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Adams County Sheriff Plans To Continue Use Of Emergency Alert System For Community Meetings

BRIGHTON, Colo. (CBS4)- The Adams County Sheriff announced on its Facebook page that it will continue to activate its emergency alert system to get citizens to attend neighborhood meetings, following a CBS4 Investigation into a practice many law enforcement officials described as an abuse of a critically important reverse 911 system.

In their posting, the Adams County Sheriff insisted its reverse 911 system "First Call" is not an emergency alert system but "an information- sharing system that can be used for both emergency and non-emergency notifications."

Numerous national and local experts told CBS4 activating an emergency alert system to summon people to standard community meetings is a risky practice that desensitizes people to reverse 911 calls in the event of real emergencies.

Sheriff Doug Darr has refused to discuss the public policy issue in person with CBS4 but promised "The system has been and will continue to be used to share public safety concerns and information with our citizens for emergency and non-emergency purposes. We look forward to seeing you at a future meeting in your neighborhood."

CBS4 provided the following response Friday to Sheriff Darr:

Sheriff Darr:

Thank you for weighing in on our Investigative report from Wednesday night on your department's repeated use of the First Call Emergency Notification system in the last year to summon people to community meetings.

In your response that you posted you continue to claim the First Call Emergency Alert System should not be called an "Emergency Alert System." I will refer you to the First Call website in which they describe what they do as 'Emergency Notification':

I will also refer you to the contract between Adams County and First Call in which Adams County taxpayers are paying for "Emergency Telephone Notification." Please note in the first paragraph of the contract it says the public is paying for a 'functional phone emergency notification system'. I can provide you a copy of the contract.

I would also like to direct you to the sign up form on the Adams County Website:

Please note this line from the registration form:

FirstCall will only be activated in an emergency situation where there is a risk of significant harm, an urgent threat, or when a general notification is needed

The same information is repeated on the Adams County website here, that the First Call system will only be used for emergency alerts:

So our calling the First Call system an 'Emergency Alert System' is accurate, appropriate and proper, despite your protestations.

Your claim that it is intended to be an 'information- sharing system that can be used for both emergency and non- emergency notifications' is not supported by the facts. It is clearly intended to be used for public safety, emergency and life threatening situations, not to summon people to community meetings.

To that end, we interviewed and cited a number of your law enforcement colleagues in our report, all of whom said this sort of system should only be used for true emergencies, not for neighborhood meetings.

We spoke to the City of Denver 911 Operations Manager, Jefferson County Sheriff, the Fraternal Order of Police and interviewed Vernon Herron, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, who served for 27 years with the Maryland State Police and was the public safety director for Prince Georges County in Maryland. All said Reverse 911 systems like First Call should not be used to motivate people to come to community meetings but only for true emergencies.

The City of St. Petersburg, Florida also utilizes the First Call system like Adams County. Here is a link to their police website where they say in bold letters, "This system will be used for emergency notification purposes only."

That is clearly the industry standard and "best practices."

In your response to our report you cited crime statistics from 2003 through 2012.  We are not sure what the connection is between your activating an emergency alert system for community meetings beginning in 2013 to crime statistics from a decade earlier.

Finally, we reported that Division Chief Mike McIntosh announced  in February of 2013 his candidacy for sheriff.  We reported that two months later, your department began activating the emergency alert system(17 times in the last year)  to summon people to community meetings where you introduce Division Chief Mike McIntosh who you are supporting in his bid for Sheriff . It's up to the public to decide if that is a coincidence or if there is a political connection.

We are disappointed you continually refused to be interviewed on this public policy issue, but hope these facts help you, and the public, understand important information about our reporting and the use of First Call and other reverse 911 emergency notification systems.

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