PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – As Pembroke Pines Commissioner Jay Schwartz was pushing for a vote regarding what he and other officials call a poorly performing 911 service, he said he got an angry call from Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
Schwartz said Israel wasn't so much concerned about the dispatch system that his agency manages as he was about the timing of the complaint. He alleges that Israel "loudly" told him to wait until after the election to raise his concerns about the regional 911 system, which some officials say presents a life safety risk in Broward County.
Israel is facing several opponents in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, as well as the November general election.
Despite the sheriff's protestation, Schwartz has the issue on agenda for a vote at Wednesday night's commission meeting.
Schwartz is proposing to set a deadline for the Sheriff's Office and the county -- which funds the $39 million system -- to bring the performance of the system up to par that if not met will trigger Pembroke Pines' departure from the system.
"He asked that the item wait until after the primary," Schwartz said. "I went forward with the item because it's about protecting the residents of Broward County. This dispatch system is not political. What I heard from the sheriff was very disappointing."
Israel refused to comment or go on air regarding the 911 system or Schwartz's allegation, but the Broward Sheriff's Office put out a statement acknowledging the phone call but claiming Israel asked Schwartz to delay the issue until a consultant report was issued.
"For whatever personal/political reason, Mr. Schwartz appears to want to grandstand and not rely on quantifiable facts about the success of the [dispatch system]," the BSO said in the statement. "Any claim suggesting the conversation was politically motivated is unequivocally false."
Schwartz said it's the sheriff's statement that's untrue, adding he intends to speak about the sheriff's request at Wednesday night's commission meeting to get it on the historical record.
But Schwartz said his most pressing concern is the regionalized dispatch service that was consolidated with 28 Broward County cities in 2013 and has been widely panned as poorly managed to date.
"Standards have not been met, they continue to not be met and it must change," Schwartz said "Answering the phones takes longer, dispatching the call takes longer, our police officers are not being properly communicated with and that has to change."
In fact, a recently released preliminary findings in a Broward County consultant's report confirmed 911 service "has declined from that previously enjoyed by Pembroke Pines." Schwartz isn't alone on his commission, either, as several other commissioners voiced their concern, including Iris Siple.
"The bottom line is it is not working and lives are being put at risk," Siple said at a recent meeting. "It is absolutely not working right.
Pembroke Pines police Sgt. Adam Feiner blasted the BSO as well, telling the commission that it's much worse than the numbers indicate and "below average, substandard."
"It is incredibly frustrating to be back in BSO's communication system when their standard, as well as they may be doing it is not what I expect, it's not what the men and women of the police department expect," Feiner said. "We can give you concrete example after example for what is really occurring on the road that humiliate and embarrass (the BSO) relative to their explanations about the data that they capture."
Pembroke Pines isn't the only city threatening to abandon the system, which currently services 28 cities, with only Plantation and Coral Springs opting not to join in the first place.
Fort Lauderdale commissioners have also threatened to break away from the "underperforming" system and has instructed its city manager, Lee Feldman, to come up with an alternative, said Commissioner Dean Trantalis, who said he worries that a life may be lost as a result of the problems.
"Often times they sent them to the wrong addresses and the wrong cities," Trantalis said. "Many times we've heard things that should not happen. It's a matter of just knowing when there's an emergency how to route the responders."
One veteran dispatcher, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, confirmed that the system has been terribly mismanaged from the beginning, starting with the decision to run the system out of three buildings spread across the county, in Pembroke Pines, Sunrise and Coconut Creek.
"They kept us in three different buildings," she said. "A regionalization should have been brought under one com center."
She said it's been “heartbreaking” watching the once-proud system fall into shambles. She said management has been “slipshod and wrong” from the beginning, with training for dispatchers trying to learn new systems, confusion regarding addresses of callers and that it's led at times to poor response times.
"If there was the support and the training then all of us could have helped carry this through," she said. "But without the training people fell through the cracks."
"People should be worried?" Local 10 News investigative reporter Bob Norman asked.
"Yes," she answered.
She said there is a shortage of personnel -- the BSO reported that there are 22 open positions in the system right now -- and that dispatchers are overworked, many working long overtime hours. At the same time she said county officials have place unreasonable expectations on the dispatchers, micromanaging their efforts to the system's detriment.
"The micromanaging is pushing people away," she said. "It's putting self doubt into people who have been doing this for years."
She said she too blames Israel for the mess, especially for handing emergency over to the county in the first place.
"He gave over my division to the county," said the dispatcher, who said she supported Israel's election in 2012. "And the county commission are my bosses, and these bosses are having expectations that are unreasonable to accomplish the job."
"So you don't have faith in either the sheriff or the county?" Norman asked.
"No," she answered.
Yet she said she still has hope it will get on track and defends the work of dedicated dispatchers.
"Even with the mismanagement, even with the lack of training," she said, "we still accomplish the job, we still get it done."