Contact 5 uncovers South Florida 911 dispatchers sleeping, making mistakes on the job

Pattern of problems uncovered in South Florida

You call them in an emergency when every second counts.

911 dispatchers help thousands of people every day in what can be life or death situations.

"It's a matter of a person's life that's in our hands," said St. Lucie County Public Safety Manager Tiffany Bennett.

Most dispatchers are life savers.

But in some cases, the Contact 5 Investigators discovered those calls for help are going unanswered, even deliberately ignored.

Through public records requests, NewsChannel 5 analyzed discipline records and 911 phone calls for dispatch centers across the entire viewing area. 

While many 911 dispatchers are honored for the their work, the Contact 5 Investigators discovered more than 20 dispatchers from three agencies have been written up for making mistakes on the job.

Click here to see a complete list of what the dispatchers have been reprimanded for.

In a recorded 911 call from Delray Beach, you can hear the dispatcher hang up on a caller.

911 Dispatcher:  "If you don't know what street you're on, neither do I."

Caller:  "A police officer might."

911 Dispatcher:  "I don't need to explain my job to you ok.  Have a nice day sir (click.)"

Listen to the full 911 call below.

Plus, the Contact 5 Investigators discovered a few dispatchers who downloaded porn on the job.  Another clicked more than 5,000 times on dating sites while dispatching.

Click below to hear the interview with the 911 dispatcher who accessed these sites.

And in never before seen video, a Boca Raton dispatcher was caught on camera last summer snoozing on the job.  On surveillance video obtained by NewsChannel 5 you can see her leaning back in her chair getting some shut eye.  She was written up for being "non alert."

Click here to watch more of the video.

She's not the only one.

In Delray Beach, a dispatcher fell asleep in the middle of a call for help.  (Listen to audio from the 911 call & an interview with the dispatcher below.)

She's one of four dispatchers who were caught falling asleep in the city over a four year time period.  That includes a supervisor.  During taped interviews with the dispatcher manager, coworkers said they had to wake the supervisor up.  "I remember hearing him snoring off and on," a coworker said.  " He had his feet up and was leaning back," the fellow dispatcher said.

Listen to the full interview with a coworker below.

It's the same supervisor who wrote a memo warning workers to stay awake on the job.

It doesn't stop there. In some cases, emergency medical crews aren't being sent. 

"I saw red, that's what I saw," said driver Breanna Colbeck.  "He (the other driver) just rammed right into the back of my car," she said.

When Colbeck was involved in a three car accident in Port St. Lucie, drivers called 911.

911 Dispatcher:  "Why don't I send rescue out there to at least have her checked out?" the dispatcher said to the caller.

But rescue didn't show up right away because records show the dispatcher didn't call them.

"Wow, that sounds like a big mistake on his part," said Colbeck.

Records show it happened seven times over a three year period in St. Lucie County alone.  It's a call center that takes in more than 1,000 calls a day.

 "You get caught up in the call or if the phones are ringing a lot you move onto the next one too fast," said Bennett.

In disciplinary records, a St. Lucie County dispatch manager wrote "it could mean the difference between life and death."

"Absolutely, it sure can," responded St. Lucie County Public Safety Manager Tiffany Bennett.

The punishment for not dispatching an ambulance in the County is an automatic 24 hour unpaid suspension.

"Is a 24 hour suspension strong enough?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Dan Krauth.

"It does catch their attention and a lot of them, the ones your reviewed, are not repeat offenders," said Bennett.

"I think he should be fired," said Colbeck.

None of the dispatchers we mentioned were fired over what happened.  Each agency has its own disciplinary rules on a case by case basis. 

Click here to see a complete list of what 911 Dispatchers in our area have been disciplined for.

In Boca Raton, the "non alert" dispatcher was put on leave and transferred out of the department.  In Delray Beach, the dispatchers caught sleeping on duty were given written reprimands.  Except for the supervisor, he received an eight hour unpaid suspension.

"To me, it should be one strike and you're out, that should not be going on," said Delray Beach City Commissioner Adam Frankel.  "It's a problem that needs to be addressed," he said.

Commissioner Frankel brought it to the attention of the entire city commission during their last board meeting.  They're now looking into what happened.  During the meeting Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein  said "I mean that's a pretty serious issues, it's not just someone falling asleep in

a squad car."

The Delray Beach Police department declined to talk about the issue on camera.  A public information officer for the City emailed a statement stating. "At this time the City does not have a statement regarding your news story due to potential legal responsibilities that we would not want to compromise.  The City of Delray Beach Police Department is dedicated and working hard to ensure the safety and protection of all residents, businesses, visitors and stakeholders within our community."

Meanwhile, many of the dispatchers in the disciplinary records reviewed by the Contact 5 Investigators are still on the job.

"They're human, you don't want to make a mistake period but it's going to happen," said Bennett.

After repeated attempts, none of the dispatchers would talk to NewsChannel 5 on camera about the discipline they received.

If a person has a problem with a 911 dispatcher they can file a complaint.  That complaint will then be investigated by the department.

See the full list of 911 Dispatchers reprimands by clicking here.

Investigative Producer Lynn Walsh contributed to this story.









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