidance as incidents begin to unfold and lives hang in the balance,” the agency said. Dispatcher Jonathan Isleman was a 12-year veteran of the Highway Patrol when last year he lost his fight with cancer. “Dispatcher Isleman had a desire to exceed all expectations and set a positive example for his co-workers. He even dispatched from his hospital bed,” the agency said. Read about all the honorees here. [click to continue…]
A Pennsylvania appeals court has reversed a lower court’s decision on whether incident locations are part of “time response logs,” and has ordered York County to release cross-streets or addresses in response to a request from a newspaper reporter for response time information. The court’s decision hung on the county’s dependence on a National Emergency Number Association (NENA) definition of “time response log,” and the state legislature’s intent when it passed a Right to Know Law (RtKL) in 2008. The state was among the first to strictly limit release of information from 911 comm centers, including logging tapes of calls, names, addresses and other personal information, both to provide privacy for crime victims and witnesses, but also to stem growing identify theft incidents. Shortly after the RtKL was signed by the governor, a reporter for The York Daily Record asked the county for three months of response time information to help determine the efficiency of emergency responses. However, 911 director Cindy Dietz invoked the state law to keep incident locations private, but did release incident times—call received, dispatched, unit enroute, arrived, unit available. The newspaper appealed and a Common Pleas court agreed that the nationally-accepted definition of “time response log” did not include locations. However, now the three-judge appeals panel has overturned that decision, saying NENA’s post-legislative definition does not take the place of the law’s original intent. In fact, the court noted that NENA’s own “Master Glossary of 9-1-1 Terminology” does not define the term. [click to continue…]