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.
To err is…
In a previous installment, Ark City Daily Bytes examined the policies of Cowley County Emergency Communications (CCEC) under which certain information was being omitted from the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software used by CCEC. (Read more at http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2Nw.)
This practice is questionable, according to two attorneys’ interpretation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. It also can leave first responders without vital information in the field.
Errors at the dispatch level also are a concern that was highlighted in January by Arkansas City Police Chief Dan Ward.
Three notable examples of dispatcher error that have taken place in the last year were chronicled in the emails obtained by Daily Bytes.
Last November, a two-vehicle, fatality accident in the 22000 block of U.S. 77, near Strother Field, was called in to CCEC.
One accident victim was dead, and the second victim critically injured and pinned in a vehicle, when emergency services arrived.
The initial call dispatched the Arkansas City Fire-EMS Department (ACFD) to respond to the scene of the accident — only those units were sent to the 32000 block of U.S. 77, more than 10 miles south of where the accident occurred.
An incident report filed by ACFD Capt. Ken Corcran states the initial call from CCEC was received at 10:19 p.m. and acknowledged by ACFD at 10:21.
ACFD advised that all units were en route at 10:20. Corcran’s report states dispatchers “(did) not acknowledge until approximately two minutes later.”
Meanwhile, as the Arkansas City fire engines headed south, ACFD volunteer firefighter-EMT Mike Evinger — who works at nearby General Electric — was the first Arkansas City responder to arrive at the accident scene. A report Evinger filed put him on scene at 10:25.
He was met at the scene by a Cowley County sheriff’s deputy who had begun first aid measures on the victim trapped inside the vehicle.
Evinger’s report indicated he immediately began to assess a patient who was in the passenger seat of one of the vehicles.
The other patient was dead when Evinger arrived at the scene. An EagleMed medical helicopter was put on standby at 10:26 p.m. and launched at 10:32.
Meanwhile, south of Arkansas City, the ACFD units were not able to locate the accident scene.
Former ACFD Firefighter-Paramedic Joel Suggitt asked a dispatcher if the incident actually was on the Oklahoma side of State Line Road.
The dispatcher responded that the accident was at 222nd Road and U.S. 77.
The Winfield Fire-EMS Department (WFD) asked dispatch to verify the located in the 22000 block of U.S. 77, then advised that the accident actually was in its response area and asked dispatch to sound a “tone” for its response.
At the Strother Field scene, Evinger’s report states that at this same time, he was on scene with one patient in critical condition, in the passenger side of the vehicle. The passenger was thought to have lower extremity injuries and was pinned in the vehicle, according to his report.
WFD arrived at scene at 10:35 — three minutes after the helicopter was launched and 16 minutes after the original call to 911. ACFD did not finally arrive at the scene until 10:38, or 19 minutes after the original call.
As a result of this incident, Corcran expressed concern about ACFD’s having been sent to the incorrect address and WFD’s not being dispatched at all.
“It is of grave concern that first of all, a department from the wrong district was dispatched to this incident and second, that we were sent in the wrong direction ten miles from the incident,” he writes in his report. “This is absolutely and totally unacceptable that this would occur.”
“I understand that problems arise on occasion with getting complete and accurate information,” Corcran added, “but this is happening on a regular basis as noted by personnel from both the ACFD and WFD organizations.”
Corcran also mentioned in the report that if those responsible for the delay in response time were to speak to the families of the victims, the dispatch practice would change “in a most rapid fashion.” He finished by questioning how much and what quality of training the CCEC dispatchers had received in this matter.
Last September, the Arkansas City Police Department (ACPD) towed a vehicle from a residence in Ark City that was identified — erroneously — as having been stolen from Oklahoma.
“Lieutenant (Chris) Arnett ran a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) on a vehicle which had a temporary tag and (a dispatcher) advised it was stolen out of Oklahoma,” ACPD administrative assistant Ashley Thorp said in an email to Ward.
As a result, Arnett double-checked the status of the vehicle, then called for a tow truck to take it away.
However, the lieutenant later was contacted by the owner, who was looking for the vehicle. The owner informed Arnett that the vehicle just had been purchased from a dealership in Wichita. Arnett then returned to the police department to determine what had happened.
While he was at the station, he discovered an email from the dispatcher who ran the VIN on the vehicle.
“When (Arnett) looked at the VIN listed on the paper work he saw the VIN was not the same as what he ran,” Thorp said. “He also saw the VIN on the paper work came back on a 1997 Ford and the vehicle he had towed was a 2014 Toyota.”
Arnett had the vehicle returned to the owner. When the VIN number was run correctly, it came up as the 2014 Toyota that had been towed.
Ward indicated the tow bill would be sent to ACPD in an email to CCEC Director Carl Fortner, in which Ward explained the incident.
“We’ll pay the tow bill if necessary. … It was definitely human error, aggravated by the (National Crime Information Center) computer not de-conflicting non-matching VIN’s,” Fortner said in a response to Ward.
The tow bill totaled $65, but Thorp expressed concern that the owner of the vehicle might want additional compensation because of the towing mistake.
“Also, I just had a new officer attend CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Systems) training and was informed the dispatcher involved in this incident attended the same training class, which was after this incident,” Ward said.
“Not sure a person who has not received CJIS training should be operating a CJIS terminal and confirming stolen car hits.”
“Chief, I want to make sure I understand you. You had an incident with CJIS on Monday September 19, 2016 and the employee that made the mistake did not receive the CJIS training until after September 19th?” asked then-County Administrator Jeremy Willmoth.
“The mistake occurred at 0615 hours on the 19th and the training was the next day on the 20th,” Ward replied. “The Dispatcher involved spoke about the incident with my new officer at the training where they became NCIC trained.”
Last June, an incident involving an alleged sexual assault was dispatched through CCEC. The dispatcher who notified ACPD said the victim was located “at the hospital.” This lack of clarification led to a delayed response time for the individual reporting the crime.
During the weekend of June 25-26, 2016, the sexual assault victim took herself to be examined by a sexual assault nurse examiner after the assault occurred.
The offense happened in Arkansas City, but the victim was at William Newton Hospital in Winfield. In this particular incident, the nurse was the individual who called CCEC for assistance. When the call was taken, no complainant contact information was logged.
Also, when CCEC dispatched an officer to meet with the victim, the dispatcher did not specify which hospital to visit. It took “almost an hour” for the ACPD officer to figure out what had happened and respond to the call at William Newton, not South Central Kansas Medical Center.
In addition to being damaging to the psyche of the victim, response delays by law enforcement in sexual assault cases can have a negative impact on evidence collection. “Sexual violence can have psychological, emotional and physical effects on a survivor,” according to www.rainn.org.
The University of Southern California Sexual Assault Resource Center provides a list of steps to follow after a sexual assault. Foremost among them is to preserve all physical evidence of the assault — “do not shower, bathe, … wash your hands or brush your teeth until after you have had a medical examination.”
It is not clear from the emails provided to Ark City Daily Bytes if any changes resulted from this incident or if any specific action was taken.
Editor’s note: This is the eighth part of a multi-part series. Prior installments can be viewed at:
- Part 1: Consolidated 911 dispatch issues highlighted in series of public emails — http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2AH
- Part 2: Vote on MDT software exposes schisms on 911 ECAB advisory board — http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2B2
- Part 3: Request for increased officer safety turns into dispatch funding discussion — http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2Ek
- Part 4: Friction seen in disputes between county, rural fire over call sign, pagers — http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2GO
- Part 5: EMS removal from ECAB, sub-committee formation raise questions — http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2HQ
- Part 6: Disagreement over 911 control, ECAB raises federal compliance concerns — http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2IC
- Part 7: HIPAA interpretation leads to incomplete information in police CAD calls— http://wp.me/p7A1jR-2Nw