The Cowley County consolidated 911 dispatch center came under scrutiny during a recent meeting of the City Commission of Arkansas City.

After the meeting, Ark City Daily Bytes requested and inspected numerous emails, spanning more than a year and a half, from local government officials in order to verify claims made that night. The findings of this investigation are shared in this and future stories.

Citizens interested in speaking out on this issue are urged to contact their county commissioner. Contact information can be found at www.cowleycounty.org/commission and a map of the commission districts is located at www.cowleycounty.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Commission_Districts.pdf.

Command and control

In researching the oversight of Cowley County Emergency Communications (CCEC), the function of the Emergency Communications Advisory Board (ECAB) was examined.

Two conflicting opinions are given on the subject in emails from CCEC Director Carl Fortner and those requested from the City of Arkansas City.

On several occasions, Fortner said the Emergency Communications Center falls under the direct purview of the Cowley County Commission.

“I am a direct report to the County Administrator, and he is a direct report to the Board of County Commissioners,” Fortner explained in an email Feb. 20.

“The ECAB does not fit anywhere in the … chain of responsibility,” Fortner added in a comment last week on a prior entry in this series, “EMS removal from ECAB, sub-committee formation raise questions.”

“The ECAB can — and should — serve as an advisory body, and a platform for emergency communications to receive feedback from the response community, but the County — and emergency communications — can function just fine without an ECAB,” Fortner states.

However, Arkansas City Police Chief Dan Ward said he has received a differing opinion from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“The ECAB board is required by federal and state guidelines for (Criminal Justice Information Systems), as well as the Law Enforcement Sub-Committee, which must maintain control according to these guidelines,” Ward said Feb. 23.

As City Manager Nick Hernandez said during the Jan. 17 City Commission meeting when this matter first arose, the issue boils down to who actually has — or should have — “command and control.”

Oversight outlined in policy

Part of the issue concerning oversight has to do with liability. One aspect of that has to do with the computer records kept for all 911 calls.

“When a County Emergency Communications employee enters, incorrectly enters, or fails to enter any information into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, I am ultimately responsible,” Fortner said in a Jan. 17 email to Ward and other area law enforcement officials.

In that email chain, Ward said it actually is the various law enforcement agencies in Cowley County who would be liable for their information.

“The data you collect and put in the CAD call belongs to the responding law enforcement agency … Before your arrival here in Cowley we reached an agreement with Jeremy (Willmoth, former county administrator) that the data in CAD belongs to the responding law enforcement agency. There are written, signed agreements which remove any liability from your agency,” Ward said to Fortner.

“Part of that agreement is that your agency and your employees are not allowed to disseminate any of our information without our approval. If you should receive an open records request for information on a call such as this, your agency would simply notify the responding law enforcement agency and they will handle the open records request.”

An agreement entitled “Kansas Criminal Justice information System Management Control Agreement For Consolidated Dispatch Centers,” was signed by former sheriff Don Read, Winfield Police Chief Danny Parker, Ward, Winfield Fire Chief Alan Stoll, Arkansas City Fire Chief Bobby Wolfe and then-CCEC Director Beth Leach on Feb. 2, 2014.

This agreement is a standardized form that can be found online at https://cjisaudit.khp.ks.gov/launchpad/cjisdocs/docs.cgi?cat_id=1&auth=1&uid — it is labeled KCJIS Form 135.

The agreement needed to be amended to reflect the hiring of Fortner, according to ECAB meeting minutes dated March 10, 2016.

Management Control Agreement

“Management control” is a key concept that pops up repeatedly in state and federal documents pertaining to 911 administration. The concept does not necessarily refer to the direct management of employees, which clearly is the responsibility of Cowley County.

Rather, “management control” is more about how criminal justice information, such as criminal history or driver’s license information, is handled by non-law enforcement agencies, such as dispatch centers, that are not — by themselves — authorized to handle or access that information.

The local Management Control Agreement outlines what policies the dispatch center should adhere to while working with criminal justice information, as well as what entity should have control over CCEC priorities, standards and policies related to such information.

The first item in this agreement states that CCEC agrees to comply with, among other policies, the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Security Policies. Another section of the contract addresses what entity should have management control over CCEC.

In addition to three other items, CCEC also “agrees to operate under the management control of … A governing board — without a majority (of members) representing criminal justice agencies — with a sub-committee entirely of criminal justice representatives with oversight concerning the following issues:

  1. “Priorities — any measures necessary to provide the criminal justice community with priority service.
  2. “Standards — necessary to ensure that whoever selects, supervises and terminates personnel adheres to safeguards required to maintain the integrity of criminal justice systems and networks.
  3. “Policies — governing the operation of computers, circuits and telecommunications terminals used to access criminal justice systems and networks.”

The current composition of ECAB matches the description of a governing board without a law enforcement majority — law enforcement members comprise about half, or slightly less, of its membership — that has a Law Enforcement Sub-Committee for these specific issues.

Kansas Highway Patrol

In January 2015, Ward began asking questions about several aspects of CCEC oversight.

The ECAB minute notes from Jan 8, 2015, say he asked about a specific policy concerning information exchange agreements, one of the documents mentioned in Form 135.

“A NCJA (Non-Criminal Justice Agency) designated to perform criminal justice functions for a CJA (Criminal Justice Agency) shall be eligible for access to the (criminal justice information),” Page 16 of the form states.

“Access shall be permitted when such designation is authorized pursuant to executive order, statute, regulation, or inter-agency agreement. The NCJA shall sign and execute a management control agreement with the CJA.”

Ward recommended seeking an interpretation of this policy from Don Cathey, information security officer for the Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) CJIS unit. The ECAB met next on Feb. 12, 2015, with Cathey in attendance.

There is a provision for criminal justice information to be accessed by a non-criminal justice agency, according to the minutes. But KHP policy states a Public Safety Answering Point such as CCEC has access only through an agreement that shows Criminal Justice Agency oversight.

The minutes state Cathey said CCEC had all of the necessary documents in order — a county resolution, a charter or bylaws and an interlocal agreement. One of the forms might have to be updated to reflect the charter, he indicated, but that was not a major hurdle.

“According to KHP, we are currently in compliance with requirements,” the minutes state. “Ultimately, decisions regarding the controlled dissemination of (criminal justice information) must be made by the law enforcement subcommittee of the ECAB.”

While KHP is satisfied with the legality of the current setup, there remains some question about the interpretation of federal law.

FBI interpretation

In an email sent from Ward to Jeff Campbell, assistant information security officer for the FBI, Ward posed an additional question regarding the management structure of CCEC.

“Does the county — Commission and Administrator — qualify as a criminal justice agency as defined by CJIS policy? If it does not, what are our options?” Ward asked. “Changing the management control to a law enforcement agency such as the Sheriff’s Office or giving management control to the 911 advisory board? If they do qualify as a criminal justice agency, do we need to develop a management agreement and have it in place or does the inter-local agreement suffice?”

The answer from Campbell was received 11 days after Ward reached out to him.

“To address your question near the bottom of your email ‘Does the county — Commission and Administrator — qualify as a criminal justice agency as defined by CJIS policy?’ The answer is no,” Campbell said.

“The commission — and administrator — would not meet the definition of a criminal justice agency.”

Campbell referenced Section 3.2.4 of the FBI CJIS Security Policies, which states: “a (criminal justice agency) is defined as a court, a governing agency, or any sub-unit of a governing agency which performs the administration of criminal justice pursuant to a statute or executive order and which allocates a substantial part of its annual budget to the administration of criminal justice.”

Campbell also addressed the use of a “911 advisory board” for such oversight.

“In 2013, the Advisory Policy Board (APB) entertained a topic paper to ‘Recognize Local Governing Boards and Affirm Their Authority for Oversight of Non-Criminal Justice Agencies Performing Criminal Justice Functions on Behalf of Criminal Justice Agencies.’ After much discussion, the APB rejected the notion so those boards would have no standing as (non-criminal justice agencies),” Campbell said.

“If you have a consolidated 911/Dispatch center, that center on its own would meet the definition and agreements would be executed between their center and each (criminal justice agency) utilizing their services.”

“Management control will always remain with the (criminal justice agencies),” Campbell emphasized.

FBI supports Ward

Ward asked for further clarification on two points:

  • If the law enforcement agencies completed management control agreements, would the law enforcement agencies then have collective control over management decisions for CCEC?
  • If CCEC meets the requirement to be defined as a criminal justice agency, how would that affect the management control?

“Each … law enforcement agency would have a management control agreement (MCA) with the center,” Campbell said. “In theory, since the services provided by the center are the same for each agency, changes would affect each one equally and would be the same across the board.”

The only different would be if the MCAs contained different levels of service, Campbell writes, in which case the sheriff’s office takes priority.

Campbell said the control would not be “collective management,” but rather management control over individual services as spelled out by the management control agreement.

“The MCA is intended to make the (dispatch center) consult the criminal justice agencies before making decisions on items addressed in the MCA,” he said. “The (criminal justice agency) does have to ‘approve’ in some manner which is important and necessary as the (criminal justice agency) is the one being held responsible for any non-compliance.”

According to the answers provided, the 2014 ECAB management control agreement contains some language not approved by the FBI CJIS.

“As you can see, the governing body is not allowed to have managing authority and that authority must remain with a criminal justice agency,” Ward said in an email to Cowley County Emergency Management Director Brian Stone.

“The current MCA not only inappropriately has the board set up as having managing control, it also does not specifically address the (below) listed requirements,” Ward said.

“This directly answers the issue that originally brought up the question. The release of CAD data pertaining to (the Arkansas City Police Department) cannot be done without my approval. It is not a decision of the dispatch center, County Administrator, or County Commission.”

Editor’s note: This is the sixth part of a multi-part series. Prior installments can be viewed at:

2 Comments

  1. Carl R. Fortner III

    I have tried to remain positive about all of this since it started, but I’m becoming increasingly frustrated by how this all continues to evolve. It seems like the City of Arkansas City is so concerned about the operations of CCEC that they would even reach out to the FBI to get clarification to support their conclusions. Ark City made a choice to become part of countywide consolidated communications. If they didn’t want to be involved in the agreement, then they should have never signed the form. But when they did sign the form, it necessarily followed that they gave up direct management control of a Communications Center. Overnight, Ark City’s previous staff became County employees and Ark City’s budget –I’m told– increased by approximately $300,000 because they were no longer employing dispatchers.

    Here’s the deal: The records that are in play with respect to criminal justice agencies are those contained in National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computers. Those records have been collected since at least the 1970s and the regulations governing their dissemination have been around just as long. In order to handle criminal justice information, our employees must be screened, and remain under the management control of a law enforcement agency for purposes of maintaining the integrity of those NCIC records. If Ark City doesn’t want us handling their NCIC records, they can always take them back!

    While I think the Ark City Daily Bytes’ coverage of these issues has become increasingly fair over the course of this series there are still gaps, and what seem like some half-truths spoken that must continue to be addressed. Let’s be clear, every employee in the Cowley County Emergency Communications Department is paid by the Board of County Commissioners and NOT the Ark City Police. We remain under the management control of the Ark City Police with regard only to their NCIC records that we maintain. We are under similar management control of the Sheriff with regard to the records we maintain for him in the NCIC system.

    Neither Sheriff Falletti, nor Sheriff Read before him, has demanded control over the CCEC They have never questioned –for the most part– how we do our business either. When questions arise, they throw me a phone call or send me an e-mail, and we work through the issue as gentlemen. In fact, if we enjoyed the type of relationship with Ark City, and some other agencies within the county, that we’ve had with the Sheriff’s Office, we wouldn’t have any major problems. And all of this seems to have something to do with somebody’s control issues.

    Nevertheless, we are where we are, and it is not a healthy place to be. I have had employees coming into my office crying about all this stuff. That is not to say that they’re always right, but this volatile environment is taking its toll. My sincere hope is that everybody will back off and let us do our jobs. If someone steps out of line, I’ll address that. But let’s don’t continue to create problems that don’t exist, and let’s don’t suggest that the sky is falling when all the evidence to contrary is readily available.

    We serve every emergency response agency in Cowley County (not just the police), and that is challenging enough in itself. As I’ve mentioned in previous responses in this series, the current ECAB configuration evolved from a previous group calling themselves the “911 Governing Board,” which evolved from the “911 Steering Committee”. And from the looks of all the records, many of those on the original 911 Steering Committee are still present on the present ECAB. So, the emergency response community has always had –and continues to have– a say in the operations of the Emergency Communications Center’s operations.

    You would think we’d all get to a place where we’re looking out for the citizen’s interests, and not the petty ownership of records issues. This is all little more than manufactured problems.

    Since I came here, there have been no disputes over ownership of records. Our staff have always followed the standards agreed to between the County and emergency response community. If someone seeks records, we direct them to the holder of those records. Again, there has been no dispute over this. So why anybody (other than Don Cathey representing the State of Kansas) would need to reach out to the FBI is just beyond me!

  2. Ms. McGee,
    Thank you for the research you have done to give us citizens insight into this issue.

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