Thursday, June 12, 2008

911 supervisor demoted for mishandling call

A Denton, Texas police communications shift supervisor will be demoted and two officers will receive discipline in connection with the mishandling of a 911 call that left a man lying unconscious in the street for 17 minutes before help arrived.

Police Chief Roy Minter said that although the victim’s condition turned out not to be life-threatening, the dispatchers didn’t know that and the situation could have had serious or fatal consequences. “This was a very serious situation that was handled very poorly by several people,” Minter said.

He said he has forwarded his recommendations to the city’s human resources department to suspend a call-taker for one day without pay. He has recommended the employee who was dispatching the calls receive a written reprimand.

The disciplinary action stems from a 911 call in the early morning hours of April 20. Willie Hudspeth was walking when he saw a man lying unconscious on the street. The man was not moving and didn’t appear to be breathing. Hudspeth called 911.

According to the 911 tape, Hudspeth explained the situation to a call-taker and asked for help. He was told someone would come, but he waited a long time. He called 911 again. He was told the call-taker would “get right on it.” According to the tape recording, he asked three times for the woman’s name but she avoided answering him.

Seventeen minutes after the initial call, an officer arrived and used a procedure to rouse the man to consciousness. He was obviously intoxicated, according to a police report. He was checked out by paramedics and taken to jail on a charge of public intoxication.

Hudspeth called to complain, and Minter started an investigation. Hudspeth said he believed the way the call was handled stemmed from the incident’s location in a part of town mostly inhabited by minorities. On Tuesday, Minter said the investigation showed him that the location was not the cause of the problem. It was human error, he said.

The suspension of the dispatcher who took the call was based first on her failure to identify herself when she was repeatedly asked her name, Minter said. Her second error was in the way she coded the call for dispatch, which should have been a medical emergency but was instead coded “welfare concern,” a much lower priority.

“She knew it was more serious,” Minter said. “She admitted during an interview that she told the dispatchers, ‘This call needs to go.’” The employee who dispatched the call had no reason not to act immediately, Minter said. “He had four units in service, and he didn’t send them,” the chief said. That employee should have either questioned the call-taker or realized by looking at the notes passed along to him that the priority needed to be upgraded.

“The lead operator was in the room when the initial call came in,” Minter said. “The dispatcher informed her that Hudspeth was upset and gave some details of the call. As shift supervisor, she should have looked at the call notes and asked questions.”

When she was later asked about giving her name to callers, the shift supervisor stated, “I don’t,” Minter said. That is contrary to the department’s policies and procedures.

“The other thing I looked at is the lead operator was aware of the incident and the response time and the fact that Hudspeth was upset and never advised the manager in charge of the communications section,” Minter said. “The first we knew was when Hudspeth called.”

Additionally, Minter has issued three orders to take effect immediately. First, dispatchers will identify themselves each time they answer a 911 call. Then, lead operators will review each call and make sure it is coded properly for quickest dispatch. And third, every dispatcher will re­ceive additional training on customer service and coding calls, he said.

Hudspeth said he was disappointed in the reaction of paramedics who ar­rived on the scene, however. The police officer had roused the man and they did not have to work on him. “But they stood around for a while and joked and laughed.”

“That’s the behavior my side of town has received for years,” he said. “What Chief Minter has done helps me to change my feelings and thoughts about the police department. He’s going to deal with everybody equally. The fire department is still way behind.” (info from Denton Record-Chronicle)

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