9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Negative Retention: Pattern of Complaints Spells Trouble for Comm Center

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, September 2014
Co-Written by Linda "Lin" Ford, APCO Life Member and a member of the North Carolina, Texas and Mid-Eastern Chapters.  She is a retired telecommunicator from Greensboro, N.C. and has been involved in public safety communications for more than 30 years.  She is a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee and a past APCO historian.  Co-written by T.G. Mieure, who is also an APCO Life Member and a member of the Illinois Chapter.  He has been involved in public safety communications for more than 40 years and is a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee.

Our case study this month is actually a combination of several incidents that came together resulting in the loss of life, a disclosure of major problems in a 9-1-1 center and the loss of two jobs.

The initial spark that began the fire-storm was a call for help from complainant Kristine Kirk to Denver Police Department 9-1-1, stating that her husband had eaten marijuana candy, started hallucinating and was asking her to get a gun and shoot him.  The calltaker entered the call for dispatch at 9:31.  The police dispatcher (a different person) then broadcast over the police radio the information:  "332 Adam.  2112 South St. Paul Street on a report of a domestic violence in progress.  RP versus her husband who's been smoking marijuana."

Around the same time, the calltaker who was still speaking with Kristine Kirk wrote: "Weapon in house--handgun."

By now the dispatcher has sent an officer on what was believed to be a routine welfare check.  At first there is no sense of urgency.  "Be advised they do have a handgun in the house, but it's not in anybody's possession," the dispatcher said over the radio.  Five minutes later, at 9:36, the calltaker noted:  "Husband talking about end of world/life."

It's clear from the records that the caller was scared by this time.  The calltaker even noted, "The children in room with door closed."  Then at 9:43, the calltaker wrote that Richard Kirk, the husband and suspect in the shooting, was in the safe getting the gun.  The calltaker also noted that they heard the wife screaming.

A minute later, at 9:44 p.m., there is nothing heard and the phone line is open.

The investigation that followed debated whether proper procedure was followed -- looking at why the dispatcher never aired over the radio what she was reading from the calltaker on the call screen.  On one of the radio reports, you can hear the first officer on-scene at 9:45 learning about what happened by reading the computer screen in his patrol car.

Officer:  "332 Adam."
Dispatcher:  "332 Adam go ahead."
Officer:  "Yeah, according to the notes he grabbed the gun and she's screaming and the line disconnected.  Can you speed up cover?"

By this time the officer was two minutes too late.  Police say Richard Kirk had already shot his wife in the head when they arrived, and that he admitted to pulling the trigger.

The question remains if officers had rushed to the scene as the situation escalated, would they have been able to prevent Kristine Kirk's death?  The dispatcher resigned under threat of being fired for failing to give verbal updates on the serious remarks from the calltaker and instead just letting the notes go to the mobile unit, which had apparently been reported to have a problem.

As a direct result of this tragic incident, the investigation revealed that 60 previous complaints had been filed against the agency on various charges.  The one most germane to this article involved a second dispatcher and not one but two homicides in which critical errors were made and never corrected or punished -- thus resulting in negligent retention of an employee and a massive lawsuit.

On April 1, 2012, Denver 9-1-1 telecommunicator Juan Jesus Rodriquez answered a frantic call from Ran Pal.  He said a group of men driving a Jeep Cherokee threw a beer bottle through the back window of his car and began yelling racial slurs.  Pal also told Rodriquez he thought the men had a gun.

The call transcript details that the victims were scared and in shock, but were able to get to an apartment complex in Wheat Ridge, seven blocks outside of Denver city limits.

"Yeah that's going to be...outside of Denver.  I need you to come back into Denver so we can take a report," Rodriquez told Pal.

Pal asked Rodriquez several times if an officer could come to the apartment because he was trying to recover from the attack, but the calltaker insisted that Pal go back into Denver to file a police report.  The investigation later revealed that Rodriquez could have sent a Denver officer to the apartment location outside of city limits.

The caller followed instructions, returned to Denver and waited at the intersection of West 29th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard with his hazard lights on .  The suspects in the Jeep returned before police could arrive.

After yelling "they're back, they're back," Pal told Rodriquez that his brother, Jimma Reat, was down.  "They hit Jimma," Pal said.

One minute after Reet was shot, Rodriquez dispatched an officer for the first time, more than 12 minutes after Pal called 9-1-1.

Rodriquez's 20-page termination letter said the telecommuicator failed to "decipher the situation" and despite the fact that the "caller stated six separate times that he was injured, in shock and didn't want to drive and needed time to recover," he still insisted the men return to Denver.  Rodriquez "showed a blatant disregard for the caller's health in your quest to have the caller return to the city of Denver," the termination letter states.

His termination also uncovered another complaint against Rodriquez in which he handled a call from a teenager who said he just killed his mother's boyfriend.  That call took place a little more than a month before Reat was shot and killed.

CALL ERROR, FEB. 29, 2012
The 9-1-1 call that spurred the first complaint against Rodriquez started with a juvenile caller admitting to have killed a man.  "He started to get aggressive and he forced my mom on the floor and I choked him out, but I don't know how long I choked him out for; I think I killed him," the caller told Rodriquez.

Instead of sending help, Rodriquez spent more than five minutes trying to get an exact address for the apartment building where the incident happened.  The 9-1-1 call recording shows that within 60 seconds there was enough information to dispatch help to an area indicated by the call screen.

Rodriquez asked the teenager to go outside to find the exact address of the apartment where he was located.  When the teen followed the instructions, the door locked behind him.  "I have to hop the fence because I'm locked out," he clearly says on the call.  After hopping the fence, the caller is asked to perform CPR on the man.

"Can you get close to him?" Rodriquez asked.  "No, I told you I choked him out," the teen responded.

This incident was also detailed in Rodriquez's termination letter from the comm center.  "At no point during the conversation did you actively listen to what the caller had to say or appear to understand that a homicide had ocurred."  It also said he "harangued" the caller with questions and had no appreciation for the caller's environment.

An investigation led by FOX31 Denver found that in the verbal reprimand for this call, Rodriquez's supervisor discussed scene safety, but allowed Rodriquez to return to work without any retraining."

These horror stories are real folks, as sad as it is to say.  It makes one stop and wonder how it happens with all of the training that is available, both for dispatchers and for supervisors.  Is the workload too great, the stress too high, the dedication and basic desire to serve and help people somehow slipping away in our busy world?  Accidents will always happen -- that is the way of the world, but with stories like the ones in this article that are preventable, surely the extra step of caution and attention is worth the effort.

1 comment:

  1. Great points and good examples. The calls happen so fast and these are a solemn reminder how important dispatching is and that quality matters in that small time frame. Makes me appreciate the good dispatchers even more so.