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Posted on April 20, 2015
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.