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Consultants recommend changes to emergency communications; Plush parents critical

Posted at 3:12 PM, Nov 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-15 18:23:12-05

CINCINNATI -- A monthslong investigation into Kyle Plush's death did not yield any criminal charges, but investigators and outside consultants did outline several recommendations to improve the region's emergency communications services.

The teenager's parents said they worry it's not enough.

Sixteen-year-old Plush died last April after he became trapped in his minivan in the parking lot of Seven Hills High School despite making two calls to 911 for help.

During a special meeting of City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee Thursday morning, committee members heard findings from two separate investigations conducted by two public safety consulting firms: Pennsylvania-based Mission Critical Partners and Chicago-based 21st Century Policing Solutions.

Mission Critical Partners looked into the Emergency Communication Center's handling of the 911 calls associated with Plush's death, and 21CP investigated the Cincinnati Police Department's response to the incident.

The first recommendation from MCP was that the 911 center "should create a committee to thoroughly review and rewrite all of their standard operating policies," the firm's representative Sherry Griffith Powell told council members.

Among the major recommendations for the 911 center were:

  • Re-evaluate how dispatchers handle incidents called in using cell phones
  • Create a new policy requiring officer dispatch after a second call from the same cell phone number
  • Create a standard SOP template based on examples from other cities
  • Reinstate a policy for teletypewriter (TTY) devices in cases involving silent calls
  • Provide re-training on all call handling equipment utilized by the center
  • Cross-training on wireless location technology and terminology
  • Re-train call-takers on 911 customer service
  • Allow time for ECC staff to adjust to all SOP changes before implementing more major initiatives
  • Implement a stress-management program for ECC staff
  • Install new acoustic treatment for the ECC's backup center facility to reduce background noise that could hamper call-takers' ability to gather information

21CP also offered these recommendations in relation to CPD's response to the incident:

  • Provide cross-training to CPD personnel on emergency communications and police dispatch
  • Explore training opportunities relating to situations involving unknown trouble or suspicious circumstances
  • Implement policies and protocols to ensure independent interviews of non-CPD personnel implicated or involved in departmental internal investigations
  • Consider refresher training on body-worn camera policy
  • Ensure CPD internal affairs investigators video record all interviews

The investigation of Plush's death included close scrutiny of police and 911 responders. A preliminary investigation revealed technical problems and human error may have played roles in first responders' failure to locate Plush. The 911 operator who took Plush's second call said she couldn’t hear him when he described the make, model and color of the minivan where he was trapped and suffocating.

Plush died April 10 in the parking lot of Seven Hills High School. He had become trapped inside the trunk of his minivan by a folding seat, which compressed his torso until he suffocated.

He made at least two calls to 911 before his death, repeatedly shouting details of his location and insisting his pleas were not a joke. Police officers came to the school.

However, the 911 operator had failed to share the make and model of Plush's van, and the officers, who said in radio chatter they assumed the call was a prank, never left their car to search for him. 

His father, Ron, would be the one to discover his body. 

Ron Plush and his wife, Jill, were critical of the investigations. Neither of the firms interviewed the police officers or the call takers from the day Kyle died; the firms used interviews that had already been conducted.

"It disturbs me when again, we say we're gonna do something and we're not getting it done," Ron Plush said. "And I don't expect to solve all this in today's session. But I can't emphasize that enough. We are almost seven months past Kyle's tragedy. I think we've made progress. Have we made enough?"

Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman stressed that officials want officers interviewed as well as anyone at the call center to be interview by the firms in the name of transparency. 

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld questioned the use of external sources for the investigations when key interviews were missing.

According to Deters, Plush's parents have communicated through their attorney they do not want to sue the city of Cincinnati. They only want the 911 system to be improved for the sake of their son and children like him.