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Broward County tells Sheriff Tony he is out as 911 communications operator

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony
Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony.

New year, new 911 operators.

The Broward Sheriff's Office's agreement with the county to run the area's 911 communication system expired this morning. The county say they will now make plans to transition from BSO to a different organization who will who receive emergency calls and dispatch officers.

It came just a week after it was revealed that Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony had rejected an extension to continue the partnership into 2023.

WLRN News obtained a letter emailed Sunday by county administrator Monica Cepero to Sheriff Tony, as well as a separate email sent to city managers and police and fire chiefs.

"I am confident we both agree that public safety is of paramount importance. It is therefore imperative that 911 calls continue to be answered and handled expeditiously, while we discuss next steps," Cepero's letter to the sheriff stated.

Cepero, in the letter, requested to meet with the sheriff during the first week of January to discuss a transition plan.

WLRN sought comment from BSO on the termination of the agreement but had not received a reply as of Sunday afternoon.

Sheriff Tony initially declined to sign the county's extension agreement on Dec. 20, calling it "materially deficient." He added that the "system's current technology and certain technological components (all County's obligations) fall short."

Tony has repeatedly asked the county to hand over full control of the 911 operations. Public safety groups including the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission and law enforcement groups, have also requested the sheriff's office receive full control of the communication system.

Currently, Broward Sheriff's Office personnel runs the system, while the county manage its technological infrastructure.

Now that is set to change. A transition to another communications operator could take up to nine months, according to the county, during which BSO will continue to staff the communication system.

The county commission is planning a workshop in early January to discuss the next steps for the 911 communication system.

Letter to Broward cities

In the letter Cepero sent to Broward city managers and emergency services chiefs, she reassured them that the county will have a "smooth transition."

BSO services many of the cities in Broward County. Some cities — like Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines and Plantation — maintain their own police departments, however BSO still provides communications and dispatch services to some of those. BSO also operates a Department of Fire Rescue in locations throughout the county.

"Broward County is cognizant of the critical public safety function involved and will work diligently and cooperatively with BSO and all stakeholders to continue to provide responsive and professional emergency services throughout the process. Broward County will continue providing the technology infrastructure for the Regional Communications System," Cepero's letter stated.

If past meetings are an indicator, a smooth transition may be wishful thinking.

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

Since then it has been a tug-of-war, with some commissioners blaming BSO for the issues, while Tony has been fighting to get full control of the system.

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

In his Dec. 20 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.

Cepero defended the county, saying "Nothing could be further from the truth," regarding Tony's statement.

In his letter, the sheriff also stated that if the county could not commit to those changes, and in that timeline, he would continue to staff the 911 communication system "and invoice the county the actual costs of such services."

Plans to integrate new technology into the 911 communications system are already in motion, according to county staff. But they did not give concrete answers as to when they would be implemented when asked by Tony in a December meeting.

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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