Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today's Sun

This in today's Port Charlotte Sun. My opinion at the end of article.

link: http://www.sunnewspapers.net/articles/edStory.aspx?articleID=437261

Legislature fails on 911 certification

OUR POSITION: Statewide, mandatory 911 dispatcher certification got pushed aside in the Legislature this session. Let's do better next year.

It's no surprise that a bill calling for mandatory training of all 911 emergency call center dispatchers in the state was sponsored by local legislators.

We in Charlotte, Sarasota and DeSoto counties are all too aware of the potential horrors associated with a breakdown of the emergency call system.

However, the passion to provide a higher level of public safety apparently becomes diluted with distance and time. It also can be hard to counterpunch past Tallahassee lobbyists. That's the way it goes in the capital.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who sponsored a Senate bill this year requiring state certification of all 911 operators, said the lobbyist for the state's emergency operators pushed hard for changes in the wording of the bill.

Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, who co-sponsored a House bill with freshman Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, told Sun staffer Ed Scott this week, "There are some lobbyists for the 911 operators who interfered with the process greatly."

The bill just didn't have the traction, or didn't get enough of a push, so it stalled in the final days of a session that concentrated so much on budget problems.

It was Kreegel who took the lead on 911 dispatcher certification last year in the wake of the murder of Denise Amber Lee.

By now, we know the story of how Lee was kidnapped from her North Port home in January 2008. A witness saw the 21-year-old woman struggling in a car with a man and called 911, but no officers were dispatched to the scene by the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office.

This mistake led to a campaign by Lee's family for greater accountability and uniform standards that might help restore confidence in a system that had failed them so badly.

Last year, Kreegel won passage for a bill that called for voluntary training, but it had no teeth and came with no funding, so it had little impact. This year, Roberson led the team effort, but still there was enough resistance and too many questions.

The bill will be back next year, and Kreegel thought the effort chances might smooth the path to passage. We hope so.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office insists its requirements for dispatchers exceed national standards. Sarasota County announced this week that its communications center had won certification from a national accreditation agency.

That's comforting, but we need to know that emergency dispatch has consistent -- and consistently high -- standards throughout the state. We have seen what can go wrong.

As Detert told the Sun, "It's unbelievable that something with this much common sense could not pass the Legislature."

Well put.

My opinion

Thank you, Charlotte Sun for keeping this story alive. It's extremely important not just for Charlotte County but for the whole state of Florida.

Thank you, Senator Detert, and Reps Roberson and Kreegel. God bless you for following your consciences by doing the right thing for the citizens of the state of Florida.

As most of you know the foundation has been traveling across the nation to tell Denise's story. So, many things went wrong and it's not just about training. From what I understand (and I've seen their training manuals for call takers and dispatchers) the CCSO does have an excellent training program. The problem the night Denise died goes deeper than training. They were not using the training they recieved and they were not using the technology they had at their fingertips. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Hopefully Denise's death has not been in vain and they are using their CADs properly now, the way they were trained to use them. Also, hopefully BOLOs are being monitored 24/7. But it shouldn't have taken Denise's death to accomplish this. Again, the best training and technology in the world are absolutely worthless, if they are not being used.

I am of the opinion that even the new legislation that was presented this year fell short of what we're fighting for. The proposed law that failed gave the sheriff's and police departments until 2012 to step up. Who wants to wait until 2012? Several people died in just the past year in Florida due to 9-1-1 mishaps, not just Denise! Also, it would have allowed them to be pretty much "grandfathered" in. Heh!

Well, if anything, we've been told and we believe now that this is a national issue. So, dear Florida, you can be a leader in this or you can continue to be embarrassed and neglectful of your citizens. People will continue to die so long as call takers and dispatchers are not held to a standard. People will continue to die in canals, trunks and cars as long as we're not using GPS in cell phones.

Just so there's no doubt about it, there is no way we're going to drop this! We'll fight even harder this year and we'll be even stronger. Also, the law we propose will be much stronger. We had a lesson in politics this past year and we're not going to shut up. We're that motivated.

Aside to Governor Crist: I hear you're going to run for senator. I do hope you look into this issue for the benefit of the citizens of Florida. You've avoided it so far like an expert dancer. But you will not be able to avoid it forever. And it IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO! Step out of the meetings with the lobbyists in Tallahassee and meet with what Bill O'Reilly calls "the folks". Meet with Nathan and hear his story. His mission is a noble one.

Again, a big thank you to the Sun.