Friday, January 22, 1999

911 operators shouldn't get second chance

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For the second time in two weeks, a Cincinnati 911 operator/dispatcher has her job back. Once again, this person has no business returning to her old post.

        She has demonstrated she can't be trusted to make the right decision in matters of life and death. At 911, errors in judgment can be fatal mistakes. I believe no one in her line of work should get a second chance.

        I have nothing personal against Angela Gibson, 911's reinstated employee of the week, or Eugenia Boiman, the 911 operator/dispatcher who got her job back two weeks ago. Nor am I looking for scapegoats.

        My position is that in certain jobs — jobs where lives are at stake — standards are absolute. The position of a 911 operator/dispatcher is one of those jobs. That means one mistake and you're out.

        From the reports I have read about both women, they failed to do their duty the night two cops were shot to death. Giving them their jobs back is wrong and a threat to the integrity of the entire 911 system.

        The two cops, Daniel Pope and Ronald Jeter, were gunned down as they tried to serve a warrant. Several calls went to 911 about the shootings. Help arrived only after a 48-minute delay.

        Eugenia Boiman did not send help after she told a cop she would. She did not follow standard procedure.

        Angela Gibson also did not follow standard operating procedure. She took a call from an eye witness to the shootings. According to 911 procedures, when it's a case of “police officer needs assistance,” the operator is to immediately notify the dispatcher. This must be done face-to-face. Not by computer. Or notes.

        Angela Gibson did not tell anyone in the 911 room she had received a call about two officers being shot. She noted the call in the computer but she did not give it a high priority.

        For the part they played in the delay, for the rules they violated, for the community-wide trust in the 911 system they betrayed, the two operator-dispatchers were fired in March. Their firing went to arbitration. In separate decisions, separate arbitrators found in each woman's favor.

        Soon, both women will be back on the job with full pay and benefits, back with their lost wages.

        In my book, both arbitrators are wrong.

Pointing fingers
        In the case of Angela Gibson, the arbitrator placed some blame with the two dead cops. He noted in his report that they did not follow official police procedures.         Officers serving warrants are supposed to call for backup by uniformed cops. They should also notify the police dispatcher what they are doing and where they are.

        These procedures were not followed.

        If they were around to answer to their mistakes, I would ask that they face the consequences. But whatever rules they broke, the cops have already paid dearly.

        I disagree with the arbitrator placing blame on Daniel Pope and Ronald Jeter. What the two officers did or did not do is irrelevant. The only issue for this community is whether or not the 911 operator/dispatchers acted by the book.

        Is the 911 system one we can trust, each and every time we use it, or not?

        That's the question we need to answer by not letting operator/dispatchers who break the rules get a second chance.

Guard the trust
        The 911 system runs on a clear-cut set of rules and regulations.

        As with any complex organization, the emergency response system works best when everyone goes by the book. If this happens, then you do that. If that occurs, then you do this.

        If 911 operator/dispatchers don't follow the rules or go by the training manual, people in need are in trouble. And the system is in danger of collapsing from distrust.

        The police we rely on rely on 911. We also rely on 911 when the unexpected, when the worst happens.

        It's a trust we've built up over the years, and a trust we need to protect, even if the measures are harsh or the decisions difficult.

        I say no second chance when it comes to 911.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

911 workers want furor behind them