Butler County Sheriff: Misuse of emergency system ‘serious breach of protocol'

Butler County Sheriff: Misuse of emergency system ‘serious breach of protocol'
Posted at 5:40 AM, Jan 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-05 06:33:33-05

HAMILTON, Ohio -- There is no need for reprimands after an emergency notification system was used to send a non-emergency message to about 20,000 residents, according to the county prosecutor, despite accusations of a “serious breach of protocol” from Butler County’s top law enforcement official.

On Dec. 13, Matt Haverkos, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, authorized the Butler County Auditor’s Office to use the EMA’s notification system to remind residents to renew dog licenses, WCPO's news partner The Journal-News reports.

The agency operates two notification systems, Haverkos said — one for emergencies such as severe weather or disasters and another for non-emergency purposes.

There was a “glitch” with the auditor’s office notification when it first went out because it said “this is an emergency management agency message,” Haverkos told the Journal-News, adding that the greeting referencing the EMA was later changed.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones said people are “scared to death” when they get a call saying it is coming from the EMA.

“Then they hear (Auditor) Roger Reynolds’ voice about dog tags,” Jones said.

“One constituent asked if we were going to start pulling cars over to sell dog tags,” he wrote in a letter to Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser that called for Haverkos’ resignation after the “serious breach of protocol”

Gmoser told the Journal-News that he forwarded Jones’ letter to Haverkos and advised him to read the sheriff’s concerns, but he does not intend to take any other action.

“I see it as no harm, no foul,” Gmoser told the Journal-News. “This was about dog licenses. It is not the end of the world. No one was injured and nobody’s house burned down because the system was used this time.”

However, the prosecutor said he does not believe the notification system will be used the same way in the future.

The Auditor’s Office has used the automatic calling system since 2013 for various notifications, according to Reynolds, but the dog license renewal message was the largest it has ever sent.

About 30,000 dog licenses are sold annually in Butler County, he said.

The auditor’s office saved about $10,000 in mailing and other costs by using the EMA notification system, according to Reynolds.

“It is about sharing resources,” he said. “And I understand the sheriff’s concern in not alarming the public. That is why we made the change (in greeting) right away.”

Haverkos told the Journal-News he has not contacted Jones about the concerns the sheriff expressed.

Last October, Jones told commissioners he could save taxpayer money if the county’s EMA was combined with the sheriff’s office.

The EMA is currently run by Haverkos and three full-time employees who organize local first responders for major disasters.

Haverkos, who became EMA director in 2015, reports to a board that includes a sheriff’s office employee.

Last year was not the first time Jones suggested the sheriff’s department assume EMA responsibilities, thus eliminating the need for a separate staff.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, former Butler County Commissioners Chuck Furmon and Greg Jolivette denied such a request by Jones, but former commissioner Mike Fox supported the idea.

State law determines how EMAs are run, and there have been several attempts to change that state law, Oxford Fire Chief John Detherage previously told the Journal-News.

Detherage heads the Butler County Fire Chiefs Association, which opposes the idea of the sheriff’s department overseeing the EMA.

Funding is the main reason the Butler County Fire Chiefs Association opposes such a change.

“The county EMA Director plays a key role in the distribution of grant funding. We are deeply concerned that these funds would be disproportionately distributed to law enforcement agencies, particularly sheriff’s departments, rather than being distributed to responders and communities based on need,” the group’s position paper reads. “The sheriff faces a potential conflict of interest with respect to the distribution of grant funding.”

This article contains previous reporting by staff writer Denise G. Callahan.