Police Chiefs Want Broward Sheriff's Office To Take Over Management Of 911 Communications

Jun 5, 2019

This post was updated at 5:25 p.m.

Police chiefs in Broward are pushing for the sheriff's office (BSO) to take over management of the regional 911 communications system from the county.

 


The state commission making safety recommendations since the Parkland school shooting heard from police chiefs and county officials during its second day of meetings this month, in Sunrise Wednesday. The commission now meets every two months. 

"We believe that the current structure of the consolidated system will never be effective as long as the county is involved in operational matters," Sunrise Police Chief Anthony Rosa told commissioners. He said that having two bosses in charge is too many. 

Currently the county owns and funds the 911 communications system, while BSO operates it. That's what the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association is hoping to consolidate. The association sent the following statement to the County Commission on May 30:

“The Broward County Chiefs of Police Association supports the  Broward County Consolidated Communications System and all of its components, properly funded and in its entirety, be placed with the Office of the Broward County Sheriff.” 

Broward's regional 911 communications system came under criticism for problems after the 2017 shooting at the airport in Fort Lauderdale. It came under scrutiny again in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, on Feb. 14, 2018. Reports have shown that law enforcement reaction to the events was delayed because calls to 911 went to too many different places and officers couldn't talk to each other

"Everyday that this system is not replaced, there is a public safety and officer safety issue here in Broward County," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said. He chairs the state commission.

He said, this kind of vote from police chiefs is "almost unheard of."

"That controversy threatens the system today and thus threatens public safety," Gualtieri said.  

The county has been in the process of upgrading its 911 radio system for more than a year. However, the new system is not expected to be up and running until at least the end of 2019, if not longer. 

Read More: Broward County Commission To Vote On Hollywood Park As Site For New 911 Radio Tower

At least two cities in Broward are currently leaving the regional 911 communications system: Margate and Coconut Creek.

"A sample of some of our communication frustrations: The radio stops working ... all proactive policing in Margate stops," Margate Police Chief Jonathan Shaw told commissioners. 

He continued, "Citizens [are] frustrated with the call taking process... Officers [are] being sent to the incorrect address."

Margate and Coconut Creek are in the final stages of reviewing contract negotiations with Coral Springs so the latter will provide dispatch services instead. The estimated cost to both cities will be about $2 million for the first year. (The only other cities in the county that opt out of the regional 911 system are Coral Springs and Plantation.)

"They're putting forth a phenomenal product...that residents in my community deserve," Shaw said of Coral Springs' emergency communications.

Max Schachter sits on the commission. He lost his son Alex Schachter in the Parkland school shooting.

"If I were in your shoes, I'd want out as well," he told Shaw.

The state commission is trying to come up with recommendations for how to resolve some of the operational issues between the county and municipalities when it comes to communicating during emergencies.

Broward's County Administrator Bertha Henry told commissioners later in the afternoon that she does not think the sheriff's office can manage the roughly $500,000 million worth of 911 communications infrastructure the county owns. She admitted there are "communications issues" to sort out.

"What I don't have confidence in [is] that there is the expertise available in the sheriff's office to manage these assets," Henry said.

The commission will meet again in August.