Perhaps the last thing a police officer wants to do is walk into a situation not knowing that someone at the scene is carrying a weapon, authorities agree.
That type of scenario is what law enforcement officials hope won’t happen once the Oneida County 911 Center begins using new software that helps dispatchers ask callers the proper sequence of questions based on what police emergency is at hand.
The ProQA Paramount software, marketed by Priority Dispatch Corp. in Salt Lake City, relays as much information as possible to a local police agency to determine how the officer should respond. The software is being used across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Oneida County already has utilized similar software in cases of medical emergencies. But once this second phase of technology is installed as early as the end of this month, authorities hope to take the guesswork out of 911 dispatches without slowing down any response time.
BY THE NUMBERS
Total cost: $135,000. Includes $118,000 for dispatch software, paid for with Oneida County land-line phone surcharges, and $17,000 in Homeland Security federal funds to make software compatible with county’s CAD computer system.
2011 calls answered on all lines: More than 366,000.
Calls to 911 answered in 2011: More than 250,000.
Dispatches in 2011: More than 148,000.
Coverage includes: 50 fire departments, 14 or more police agencies, 15 ambulance services.
Staffing: Nine trained full-time call-takers handle 12 call-taking positions and must monitor between five to six computers at any one time.
The following questions are similar to what 911 call-takers might ask callers regarding a potentially violent incident:
Tell me exactly what happened?
Are you or the suspect still at the scene now?
Was a weapon involved or mentioned?
Where is the weapon now?
Are you or anyone else in immediate danger?
Has the suspect left the area?
Do you know where the suspect is going?
GATHERING THE FACTS
As a former police investigator, current Oneida County Emergency Services Commissioner Kevin Revere said he has noticed that some call-takers don’t ask all the pertinent questions.
But with this software, call-takers will be prompted to ask a series of scripted logical questions that are relevant to the concerns of officer safety, public safety and solving crimes, Revere said. If the call is truly urgent, there also is a setting that kicks the call to an immediate dispatch.
“Nobody’s perfect, and it’s not easy for a dispatcher to remember every single relevant question regarding an incident when they have to monitor a radio and be on the phone with somebody who may not be all that clear on what’s going on,” Revere said. “Our dispatchers have so many things to do, with so many things thrown at them, that if there’s anything we can do to make their jobs easier to serve the public, we want to do it.”
KEEPING POLICE INFORMED
Authorities such as New Hartford police Chief Michael Inserra understand that it can be easy for dispatchers to sometimes forget what questions to ask when a caller is irate or incoherent.
In the past, officers have occasionally arrived at scenes and gathered information that the dispatcher should have been able to get beforehand, Inserra said.
“You don’t want to walk into a situation when you don’t have the information that could have easily been obtained by the call-taker, and that results in the injury or death of responding personnel,” Inserra said.
FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT
Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara voiced concern that scripted questions might hinder dispatchers from using their own judgment to ask questions unique to situation.
“When you have someone leave their common sense and communication skills at the door to follow a checklist, that’s not always the right way,” McNamara said. “In certain circumstances, it might be helpful, but you can’t anticipate every fact pattern that might come in a 911 call.”
Carlynn Page, associate director of the nonprofit National Academies of Emergency Dispatch, said this software helps guide dispatchers through heated situations without “taking away their brains or making them robots.”