BY | OCT 15, 2015 4:03 PM
New Haven Independent

New Haven’s beleaguered 911 call center failed to forward crime reports this year to the police records division, leading the city to fail to report at least 80 required cases—and counting—to the FBI.

Police discovered this problem after entering 1,300 backlogged reports from the 911 call center into their own computers. A police department records supervisor, Donna Rockhill, checked the 911 computer system and discovered that a total of 104 cases were missing from that batch of backlogged reports.

Assistant Chief Police Anthony Campbell, who ordered Rockhill to conduct the audit, said 80 of those cases— 64 larcenies and 16 motor vehicle thefts—were major enough crimes that by law the department must report them to the FBI to be included in official crime statistics.

All 80 cases occurred between January and March of this year. Police expect to find more.

The backlog involved so-called “expedited” cases that 911 operators handle and write up without involving an officer. The 911 center is an independent department officially known as the Public Service Answering Point (PSAP), housed at the police department.

Campbell fired off an email message Monday to PSAP Director Michael Briscoe demanding answers and explaining the potential ramifications of the mistake.

“As a result of this discrepancy, the first quarter crime statistics that records reported to the federal government were inaccurate. These additional expedited reports, which include 64 thefts from persons and multiple car thefts, will have to be reported in the next quarter to correct our crime statistics. As you know, the New Haven Police Department is committed to reporting accurate crime statistics at our weekly Compstat meeting, as well as to the federal government; federal funding significantly helps us in our effort to fight crime and reduce fear in our communities,” Campbell wrote.

In an interview Wednesday with the Independent, Campbell called the PSAP screw-up a “huge” problem that cuts to the police department’s credibility.

“It makes it look we’re cooking the books! If you don’t get the information into the system the way it should be, we can’t have proper statistics,” Campbell said.

Briscoe—under whose stewardship PSAP has encountered repeated controversies and questions about performance—did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story. (Click here, here, hereand here for stories about questions that have been raised about the 911 center’s operations under Briscoe’s leadership, including the controversial handling of a fatal 911 call. The audio of that call appears at the bottom of the story.) AFSCME Local 884 President Doreen Rhodes, whose union represents the 911 dispatchers, also failed to return calls seeking comment.

On Tuesday, Briscoe vowed in an email to Campbell to get to the bottom of the problem.

“Thank you for bringing this situation to my attention,” Briscoe wrote. “This is a serious matter.  I will work within the department, and between departments, to adequately research the problem.  My course of action will be to find out what reports are missing; find out who took the reports (if they were ever taken); find out why the reports were not printed; and, if in fact they were delivered to records, or not; and finally, where (exactly) the discrepancy lies to properly address this issue.

“One hundred and four reports are entirely too many reports to remain unaccounted. Once I find out what happened, I will follow up with you. In the meantime, if you could provide a specific list of the expedited reports of concern, they can be printed/reprinted for delivery.”

Chief Administrative Officer Mike Carter, who oversees PSAP, said he planned to meet with Briscoe Thursday for a briefing to get to the bottom of the problem.

Systems Changes

The problem followed two changes in computer systems at 1 Union Ave., which put pressure on both PSAP’s and the police records division’s staffs.

First came a change in the police department’s records management system. The department switched to a fully computerized records management system (or RMS) that enables officers to file paperless reports about, say, an arrest or a car accident directly into the system. That switchover from the previous, less efficient Computer Aided (CAD) system took place last October.

PSAP operators handling 911 calls do not have access to the police system, because it offers access to private information about people. With the new fully computerized system, 911 operators must print out copies of reports they take and forward them to the police records division, which would fill in remaining information and enter it into the RMS.

It turned out that PSAP couldn’t keep up with the workload. At first PSAP operators “stopped doing expedited reports altogether,” instead dispatching police officers to minor incidents they didn’t previously need to handle, tying them up on calls that operators could easily handle on their own, according to Campbell. The police “quickly put an end” to that, he said.

Next it was agreed that PSAP operators would type a “brief narrative” of expedited calls, then print out a report and hand it to the police records division to flesh out. The records division was understaffed by seven people at the time, so the backlog began piling up—to 1,300 reports. The department hired the seven needed staffers, who both completed the new expedited reports and worked on the backlog.

Three records staffers worked exclusively on the backlog, eliminating it by mid-August, Campbell said. He then assigned them to conduct the audit—where they discovered that PSAP had failed to deliver the 104 expedited reports for incidents occurring between January and March. It’s unknown how many more unreported cases will be discovered for the months immediately preceding and following that period.

A new problem developed three weeks ago when PSAP itself switched to a new 911 call-answering system required by the state, Campbell said.

Before the change, PSAP operators were divided into two groups. One group answered all calls; the other group handled only expedited reports. Under the new state-mandated 911 system, all PSAP operators must answer the phone within three rings.

“On multiple occasions Director Briscoe stated that some PSAP call operators may not be able to answer the phone on three rings and still do expedited reports. These employees may have to be retrained if possible and if not they may have to be relocated,” Campbell said. “As a result, PSAP and the police department have begun discussing checks and balances regarding the expedited reports.  Administratively, the new state-mandated 911 answering system may cause some PSAP staff members to be retrained in order to come up to speed with regard to the requirements of the new system. PSAP and the police department are communicating in an effort to ensure that all reported statistics are accurate and that nothing like what happened ever happens again.

“The long and short of the situation is that PSAP may have staffing issues which could affect its performance when it comes to expedited reports and getting them all to records in a timely fashion. But almost all departments in the city have or have had staffing issues, including records; the reality is that when we report statistics to the citizens of the city of New Haven and to the federal government we have to get it right. There can be no excuses!”