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Broward County won't give Sheriff's Office control of emergency communications

A Broward County Sheriff's Office vehicle is parked outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla.
A Broward County Sheriff's Office vehicle is parked outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla.

The Broward County Commission will maintain control of the area’s 911 emergency communication system, which has been riddled with issues, despite urging from the sheriff’s office for them to take it over.

After more than two hours of back-and-forth between Sheriff Gregory Tony and the commission, the nine members of the panel opted not to vote on giving the Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) total control of the system.

Currently, the county owns the facilities and technology and the sheriff's office is in charge of the personnel.

Tuesday's commission discussion came after the commission and BSO received a 130-plus page report on the emergency communication system. In it, consultants laid out the issues with the system and recommendations to fix them.

The report, which cost $103,950, followed a letter sent from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety commission urging the county to give BSO control of the entire system.

Speaking at the meeting, Sheriff Tony urged commissioners to vote on a transition of power. It has long been his stance that the system should be under the control of the sheriff's office.

But commissioners opted not to vote on any structural change.

"We are the professionals and the end users that know this system inside and out. And we don't have to pay someone to tell us in a report how to do it," Sheriff Tony said during his closing remarks to the commission.

"There's always going to be some new form of technology... The bureaucratic structure of government is too slow."

Nonetheless, the discussion — which lasted two hours — was more collegial than a May meeting that turned into a shouting match between Commissioner Mark Bogen and Sheriff Tony.

Commissioner Michael Udine addressed the recommendations from the consultant report, authored by Fitch and Associates.

His priorities were technology that will allow 911 dispatchers to have a more accurate location for callers and an automated call-back system that will allow dispatchers to automatically redial on calls that were dropped.

"I'm not waiting for any of this...You can get consultants out the butt, it's not going to matter. [This] needs to get done and needs to get done quick," he said.

The county has the technology and is implementing it by next year, according to county administrators.

The inner-workings of the communication system are complicated, even for commissioners, who often had to be corrected or clarified by the sheriff or county administration. At the root of the issues with the system are technology, infrastructure and staffing.

Tuesday's meeting ended with commissioners optimistic that improvements were being made. "We learned from the past, now we are going to take it from today and move it into the future... I'm so pleased with the outcome of this meeting," Mayor Lamar Fisher said.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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