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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow At odds over 911

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At odds over 911

Dispatchers are using equipment that some emergency personnel feel is outdated. (File photo).
Dispatchers are using equipment that some emergency personnel feel is outdated. (File photo).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

Law enforcement managers who disagree over the efficiency of the county's consolidated dispatch center came to further loggerheads Monday morning when police responded to what they thought might be a life-threatening situation.

City and county officers were called to the 1900 block of 17th Street about 9:20 a.m. on a report that a woman with a shotgun was holding people hostage.

The incident, which was resolved as a mental health issue, illustrates why the city is dissatisfied with the county's operation of the consolidated dispatch center, said Lt. Vernon Hull of the Baker City Police.

During the Monday incident, Hull established a command post near the Churchill School building. Sgt. Douglas Schrade was the tactical commander at the scene. Three other city police officers and four sheriff's department officers established a perimeter around the area, Hull said.

"We didn't know which house, who the complainant was or what she saw," Hull said.

As the minutes passed and more information became available, the story was beginning to lose credibility, he said. Officers saw no one carrying a shotgun or pointing it at any hostages.

The information being relayed to officers through dispatch from the 911 caller was unclear, contradictory and fragmented, Hull said.

For that reason, Schrade instructed the dispatcher by radio to hang up the phone so that he could call the woman, who Schrade knew from previous contacts, Hull said.

The dispatcher refused to hang up the phone. Schrade then called dispatch by telephone and again directed the dispatcher to hang up. Again the dispatcher refused.

"In 26 years, I've never had a dispatcher overrule an officer's order at the scene," Hull said. "There should be no questions asked, as long as what he's asking is lawful, especially from a supervisor at the scene."

The situation was resolved when the caller agreed to meet Schrade at the front door. The woman had conjured up the scenario, which was happening only in her mind, Hull said. A family member took her to the hospital for treatment.

After police cleared from the scene, Hull traveled to the dispatch center to get to the bottom of the communication problem. Hull first met with Tammi LaChapelle, dispatch manager and supervisor.

She informed him that Sheriff Troy Hale had directed the dispatcher to stay on the line.

Hull maintains that Hale was out of line in intervening in a city case.

"That was our call," he said. "If it's a city officer's call, we make the decisions, not the dispatcher and not somebody from another agency."

Hull said officers would listen to questions, suggestions, recommendations or more information from dispatchers.

"Fine, give it to us," he said. "But do not refuse to do what we ask."

Hull said he did not fault the dispatcher, who was only following his supervisor's orders.

"I've never heard of a supervisor from another agency stepping in to countermand a supervisor," he said.

Hale defended his action.

"It was the only connection we had with the caller," he said. "What was the plan if we hadn't been able to reestablish communication? You stay on the line until you resolve the situation or until it becomes unsafe for the caller to stay on the line."

The sheriff said he will seek a written agreement on how to handle similar situations in the future.

"We will get it in writing so that in the future if the city police department wants us to disconnect a call at their request, they will assume 100 percent of the liability," he said.

Monday's flap is just one of many complaints the city has about the county's supervision of the consolidated dispatch center, Hull said. And while he doesn't like the description he hears of his officers as "disgruntled, griping and complaining," he maintains that they do have valid points.

On the other hand, when city officers have been found to have been rude or disrespectful to the dispatchers, they have been reprimanded and counseled for their actions, he says.

Hull, a 26-year police veteran with 21 years of management experience, is critical of Hale's leadership.

"I think a lot of the problems go back to inexperience as a law enforcement manager and limited law enforcement experience at all," he said. "And his supervisors don't have a lot of management experience or supervisory experience."

Hale, a former sheriff's deputy and community drug resistance coordinator, was elected sheriff in the 2000 election.

The sheriff questions whether the city's complaints can be resolved under the administration of Police Chief Jim Tomlinson.

"I would just like to see all players come to the table with a good-faith, honest effort to make it work," he said. "I'm not sure right now that's possible."

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