FORT LAUDERDALE, FL- It appears that 911 emergency communications in Broward County, Fl., will soon be changing hands, now that the contract between the county and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. The contract expired on New Year’s Day, Local News 10 reported.
In December, a consulting group hired by Broward County commissioners completed a comprehensive 130-page report which outlined a number of problems with the now-expired system.
Earlier this week, Broward County Administrator Monica Cepero wrote a letter to Sheriff Gregory Tony, saying the two parties have reached an “impasse” and advising the contract for 911 emergency communications had expired. Cepero stressed however that “it’s imperative that 911 calls continued to be answered” as the county discusses the direction they want to go in.
“To that end,” Cepero said, a meeting is necessary in order to “plan for an orderly transition.”
Prior to the New Year’s Day expiration of the contract, Tony sent a message to Cepero signaling a willingness to sign an extension ton continue managing 911 operations through March 31, with the caveat that the county address certain issues identified in the consultants’ report within the first quarter. Otherwise he said, the sheriff’s office would “invoice” the costs on a monthly basis.
“I think the sheriff is making a mistake by giving us an ultimatum,” Commissioner Steve Geller said. “I don’t think there’s a single commissioner that wants to do what the sheriff wants, which is to give him a blank check.”
Geller expressed hopes that Tony will reconsider.
“If the sheriff is reasonable and says, ‘Hey, you know, I thought about it, I still think I’m right, but why don’t we get fully staffed up and then we’ll reconsider this in a year?’ I think that would be better for everybody,” Geller said.
The last reference made by Geller was related to ongoing efforts to hire additional 911 workers, which was one of the recommendations made by the consultants. Geller expressed hopes that the issue would be quickly rectified, and assured county residents that 911 calls will not go unanswered.
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said “the dedicated men and women of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Regional Communications Division continue to answer 911 calls and non-emergency calls.”
WLRN News obtained an email sent last Sunday by Cepero, to Tony, in addition to a separate email sent to city managers as well as 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 wrote.
In her letter, Cepero also wrote, in part:
“This letter confirms that Broward County (County) and the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) have not reached agreement on the three month extension to the Amended and Restated Operator Agreement Between Broward County and Sheriff of Broward County for the Operation of Call-Taking, Teletype (Queries Only) and Dispatch Services for the Consolidated Regional E-911 Communications System (“Agreement”). As such, the Agreement automatically expired this morning. The extension would have continued the Agreement for the period of January 1, 2023, through March 31, 2023.”
In her letter, Cepero told Tony she expected the transition “will take six to nine months to complete.” She agreed that the County “will continue to provide the infrastructure for the E-911 system, continue ongoing improvements to technology, and will continue to pay BSO for services provided during the transition period.”
In the separate email to department heads, Cepero wrote:
“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.”
While some cities within Broward County—for example Coral Springs, Pembroke Pines and Plantation—maintain their own police agencies, BSO provides communications and dispatch services to some of those. BSO also operates a Department of Fire Rescue in locations throughout Broward County.
The debate between the county and BSO has been ongoing since April of last year, and, according to WLRN “has been the subject of intense debate.” That came about when the Sun Sentinel reported that an investigation showed that staffing and technical issues had resulted in missed and dropped calls from people who had called for medical assistance.
In December’s consultant report, Fitch and Associates recommended upgrading an automated callback system, while using existing technology to portray a more accurate location of 911 callers.
Tony, however noted that meetings between the county commission and BSO “failed to solve the deficiencies.”
Cepero, however disputed Tony’s allegations, saying “nothing could be further from the truth.”
County staff said in December that new technology was already being integrated into the 911 communications system, however, could not provide Tony with concrete answers when pressed as to when they would be implemented when asked by Tony at that meeting.
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