Report castigates Arundel 911 center

Review required in settlement of slain woman's case

April 04, 2007|By Dan Lamothe | Dan Lamothe,Sun Reporter

Anne Arundel County's 911 call center suffers from a lack of organization, understaffing and inadequate training for employees, according to an independent review required by a settlement with the family of a slain Glen Burnie pharmacist.

The 33-page report, whose results were announced yesterday, faulted management of the call center, but stopped short of condemning Anne Arundel's call takers or the police, saying recently appointed Chief James Teare Sr. and other top officials are "committed to improving the service level" in the police department's communications division.

The review followed a lawsuit filed against the county by survivors of 26-year-old Yvette A. Beakes, who was abducted in August 2001 in front of her apartment complex, taken at gunpoint to withdraw money from an ATM, then shot in the head, her blindfolded body left in a wooded area of Southwest Baltimore.

A dispatcher failed to notify officers in the area that night of a witness who called with a description of the carjacking.

Beakes' family sued the county, and agreed last year to drop its case in exchange for the review.

Roger W. Yoerges, the Beakes family's attorney, was pleased that the report covered a number of deficiencies that can be addressed.

"These are the kinds of problems that perhaps led to the Yvette Beakes case, and, if unaddressed, could lead to similar cases," Yoerges said. "When you don't have sufficient staffing or people who are properly trained, you open yourself up for problems like these."


The review was performed from Feb. 1 to Feb. 3 by a three-member team from the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International. Among the deficiencies at the call center outlined in the report:

Severe staffing shortages, partly because qualified candidates were "virtually non-existent." At the time of the review, there were 18 vacancies, mostly for dispatchers, on the center's 97-person staff.

Lack of communication between the county's police and fire departments, which both log call information into a common system but don't check each other's input.

A lack of guidance, structure and accountability for the training program, including no way to track attendance.

The report offered dozens of recommendations, including creating a monitoring program for dispatchers and call takers, placing supervisors closer to staff, relying less on police codes over the radio to decrease misunderstandings and completely re-evaluating the training process.

Capt. Athena Plummer, a spokeswoman for the Police Department, said it has implemented some of the report's suggestions, such as holding regular staff meetings. The department is reviewing and analyzing the cost of the other recommendations, she said.

Plummer also acknowledged that the department has struggled to find qualified candidates for dispatcher positions, but said that by tomorrow, the number of vacancies will drop to seven.

"Working in a 911 center, it's not the right fit for everybody," she said. "There's an amount of stress that goes with that type of work."

Beakes' Aug. 8, 2001, slaying prompted outrage in the community because of its brutality and the mishandling by the call center. She was targeted at random coming out of a Camden Yards pub by three teens and a man, who had a brother-in-law in need of money to cover a fraudulent check.

A woman who saw her kidnapping called 911, but her call was botched by a call-taker and a dispatcher, who never forwarded the information to police.

The two were fired, but union officials defended them, saying the call center was chronically understaffed and had technical difficulties, including 911 software glitches.

Family sues

The Beakes family sued the county in January 2005, saying she might have been saved had the situation been handled correctly. A federal judge in Baltimore dismissed the lawsuit last year, and the family appealed. No money changed hands in the settlement.

Last month, a similar strategy was employed by the family of David E. Rosenbaum, a retired New York Times journalist who died in Washington in January 2006 after being attacked by two robbers. Rosenbaum did not receive timely medical treatment, in part because authorities mistakenly believed he was drunk and did not need urgent medical attention.

The Rosenbaum family agreed to drop a $20 million lawsuit against the city in exchange for an independent review of the city's emergency medical services by a task force. A report is expected to be released this year.

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