Broward should reject sheriff’s ultimatum on 9/11 | Editorial

Broward County Commissioners believe they have a fragile consensus on the county’s troubled 911 call center system. It’s fragile, all right.

At the final meeting on Dec. 6, all parties seemed willing to wait and assess whether recent improvements were working.At the request of Sheriff Gregory Tony, whose office runs the call center, commissioner Approve expenditure Nearly $5 million was spent to increase dispatcher compensation and hire more dispatchers.

At the same time, counties with the system have also implemented software upgrades. Commissioner Steve Geller told the Sun Sentinel editorial board that the system is now “state-of-the-art.” As Broward Mayor Lamar Fisher said, “I think we have a good relationship.” Apparently not.

County Executive Monica Cepero then wrote a letter asking Tony to approve a three-month extension of the 911 agreement between the sheriff and the county. The current agreement expires at midnight on Saturday, December 31st.

Tony responds with demands and ultimatums. He wants the county to correct system “deficiencies” by March 2023, as outlined by a statewide school safety commission formed after the Parkland shooting. If that doesn’t happen, Tony said, he will pay the county “on a monthly basis the actual cost of such services.”

It’s very irregular. The sheriff’s office has no taxing authority. Funding for the 911 system comes from the county budget in one way or another.

Part of the problem is the ongoing power struggle between commissioners and sheriffs over control of the system. Trying to force a decision over the holidays could be Tony’s attempt to gain leverage. If so, it won’t work.

The county is “ready to take over the call center” if Tony doesn’t back down, Fisher said. Tony is contractually obligated to run them month-to-month while the county looks for alternatives.

Geller agreed. “We’re not going to give the sheriff a blank check,” he said.

Tony noted that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chair of the school safety team and a widely respected law enforcement official, favored Tony taking control of the situation.

“I’m not surprised that Sheriff Pinellas supported Sheriff Broward,” Geller said.

We are at this point because of Sun Sentinel’s numerous reports About thousands of missed 911 calls, some of which deadly result. Based on this and other reports, the Commission decided to request Fitch & Associates to study the system.

An earlier study by the company in 2016 found serious problems with the system. The latest findings, in draft form, cite “a clear and convincing improvement in working relationships among key stakeholders”.

In addition, Fitch said the system “meets most of the eight key objectives identified by key stakeholders and local elected officials.” Still, the report made 10 recommendations, citing poor working conditions, An example is the call center at Coconut Creek.

Example: update callback technique. Commissioner Michael Udine noted that when the first call went unanswered, the callback did not recognize it as coming from 911. Therefore, people may not want to answer.

Udine said the structure of the system can slow things down. The management board that oversees it must approve the changes. It took two years to install the last communications tower for the system due to objections to its location in Hollywood’s Westlake Park.

Right now, the sheriff is the problem. Tony’s letter assumes his agency is above reproach. But as commissioners said, Tony brought up call center understaffing as a regular budget item, not an emergency.

There is also no evidence that the system would work any better if it were under the sheriff’s full control. Some large counties use private companies to operate 911 call centers, Geller said.

“I don’t want to politicize this,” Fisher said of Tony’s letter.

It’s too late.

Florida sheriffs can appeal to the governor and cabinet if county boards reject their budgets.One could imagine Tony taking control of the 911 call center as possible political leverage, but a nagging National Ethics Committee Investigation Tony’s lack of authenticity on official forms complicates politics.

All three county executives praised “Sun Sentinel” for uncovering long overdue issues. “Thank goodness,” Fisher said of the newspaper reports.

In a county notorious for factionalism and finger-pointing, mutual cooperation is the only way to make Broward’s 911 system work for the public. Sheriff Tony should walk back his threat to give the initial changes time to work.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Associate Editor Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. An editorial is the opinion of the board, written by one of its members or designee.To contact us please send email to letters@sun-sentinel.com.