Police fire two 911 operators

Emergency call about carjacking was botched, officials say

`Due to human error'

Union says computer caused problem, plans to appeal

September 06, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County police have fired two emergency operators who they say botched a 911 call about the carjacking that resulted in the death of a Glen Burnie pharmacist, police and union officials confirmed yesterday.

Officials from the union representing the operators said they will appeal the decision. Police commanders said the firings of the 911 call taker and dispatcher were in the best interest of public safety.

Police officials said the operators, a 24-year dispatcher and an eight-year call taker, failed to relay critical information to police officers about the assault Aug. 8 on Yvette A. Beakes, who was later found shot to death.

"An internal department investigation determined that the call [was mishandled] due to human error," said Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a police spokesman.

Union officials argue that the operators, who have not been identified by the union or the police, are being unfairly blamed and that a computer failure caused the problem.

"They were doing exactly what they were supposed to do," said Scott Harmon, vice president of the American Federation of State Municipal and County Employees local, which represents the civilian 911 operators.

Union officials say the county's 911 computer system is antiquated and that the communication center is chronically understaffed with personnel who are inadequately trained.

Police officials say there is no way to know whether officers could have interceded before Beakes was killed but that without information from the 911 call, officers never had a chance to rescue the woman.

As Beakes was on her way home from a downtown bar, her car was rammed by a van near the entrance to her townhouse community off East Ordnance Road, according to police. They say the four men who are charged with murder in Beakes' death staged the accident to lure the 26-year-old woman from her car.

Police say the woman was later robbed and then shot in the head. Her body was left in a wooded area in Southwest Baltimore.

An anonymous caller dialed 911 from a pay phone near the site of the abduction just before midnight Aug. 8 but hung up, police have said. Seconds later, a woman called back to report a car accident and an assault on a woman at the site. The caller described the cars.

Police were dispatched to the pay phone to check the site of the first 911 call but were not told about the second call detailing the carjacking, officials have said.

Authorities say the information in the second call could have aided police because Beakes' abductors drove around with her, stopping at automated teller machines, for several hours before she was killed.

The operators were suspended with pay Aug. 15. Eight days later, county Police Chief P. Thomas Shanahan made the preliminary decision to fire the women and ordered them suspended without pay pending a hearing and a final decision.

The two operators were notified that they were being fired in hand-delivered letters late Tuesday. Union officials began drafting a grievance petition yesterday.

Harmon said a county personnel official probably will hear the grievance, in which the union is claiming that firing the 911 operators is an "unjust disciplinary action."

If the personnel department chooses not to overturn the terminations, Harmon said, the case will probably go before a personnel board or to binding arbitration, the last step in the appeal process.

Union officials have scheduled a news conference for today to discuss their objections to the firings. Neither operator is expected to attend, but union officials plan to have other operators describe problems with the county's 911 computer system, training procedures and staffing levels.

In recent weeks, county emergency operators have been criticized by callers who dial 911 and say, "Are you really going to dispatch this?" They have also received a death threat.

Police officials have acknowledged that an administrative review of 911 operations has begun in an effort to determine whether there are problems with the computer system and operating procedures in the center, Jordan said. The review is expected to take several weeks.

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