BOCA RATON, Fla. - Are the people staffing Boca Raton's emergency dispatch center always awake? One dispatcher says no — and her allegation has touched off a nasty fight that also has called into question how Boca handles videos recorded there.
Clouding the issue is that fact that the dispatcher who complained — Elizabeth Moritis — is on paid leave herself after she was seen on video sleeping on the job, according to city records.
Linking up first responders with calls for help — and Boca's emergency dispatch averages about 17,000 of them each month — dispatchers have to be prepared to handle everything from a barking dog to an arresting heart, said Everette Vaughan, director of the Emergency Medical Service Program at Palm Beach State College.
"They have to be at the top of their game and very alert," Vaughan said, explaining that the job requires hundreds of hours of training. "They go through training not just for how to operate the equipment ... They have to be prepared for everything you can think of that someone would call 911 for."
Boca's Assistant Police Chief Edgar Morley says sleeping dispatchers are a rarity in the call center — in fact, he said he could not recall a similar case.
There have been no public complaints about dispatchers not responding to phone calls nor any indication that the public has been at risk.
Morley declined to comment on Moritis, calling it a personnel matter.
Moritis, who has worked as an emergency dispatcher for the city since 2002 and currently earns a salary of $52,383, has been on administrative leave with pay since June 22, according to city documents. She filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in July, alleging that she had been targeted for discipline and harassment because of her medical issues.
Moritis has diabetes and needs an insulin pump.
In her personnel file, a June 12 memo from a supervisor said that Moritis appeared "in a non-alert position" several times between 7:15 and 8:15 a.m., May 27. And that she was in "almost supine position" from 9:16 to 9:25 a.m. on June 10.
But Moritis, and her lawyer Isidro Garcia, say that other dispatchers also have slept on the job, and there should be video to prove it. But they can't get it. And they've filed a complaint with the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office.
"She had learned there were other dispatchers sleeping on the job, so she made a public records request for those videotapes," Garcia said. "She was told one thing and then another."
Her first request to the city was on July 23. Moritis wanted video taken on May 22, but video records are kept only for 30 days, she was told. Moritis also asked to see the notice of destruction that Boca is required to provide — but hasn't received it yet, according to her statement.
On Sept. 4, she asked for tapes from Aug. 10 and Aug. 25 and was told that there was a problem with the equipment holding more than 15 days' worth of recordings, even though one of her requests fell within 15 days of the date of the video she requested.
The State Attorney's Office declined to respond to requests for documents in the case, citing an exemption in the state's open records law for active investigations. The police department's Morley confirmed that 30 days of videotape of activity are retained in the Communications Center, but a problem with the retention was discovered about 45 days ago when a request for a specific date was made.
"It's a brand new system," Morley said. "There was a technical issue with the DVR. It wasn't recording enough time. But as soon as it came to our attention, it was fixed."
Morley said he wasn't aware of an investigation by the State Attorney's Office. But Isidro said investigators have interviewed his client. He said the videotape is crucial for proving his case that city officials applied different standards to his client's job performance.
Four to eight people are typically staffing Boca's Communications Center at any given hour, depending on the time of day, Morley said.
Moritis' personnel file is a testament to how closely each decision can be scrutinized. There are letters of commendation, but also criticism of how she handled individual calls, such as not following the right procedures for a fire alarm or failing to provide the correct instructions to the wife of a patient who, it was learned later, was already dead.
In her 10 years, her evaluations ranged from satisfactory to outstanding. She was suspended from work a few times and completed a performance improvement plan, but her last review in October 2011 shows an employee in good standing: receiving a 3.47 rating out of 5.
In her complaint to the EEOC, she says that her supervisor brought in photos of obese people, making her feel uncomfortable. She says she was forced to sign a document saying she wouldn't chew ice, when other dispatchers chew gum or food. And she was reprimanded for canceling overtime shifts which she said others do it all the time