When someone loses their job for making a mistake it is one thing.
But when someone loses their job for allegedly making a mistake that causes someone to die and it is printed on the front page of the local newspaper, there better be some very compelling evidence.
The director of the Leon County Consolidated Dispatch Agency (CDA), Tim Lee, was on the job for less than 12 months when he made the decision to fire three veteran dispatchers for failing to relay information to emergency personnel who responded to a call at 3722 Caraccus Court.
The decision to fire the employees was made after an internal review conducted by Mr. Lee himself, less than 30 days after the event.
On December 15, 2014 Mr. Lee told the Tallahassee Democrat that the “dispatchers were trained to relay information – which popped up as it was supposed to on the right side of the screens – but for reasons he could not explain each failed to click on the alert.”
However, new information contained in the City of Tallahassee Audit of the CDA, completed 3 months after the firing of the dispatchers, indicates Mr. Lee failed to include information in his internal review that would have provided a clearer picture of what went wrong with the Caraccus Court call.
With this new information comes new questions about the firing of three dispatchers and the internal review produced by Mr. Lee.
Audit Findings Related to Caraccus Court Incident
What follows is a comparison of the findings of the City audit of the CDA which relate to the Caraccus Court incident as described in Director Tim Lee’s internal review memo published December 15th, 2014.
The City Audit of the CDA was requested by City Commissioner Scott Maddox. One of the seven audit objectives of the audit addressed premise hazards, which was a central issue in the Caracuss Court incident.
A “premise hazard” is a data entry field that allows for pertinent information to be attached to a location so when an address is entered it provides a highlighted indicator that there is relevant information for that location.
There were two premise hazards entered for 3722 Caraccus Court address. One was for an officer safety issue and the other was for a chemical hazard.
The CDA call taker and two dispatchers did not relay the premise hazard information. Mr. Lee labeled it human error and terminated the employees.
TR identified three audit findings that raises serious questions about Mr. Lee’s conclusions that resulted in the firing of three veteran dispatchers.
First, the audit found that the “areas for which formal policies and procedures have not been completed as of the date of our review included, for example, premises hazards, training, and fire dispatching.”(Page 104 City Audit 1505, emphasis added)
This finding means there were no written policies or procedures in place at the time of the Carcuss Court incident that addressed premise hazards.
This is important because with the creation of the CDA approximately two years ago came a new Motorola system that handled premise hazards differently than the previous dispatch system used by the fired dispatchers at the Tallahassee Police Department.
In the previous system, if an address with a premise hazard was entered, it immediately turned red. However, in the new system, it is less pronounced. The address does not change color and, in some instances, two clicks of an icon is required to identify the type of premise hazard.
The premise hazard information is located on the right side of the screen and is at times covered when another screen is activated.
More troubling is the fact that Mr. Lee stated the dispatchers did not follow the proper “CDA protocol” related to premise hazards. A protocol that does not seem to exists in written form.
Mr Lee’s internal review concluded that “the CDA’s protocols related to “premise hazards” were provided to all employees through training” and “the call taker, law enforcement dispatcher and fire dispatcher did not follow CDA protocols.”
However, sources have told TR that there was no written protocol or hard copy materials provided in training or distributed to the dispatchers on premise hazards.
The City audit appears to support this fact with the comment “we were advised that CDA protocol required the dispatchers to click on the premise hazard tab.” The audit team was advised, not provided documents.
TR contacted Director Lee and he declined to comment.
Second, the audit concluded “there was not an adequate method/process or adequate records available to determine whether established protocol has been followed regarding reporting critical information to responding units for incidents where there was an Officer Safety or other pertinent premises hazard.”(Page 134 City Audit 1505)
This finding indicates the CDA had no process to track a protocol that was not in written form and resulted in the firing of three dispatchers.
Mr. Lee indicated in his internal review that the protocol communicated through training “is premise hazards are to be viewed and communicated to first responders.”
However, the City audit found that of the 112,831 incidents with attached premise hazards of some type that occured at the CDA, a total of 2 ,062 or 2% were opened by the call taker, dispatcher or responding service unit.
This finding indicates few employees were following proper protocol and apparently management had no way to follow up on this required protocol.
This information was not included in Mr. Lee’s internal review.
And third, the audit determined that the dispatching software used by the CDA had the capability to automatically provide an audible alert to responders when an incident involving a location with a premise hazard was dispatched.
The audit stated that, at the request of the responding agencies, this “functionality was not configured in the system installed at the CDA”. ( Page 135, City Audit 1505)
The audit states that the audible alert functionality of the system was enabled after the Caracuss Court incident.
On January 15th, after being fired, the three dispatchers filed a notice of intent to sue the CDA, Leon County, the City of Tallahassee, the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and Motorola.
Were three veteran dispatchers negligent in their duties all at the same time? Were there system problems, out of the control of the dispatchers, that contributed to the breakdown?
Were there management issues that contributed to the handling of the Caraccus incident? Was there a rush to judgement in the evaluation of the dispatchers actions? And finally, did the dispatchers deserve to be blamed for the death of a first responder?
In TR’s next installment on this issue, TR will disclose more information that will provide answers to these questions.
Steve, Don’t the officers and deputies have the same computer system in their cars that the dispatchers have? If so, can you find out if any of the responding law enforcement officials checked the premise hazard? I’m guessing the responding units don’t often check them either, if only 2% were clicked, or was that only applicable to the dispatchers. A retired police officer told me they were supposed to check these hazards when responding to a call, even high priority calls, but he retired before they went to the consolidated dispatch center, so I’m not sure if the process is still the same as when he worked there.
The premise hazard is the result of faulty reasoning by CDA management as well as their inability to know the difference between a “premise” hazard and a hazard on the premises. We should be asking why functional illiterates are in positions of power instead of scapegoating those doing the hard work.
What stands out is that the CAD system did not appear to identify “officer safety” premise hazards any differently than other premise hazards. With 112,831 incidents with attached premises hazards of some type (out of 169,611 total incidents [pg. 111]) and the CDA unable to provide a specific number of those related to officer safety (pg. 134), it appears almost as if it is routine for a premise hazard of some type (alarm/gate code, animal) to exist for a given address. That’s two out of three calls that generate an incident in the CAD system flagging with a premise hazard. At the same time, premise hazards were opened less than two percent of the time. With both the dispatcher and responding unit(s) needing to follow a two-step process (pg. 133) to read a premise hazard regardless of type, it was only a matter of time before critical information was missed. This is both a failure of the CAD system (non-mandatory opening of premise hazards) and CDA management (failing to identify flaws in premise hazard process). It is appalling for CDA management to think this process was acceptable. At the very least, an officer safety premise hazard should alert automatically for a responding unit.
Sheriff Campbell had long been pushing for consolidated law enforcement, and unfortunately this effort cost him the life of one of his deputies.
Dispatchers gather information and distribute it to Police Officer’s in seconds. They depend on properly functioning state of the art equipment and training which is job specific and relevant to the work environment. It seems as Mr. Lee removed himself from the responsibility for properly functioning equipment and quality training of the dispatch personnel. Mr.Lee if the dispatchers did somehow fail at their job it is clear that you and your management team were the primary cause for the failure. If the facts are as listed in the article there is no doubt that either you Mr. Lee should be held responsible and fired from your position or The dispatchers that were terminated should receive immediate reinstatement to their former positions (if they could bear to work for you) along with back pay. You cant have it both ways Mr.Lee
Not that its a huge deal but it’s spelled Caracus Ct. Also, Jennifer Portman wrote her article very one sided. Seems like she left out the part where LCSO had a plan in place to handle the situation. There was a breakdown in communication on many levels. The CDA has had nothing but trouble since they switched to Motorola. They need to drop that company and find a new one. Hollys family is also to blame. They didn’t want to lable him as ‘crazy’ so they wouldn’t go thru with getting an ex parte order. While LCSO had an idea that Holley was trouble there’s only so much they can do without a formal report, corporation from anyone or a court order. Don’t believe everything you read in the Mullet Wrapper, often times there’s morw to the story than what they publish.
LCSO could have prevented the entire ordeal and Portman’s article was the truth.
As we dispatcher say, “Sh*t rolls down hill and we’re always at the bottom.”
Unfortunately, these veteran dispatchers can NEVER get their reputations and credibility back.
The members of the CDA board, and Tim Lee in particular, did everything they could to blame these dispatchers for their own management failures.
For destroying their reputations and credibility, the members of the CDA authority should be penalized and disciplined as much as possible, and these employees deserve monetary compensation for the financial hardships they’ve had to endure because of their unfair terminations.
Good article. It’s really too bad we can’t fire the mayor, city and country commissioners with a simple phone call.
Not surprising that the real problems stem from LCSO already had info on the situation and DID NOTHING (as reported recently by Jennifer Portman at the Tallahassee Democrat). Even though there were numerous failures and breakdowns, the Leon County Sheriff, the County Administrator, Director Tim Lee, city and county commissioners, and Executive Editor Bob Gabordi did and said nothing.
The above inept self serving individuals further showed their ineptness and cowardice regarding public safety by blaming the rank and file and failing to hold themselves accountable.
The wrong people were fired and the only truths we have on record so far are the reports by Steve Stewart and Jennifer Portman.