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911 training bills moving forward

MANATEE — Legislation requiring statewide training and certification for 911 dispatchers has won the backing of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association and is given a good chance of passage this year, officials said.

“My understanding is it has strong support in both House and Senate,” said Longboat Key Police Chief Albert Hogle, who also serves on the legislative committee for the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

“It’s going very, very well,” noted Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, a sponsor of the bill attempting to remedy Florida’s patchwork system of voluntary training by instituting mandatory instruction and certification.

Last week, a companion bill, House Bill 769, won approval from one House of Representatives committee, and an amended version of Detert’s original bill, Senate Bill 2040, is slated for review before a Senate committee today, said Rep. Kenneth Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, a co-sponsor of the House bill with Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda.

“It will improve the public’s confidence in the 911 system in Florida,” Roberson said Tuesday.

The 911 system came under scrutiny last year after the family of an abducted North Port woman complained that confusion at a Charlotte County 911 call center deprived law enforcement officers of a chance to save her life. The family of murdered Denise Amber Lee set up a foundation in her memory to urge reforms.

The police chiefs’ doubts about how the plan might work and which agency would oversee training and certification have been resolved, Hogle said.

He added that the sheriff’s association, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a national organization of dispatchers are working together to formalize standards. They also are discussing a reasonable deadline for when 911 operators must have completed formal training and certification, he said.

“It appears the Senate and the House will help make this happen in a fashion that will work for the benefit of all concerned parties,” said Hogle. “Everybody recognizes there’s been opportunities to do a better job and everybody wants to do a better job.”

Gerald Monahan, president of the chiefs’ association, said amendments to the House version helped bolster support for it because it clarified that operators could train at their own dispatch centers as long as they finished an approved curriculum and won state certification.

That’s important to local government because in order to have everybody certified by a certain date requires a vehicle to help make it happen, Monahan said.

“The Florida police chiefs certainly understand how this all came about,” he added. “Our hearts are still heavy for the (Lee) family. We want to do the right thing, We do want good training for our dispatch centers. Our mission and goals are the same as the foundation’s and the family’s.”

Dispatchers have been looking for a long time for some type of certification process, and “we finally reached a point where everybody can agree,” said Roy Hudson, director of law enforcement services for the Florida Sheriffs Association. “It adds a little more to their professionalism.”

The early version of the House bill would have required uniform training, so operators in Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, for example, would have had to meet the same standards, said David Garofalo, North Port city commissioner and a board member of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation.

“Now, it may be minimum standards, but not really uniform standards,” he said. “We probably want to go to the next level, with uniform training, but we want the police chiefs and sheriffs on our side.

“It’s a big step,” he added.

New requirements probably would have little effect on about 30 full-time sheriff’s office 911 dispatchers, since they already take intense training, said Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube.

Still, he favors mandatory standards and certification because “it does put a template out there for the minimum of training for all dispatchers, whether it be 911 or sheriff’s office or police department dispatchers.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com

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