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Seeking solutions to 911 issues, councilmember Amy Murray shadows call-takers

Posted: 12:52 AM, May 18, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-18 04:52:04Z

CINCINNATI -- Since the April 10 death of Kyle Plush , who suffocated in the back of his van despite making two pleas for help through 911, Councilmember Amy Murray and her colleagues have searched for solutions to the long-running problems plaguing the city's 911 call center.

On Thursday night, she went straight to the source. Murray shadowed call-takers and dispatchers on a 12-hour shift to learn more about the environment in which they work and the skills they need to effectively field multitudes of calls from people in desperate situations.

"Until you actually sit down at the desk and sit with them for those shifts, it's very, very different," she said. "To see the variety of the calls, how the computers work, when they work well, when they don't work."

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Although response to the incident has included criticism of the two officers who searched for Plush from their car and of the Cincinnati Police Department generally, much of the public's attention focused on the two 911 call-takers who picked up April 10.

The first, Stephanie Magee, spoke to Plush and sent officers to the scene but did not tell them the boy had insisted he was in mortal danger.

The second, Amber Smith, never responded to Plush at all. His voice was indistinct because his phone was in his pocket -- Siri was the one who actually made the call -- and Smith turned on a system that lowered the call's volume to see if she could hear him better that way.

She couldn't, and she didn't know how to turn it off. Smith also said her computer repeatedly froze when she attempted to locate him and file an incident report.

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While she struggled with her computer, Plush continued to cry for help and eventually seemed to conclude he'd been hung up on. The recording of that second call ends with him trying to get Siri's attention again.

At an April 17 hearing about Plush's death, emergency call center system analyst Jennifer King testified the 911 center had been consistently understaffed by up to 20 jobs for a long period of time. Others who spoke that day shared stories of low morale and verbally abusive managers in addition to poorly managed technology, and Council subsequently voted to send more funding to the center.

Murray said in a Monday hearing she believed Plush had been "failed horribly" by the city's systems.

On Thursday, having taken an up-close look at one of said systems, Murray said the experience gave her a new perspective and new concerns to bring before her fellow council members.

"It seems to me we need to keep focusing on training," she said. "That is critical because we have new systems in there, and there's still some areas where we need additional training to make sure that everyone is exactly up to speed on where they need to be."

Murray added she hopes to travel to emergency call centers in other cities to learn what works around the state. Although a Cincinnati Police Department investigation came back Monday, she and her colleagues were unsatisfied with the results. They  approved an independent investigation of officers' and call-takers' behavior in the Plush incident.