Salt Lake City (Utah) police chief Chris Burbank has provided a 12-minute tour of the city’s new public safety communications center, part of an on-going series of videos to improve citizen understanding of the police department. Along with comm center director Scott Freitag, Burbank explains how the center was constructed to replace a 50 year-old center, and to unify communications across law enforcement, fire and EMS. In the video, Burbank notes that technology is not the critical component of the new center. “I think the thing that’s most important—all the bells and whistles and incredible technology. But, it really is the people who make the difference.”
With public safety associations and the Federal Communications Commission rushing towards technology to allow texting to 911, a Wisconsin city is taking a different approach by allowing non-emergency texts to its main 10-digit telephone number. The new service allows residents of Middleton (Wisc.) to make a voice call or send a text message to the same police department telephone number, and receive information back directly from a dispatcher. Besides enhancing service for speech or hearing impaired persons, text messaging is now an option for the city’s smartphone users, and particularly for the city’s large college population. The system relies on technology from Zipwhip Inc. that taps directly into the nation’s mobile SMS network, and routes messages to and from 10-digit wireline phone numbers. The technique doesn’t interface or interfere with the wired phone line, but simply adds the number to the SMS network. On the sender side, text messages are sent using the same smartphone—or even dumb phone—interface. In the comm center, a dispatcher simply logs in via Web browser, and incoming messages pop up on-screen, just like mobile messaging systems. There are also apps that allow handling text messages from a mobile device like an iPad. In a press release, city officials noted that texts could help off-load telephone calls to the comm center about power outages, parade times, curfew hours and other routine events, allowing dispatchers more telephone time for more important calls. Find more information about Zipwhip here.
A Lakeland (Fla.) police dispatcher has been suspended during an investigation into how she handled a call from a woman reporting an officer was stalking her and tried to have sex with her. The officer was later arrested and has been charged with sexual battery and stalking. The incident is the second involving the city’s police dispatchers within the last three months, and has prompted the State Attorney to question if the police chief is capable of administering the department. The current incident also raises the question of how dispatchers should handle citizen complaints involving police officers, especially when the complaint appears to involve a crime. According to police, officer Julio Pagan met a woman at her home while on-duty and in-uniform, and attempted to have sex with her. The woman’s friend first called police to complain, but no officer was dispatched. Days later, the woman herself called, and logging tapes revealed the dispatcher laughed about the incident while giving another officer the woman’s information. Pagan is expected to be fired and faces prison time if convicted. The investigation into the dispatcher’s conduct is nearly complete, police say. In July several off-duty Lakeland dispatchers were involved in a bar incident during which suggestive messages were written on mirrors, and photos were posted on Facebook. Read more about the dispatcher’s suspension here, and about the woman’s calls to police here.
Owners of several Dodge vehicle models have been pressing a tiny button on their rearview mirrors, generating 911 calls directly to public safety answering points (PSAP) and leading to dispatcher confusion when they hear a recorded voice announce an emergency. An alert just issued by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) says the Uconnect 911 calls have been mistaken for robo-calls by some comm centers instead of potential emergency incidents. Other telematics systems, notably OnStar, don’t directly route calls to 911. Instead, the vehicle dials 10-digit number for a company-operated call center as part of a monthly, fee-based service. A staff of specially-trained operators screen, evaluate and forward only true emergencies to the correct PSAP. The Uconnect 911 calls are just one telematics feature of Dodge’s in-dash entertainment and information system that has been in free “trial” mode for over a year, but which will soon be sold for a monthly fee. According to APCO, when a dispatcher answers a 911 from a Uconnect vehicle, a “text to speech” message states, “This is an emergency call from —”, followed by the make of Dodge vehicle. The message then asks the dispatcher to press ether zero to talk with the vehicle occupants or “1″ to hear the spoken latitude and longitude of the vehicle. The message repeats, and automatically connects the vehicle occupants if the PSAP dispatcher does not press any buttons. “Please be sure to inform and train your telecommunicators as to the unique aspects of a Uconnect call,” the alert states. The association did not include any statement on whether they approved of the call delivery method. Read the entire alert after the break and an update from APCO issued Oct. 11, 2013. [click to continue…]
Dyersburg (Tenn.) dispatcher Gloria Spence answered a 911 call from a mother whose 1 year-old was choking and was starting to turn blue. Spence gave Carrissa Sanford instructions on how to remove the obstruction, and the boy recovered. Today Spence received a Medal of Valor from the department for her life-saving actions.
The family of a pregnant high school teacher who was killed on her way to a doctor’s appointment has sued the Stephenson County (Ill.) sheriff’s office, claiming a dispatcher failed to follow up on a motorist’s report of a missing stop sign, leading to the woman’s death. Sarah Kamp, 32, died when she drove through a rural intersection last May and struck another vehicle, just 16 minutes after a caller reported that the intersection’s usual stop sign was missing. According to the lawsuit, an unnamed sheriff’s dispatcher fielded the 5:51 a.m. call and told the citizen, “someone would be out there to take care of it.” Instead, the dispatcher handled other telephone calls and never made a call to the county highway department. At 6 a.m. the dispatcher went off-duty, and never notified the on-coming shift of dispatchers about the problem. The accident occurred seven minutes later. Highway department officials say they found the stop sign in a nearby field, apparently blown away by a severe storm the night before. A department head said crews routinely check county roads for safety problems after big storms. In this case, a highway crew was second on-scene at the accident because they were in the area checking the roadways. The lawsuit asks for $4 million and other damages. Read more about the incident here.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a pair of rules that would ease local restrictions on constructing new cellular facilities, and spur carrier competition to toughen their networks for disaster communications. In both cases, the FCC said the changes would improve emergency communications for the public through less regulation and improved network reliability. In the first Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC proposes to make public the percentage of cellular sites that are operational during and just after disaster, by individual carrier. Currently, the carriers report these figures, but they are not considered public. In a strange analysis, the FCC said more specifically that releasing outage data to the public would likely save one life every five years, producing an “annual benefit” of $1.82 million based on the “statistical value of life.” On the other hand, the extra cost to wireless carrier of reporting the data would be only $78,000, the FCC calculated. The Commission also tried to calculate the value of losing cellular service, but said, “We cannot know the value of being able to call more easily loved ones and friends,” or contacting first responders.
An investigation into claims of improper conduct by members of the FirstNet governing board has found no evidence that documents were improperly withheld, members met privately to make decisions, or that they failed to comply with legally established duties. In a 10-page report issued last Friday, FirstNet’s Special Review Committee put to rest allegations that have dogged the project to bring wireless broadband to every public safety agency in America. The project is about 18 months old, and is still in the early planning and administrative stage. Complaints were raised by Stark County (Ia.) sheriff Paul Fitzgerald at a FirstNet board meeting last April. He complained about secret meeting of board members, withheld financial information, conflicts of interest, and that some officials had been deliberately excluded from the early planning process. In May the board voted to investigate the complaints, leading to the formation of a special committee. Now, in its report, that committee said it reviewed documents and interviewed board members to determine that pre-meetings and bi-weekly telephone calls among board members, “did not constitute decision-making,” and were appropriate and legal. In fact, the committee concluded that these contacts among members did not even help move the board members to a consensus on the issues under discussion. As for withheld information, the committee found that it was instead delayed information, caused when refinements and changes were made to financial figures. The Special Review Committee noted that allegations of ethics and procurement violations were still being investigated, and will be addressed in a separate report. Download (pdf) the committee’s complete report here.
Charleston County (SC) sheriff’s investigators have arrested a 911 center calltaker on criminal charges after they found she took at least 45 telephone calls for servie since last January, but failed to enter information for a police or medical response. The arrest is a rare response to allegations of misconduct by a public safety dispatcher in the U.S. Dezerea Shelton, 27, was fired Sept. 5th, officials say, and now faces obstruction of justice and misconduct in office charges. She’s jailed on $40,000 bail. Comm center officials began an investigation earlier this month when a citizen complained that police never showed up when he reported a burglary in progress at a neighbor’s house. Police in Mount Pleasant said they were never notified of the incident. Logging tapes confirmed that Shelton fielded the man’s two 911 calls, but that no incident was ever entered into computer-aided dispatch (CAD) for dispatch to officers. Further investigation showed that Shelton had similarly failed to enter incidents for 45 other incidents dating back to Jan. 8th of this year. One incident was medical-related, and the others required a law enforcement response. No injuries were reported as a result of Shelton’s actions, officials said. The motive for Shelton’s inaction is unknown, officials said, and there seems to be no pattern to the types of calls she mishandled. Jim Lake, 911 center director, said supervisors are increasing their review of call reports to insure calltakers and dispatchers are properly handling telephone calls and incident dispatches. Earlier this month Detroit officials said they were considering criminal charges against two dispatcher who failed to promptly dispatch officers to critical incidents. Update: The Post and Courier newspaper did a follow-up on the situation, but no motive for Shelton’s inaction has been identified.
Friends and co-workers of a New Orleans (La.) police dispatcher are mourning her murder on Wedesnday night, along with her adult son and daughter. It was the second tragic death of a dispatcher at the center within the past week. Christine George, 39, was a four-year veteran of the center, and her death has significantly impacted the center, officials said. Police said George was shot and killed outside her home. Arriving police found her 18 year-old son and 20 year-old daughter shot and killed inside a nearby garage. Police have a person of interest, but have made no arrests. Grief counselors have been made available to 911 center employees, said Orleans Parish Communications District chair Terry Ebert. “This obviously impacts all the employees because that’s a very small group of people,” he told a reporter. Sadly, a second dispatcher died earlier this week in a traffic accident. Paulette Brown, 51, was a 32-year veteran of the agency and was enroute to work last Saturday when her car was hit by a suspected DUI motorist. Brown was taken off life support on Sunday, and died soon after. Her organs were donated to several other people. Read more about Ms. George here, and about Ms. Brown here. [click to continue…]
The mayor of Cleveland (Ohio) has disciplined the 911 calltaker who fielded a 911 call from one of three women who escaped 10 years of captivity and torture, saying he should have been more compassionate with the woman and should have stayed on the line as police responded. In a letter released last Friday, mayor Frank Jackson announced he has issued a written reprimand to dispatcher Jack Purdy, a four-year veteran of the city’s comm center. Jackson said he considered Purdy’s work ethic and minor disciplinary history when making his decision. “After speaking with you I believe that you understand how your actions violated (the center’s) policy and I am confident that you will learn from your mistake,” the mayor wrote. It was Purdy who answered a 911 from Amanda Berry last May, reporting that she had just escaped from the home of kidnapper Ariel Castro. Police arrived within minutes and rescued Berry and two other woman, and later arrested Castro. Last month Purdy waived his right to a formal hearing, and met with Jackson to discuss the allegations that he failed to follow comm center policies. During that meeting Jackson told Purdy that, “You could have demonstrated more empathy and could have been more compassionate in your dealing with Ms. Berry.” The mayor also noted, “Without question, you should have kept her on the line as I believe that that simple, required act would have enhanced her sense of safety.” Purdy agreed to plead “no contest” to the misconduct charges, and to accept whatever discipline Jackson decided to impose. Download (pdf) the mayor’s discipline letter for more details, and listen to the 911 call here.
In the face of continuing complaints about poor service at Detroit’s (Mich.) police communications center, and after two response delays that ended with fatal shooting, the city’s police chief has demoted the comm center commander and is considering criminal neglect of duty charges for the two dispatchers involved the murder incidents. ““Status quo, complacency, mediocrity will not be tolerated,” police chief James Craig said during a news conference yesterday. He announced that Cmd. Todd Bettison had been demoted to the rank of Inspector. He said both dispatchers who handled the incidents last week and in August had been suspended without pay. Craig has also ordered a complete review of comm center operations. The Wayne County prosecutor told reporters that criminal complaints had been prepared against the unnamed dispatcher in the earlier incident. However, the complaint was returned to police for more investigation. Craig took over as chief last July, but complaints about the comm center have been constant for at least a year before that. In the latest case, police said the victim’s daughter dialed 911 six times, and a Priority 1 incident was entered in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. However, a male radio dispatcher deliberately held the incident until after a shift change, even though officers were available to respond. Finally, units were dispatched 75 minutes after the first 911 call. By then, the victim was shot in the chest with an AK-47, but survived.
In response to high-profile medical incident in Bakersfield (Calif.) earlier this year, the California state legislature has passed a bill that prohibits employers from establishing a policy against employees providing CPR voluntarily. Assembly Bill 663 helps to extend the existing liability protections that ordinary citizens have if they voluntarily provide medical assistance to victims of an emergency. The bill was sparked by a 911 call from an independent living center last March reporting a woman had collapsed. The caller was a nurse employee of the center, and explained to the dispatcher that providing medical assistance was against her employer’s policies. On the logging tape of the call, a dispatcher repeatedly asked the nurse to begin CPR or to flag down a passerby to help. Later, the company that operates the center said the nurse misunderstood the policy on providing medical aid. The bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. Download (pdf) the bill and the legislative analysis for more details.
Antoinette Tuff is the type of person that every dispatcher should hope is on the other end of a 911 call. What’s more, Tuff is just the type of person you hope is calling when a mentally unstable man with an AK-47 walks into an an elementary school and begins firing off rounds. In fact, Tuff was the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discvoer Learning Academy in Dekalb (Geo.) last Tuesday when Michael Hill walked into the school’s entrance, and it was Tuff who dialed 911 for help. Over the next 24 minutes Tuff talked kindly to Hill, relayed information to Dekalb County dispatcher dispatcher Kendra McCray, and even used the school’s intercom to give students and teachers safety information. Meanwhile, scores of police surrounded the building, prepared to move but waiting on every bit of information that Tuff was providing to McCray. At one point Hill came outside the building and fired several rounds—police later said he was carrying 500 rounds of ammunition. Incredibly, as the situation dragged on, Tuff began telling Hill her own life story, complete with its serious ups and downs. At the end, she had him empty his pockets and take off his backpack. Police then entered the school and came to the office. Several shots were exchanged, but Hill was taken into custody without injuries. Listen to the entire amazing 911 call here. Update: Tuff and McCray were emotionally reunited on Anderson Cooper 360. [click to continue…]
A Cincinnati (Ohio) city council member has introduced a regulation that would require all dispatchers to be trained for emergency medical dispatch (EMD) before they can answer 911 calls. The amendment to the city’s employment regulations was sparked by a local TV reporter’s investigation of mandatory overtime in the comm center. Not all dispatchers are certified on EMD, and when a dispatcher must work overtime to fill an empty position, a non-certified may find themselves fielding 911 calls. “Never again,” vows council member Charlie Winburn, who introduced the proposed regulation. Read more here, and download (pdf) proposed regulation here. Watch a TV news report after the break. [click to continue…]