County Board In Wisconsin Discusses 911 Center Issues After Murder

This story was written by Pedro Oliveira Jr., Badger Herald
More than 60 residents and a panel of Dane County supervisors discussed problems in the Dane County 911 Center and how to address issues the center currently faces.

The meeting comes after recently released information that slain University of Wisconsin junior Brittany Zimmermann placed a call to 911 the day she was murdered but the dispatcher failed to return her call, breaking center policy.

Some residents expressed concerns about 911 operations policies, from how long dispatchers take to send help to whether residents should call 911 from landlines due to the centers inability to accurately track the origin of cell phone calls.

One Madison resident said she called 911 around 10:30 p.m. a few months ago after hearing a stranger in the parking lot of her apartment complex. She waited until 11:30 that night but was never contacted by authorities.

She contacted mayoral aides the following morning and later found out police were not dispatched for an hour after the call had been placed and were at the scene around midnight.

I never received any follow up from the police district, she said. I feel I did not receive an adequate response.

The mishandling of the call from Zimmermanns phone has led many Dane County residents to question whether dispatchers are overworked, and one dispatcher, Michelle Nightoak, attended the meeting to clarify some of the attendees questions.

According to Nightoak, dispatchers are scheduled to work 8-hour shifts for six days, are allowed two days off and are not permitted to work more than 14 hours without a break. Still, dispatchers are only allowed one 15-minute break every four hours with no full-hour lunch breaks during shifts that could go for so long as 12 hours in a given day, she said.

Nightoak said she would normally work a maximum of 20 overtime hours a month, but has voluntarily worked the same number of hours every two weeks in the past few weeks.

Chuck Mueller, former Dane County supervisor, said he was part of the group that created 911 in the late 1980s, and the problem comes from the 911 centers consolidated services, which serve most of the greater Dane County area.

The idea behind 911 is that when you called 911 youd get the local people that would respond to the call, not that you would be patched through somewhere, he said.

For Mueller, Madison should have a system similar to Sun Prairie, which has its local 911 service and only uses the Dane County 911service in the early hours of the morning, when the center normally receives fewer calls.

With fewer than a dozen 911 dispatchers working at a given time, Mueller said the 911 Center is not capable of solving all problems at a county level and should localize services.

Roger Finch, a member of the Dane County Deputy Sheriff's Association executive board, said another concern is the existence of dead spots, areas in which communications are restricted due to geographical and environmental constraints.

Finch, who attended the meeting on behalf of the about 400members of the sheriffs association, said certain areas like the Dane County Regional Airport or sections of Highway 78 are problematic when receiving information from dispatchers.

These dead spots could be caused due to hills or long distances to communication towers, and Finch said he would like to see the system unified in one frequency and additional communication towers so information could be more easily relayed to police officers on the field.

Supervisor John Hendrick, District 6, said he is going to introduce a separate tax lobby for rural area patrol services, which he said could alleviate some of Dane Contys problems funding 911 services.

The resolution was recommended in 2004 as part of a safety task force, but has not been formally introduced, Hendrick added.

Police Chief Noble Wray, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Sheriff David Mahoney and 911 Director Joe Norwick were invited to speak, but were not in attendance.