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Broward County could drop Sheriff as 911 operator as soon as January, county memos say

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, seen in January, has announced the firings of two more deputies over their failure to act during the 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony has until midnight on Dec. 31 to agree to continue running the area's 911 emergency communication system — or the county will find someone else to do it, officials say.

The county's system — and who is in charge of it — has been the subject of intense debate since April of this year, when it emerged that staffing and technical issues had led to missed and dropped calls from people seeking medical assistance.

While the Broward Sheriff's Office's personnel run the system, the county manage its technological infrastructure. This has led to a tug of war between the two bodies, with some commissioners blaming BSO for the issues, while Tony has been fighting to get full control of the system.

Memos obtained by WLRN show that on Dec. 13 county administrator Monica Cepero sent Tony an extension agreement, which would have Broward Sheriff's Office (BSO) continue call-taking services until March 31.

Sheriff Tony replied a week later, but did not sign the extension — instead calling it "materially deficient." He added that the "system's current technology and certain technological components (all County's obligations) fall short."

Technological issues were laid out in a report from Fitch and Associates revealed earlier this month. Among its recommendations were upgrading an automated callback system and using existing technology that gives a more accurate location of the caller.

In his letter, the sheriff says the meetings between the county commission and BSO failed to solve the deficiencies. He would agree to the extension only if the county makes improvements to their technology in the first three months of the new year, he added.

But in a memo sent to the county commission, Cepero denied the claims. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she wrote. "The recommended technological improvement are either already in progress or on our technological roadmap."

Tony also mentioned that multiple agencies, including the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission and law enforcement groups, have requested the sheriff's office receive full control of the communication system.

If the agreement goes unsigned then the county "will assume BSO chooses to terminate" it, Cepero told commissioners. The county would then take over, a process that could take up to 9 months, during which BSO would be "contractually and ethically bound to continue providing services," Cepero said in her letter.

Ongoing dispute over technology and its implementation

The county's 911 communication system has been flawed for years, according to two separate Fitch reports. The issues that are prevailing now are rooted in technology, infrastructure and staffing. The system was the subject of a Sun Sentinel investigation that sparked the latest wave of attention to the system.

The recommendations from the Fitch report were discussed during a Dec. 6 meeting. At the time, Commissioner Michael Udine said speed in implementation was key.

"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.

Although administrators said the county has the technology and will implement it by next year, they did not give exact dates.

The sheriff's letter stated that if the county could not commit to the changes by the end of March he would continue to staff the 911 communication system "and invoice the county the actual costs of such services."

The sheriff's office did not respond to questions about the statement.

The commission voted in Mayto give the sheriff's office over $4 million to address staffing issues. This money went towards raises for existing workers and salary increases for prospective employees. The overall budget that the county provides BSO is over $1.2 billion.

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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