What We Can Learn From the Police That Pioneered Body Cameras – Governing Magazine

Among police and their communities across the country there is 1208_taser-800x480an important conversation occurring about police worn body cameras.  Should we or shouldn’t we?  There are many aspects to be considered on this important and expensive topic.  We have already had discussion with our city council to educate them on the issues that surround any potential adoption of this technology.

Governing magazine published this article which gives some insight into this important issue.

What We Can Learn From the Police That Pioneered Body Cameras.

NBC News posted this short video on body cameras

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More on Texting to 911

Local 911 center coordinators meet together every 3 months in 911-text-if-you-cant-callOakland County.  We share information, policies and other items of mutual interest.  We have LOTS of items of mutual interest since we are all on one radio system and we share a computer aided dispatch software system and police records system.  These systems are subdivided by community but ultimately one big system.  One of the largest of its kind in the country.

One important item of interest is how the texting to 911 is going with the Sheriff’s Office since it began in January 2015. Today their dispatch center director, Mel Maier, reported on how it has been going.  He said that in the 1st 30 days they had 57 texts and of those 36 were determined to be non emergency or accidental.  Of the “actual” emergencies 3 cases stood out.  One was a deaf boy who was seeking help for his mother after a car crash and the others were situations where  the person would have been in danger had they called so they texted.

You might recall that the Sheriff’s Office is taking all of the texts for all of Oakland County right now because there are problems in determining location of the emergency given the technology we have. It is better right now if one center handles it all and they can work directly with the 4 main cellular carriers.  The OCSO calls our center if the text is determined to be in our community for us to respond.  In the first 30 days there was 1 call for Auburn Hills. Right now they cannot forward it to our center–they must call us by phone.

A couple of things have been learned and I wanted to pass those along to you, the users:

1.  If you are near a county border it is very possible your text won’t be routed to Oakland County, particularly if you are moving from one county into the next as in a car on I-75.  You would have to reboot your phone so that your text would be re routed.  Cumbersome, I know.

2.  You must check the privacy settings on your phone if you want to text to us.  Quite a few of the texts directed them to a Verizon store in Southfield because that is where the phones were activated. When the owners changed the privacy settings that was the last place the phone was seen to be active.

3. If you have a wi-fi extender in your house or your phone’s texting capability switches to your wi-fi from the cellular carrier we may have trouble finding you.  We’ve had some come to us from out of state.

4. They can only accept SMS messages.  Not multi media including photos or video that is all the networks can support at this time. If you have a photo or video you want to share you will have to call your local PD who may be able to rig up a way for you to transmit your item to them.  (That is what we do).

I know it isn’t a perfect system.  We don’t have all of the same capabilities as Google –we are government and are dollars are a bit more limited.   So call us when you need us and text us only when you have no other alternative.

When I call 911 on my cell phone do you know where I am? Maybe

I was glad to see a USA Today news story over the weekend that details the challenges we have with the national cellular 911 system:  we struggle to find out where you are when you call us in an emergency.  Simply put – the system has challenges.  So it is important to know your location because we will have to ask you once or more than once where, exactly, you are.  highway-sm

The article gives great insight into a known problem.  The 911 system was designed for land line phones but there has been an explosion in the number of cell phones –in fact for the last couple of years we have known that there are more cell phones than land lines in Oakland County.  I realize that your Google apps can use the location data of the phone to find you but 911 doesn’t have access to that.  We get an X/Y coordinate that tells us what cell tower you are near and then we have to search for you based on what “face” of the cell tower your call hit.  Here is what it looks like (I colored out the number)

wireless 911

Here is what the dispatcher’s screen looks like on a wireless 911 call. The address is where the nearest tower is – southwest sector or tower face. Note that the system itself is telling the dispatcher to verify location.  They also need to verify your call back number since we all know that calls drop without warning.

We regularly get calls for other jurisdictions that “bounce” into our center.


A representation of how the system works.

Texting is even worse in terms of location since it uses any entirely different system.  It is definitely not ready for prime time only if you absolutely can’t call us on a voice line.  Complicating things even more is that the wireless 911 system (such as it is) was really only designed for OUTDOOR use not in building which has many more challenges.

This problem has been known for several years–we rely on the FCC and the cell carriers to meet the requirements.  But when they don’t, dispatchers do the best they can by “bidding” and “re-bidding” your cell phone to see if they can find you.  Mostly we can but it is and has been a problem.

USA Today:  911’s Deadly Flaw: Lack of Location Data

You can learn more from the National Emergency Number Association:  NENA .  They have been lobbying the FCC and the telecommunication industry for years about these problems.

So until someone gets the fix done – know where you are and tell us.  If you don’t know or can’t tell us – DON’T HANG UP and we’ll do our very best to find you.

Interesting to me were the comments following the article.  People were willing to have private companies have access to their location information 24x7x365 but expressed concern that the “government” AKA 911 would have that information.  I had never thought of it that way before.  I guess they’ve never needed us before.  I hope you don’t need us –but if you do know that you can help us find you faster if you know your location.  

Text to 911????

tumblr_m1kaq4nwLv1qehpd7Back in March of 2014 I published this blog about the changes coming to the 911 system.  Yesterday the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office made their announcement about their move to accept texting on behalf of all of the dispatch centers in Oakland County so that all of the bugs in the system can be worked out before individual centers begin accepting texts.  Wireless 911 calls were handled in exactly the same way back in the late 1990’s.  Much of the challenge revolves around finding the location of device texting or calling.  Any form of 911 that people must rely upon in an emergency must operate without fail, wouldn’t you agree?  Texting is an imperfect system for emergencies but the FCC has ordered that the carriers make texting to 911 workOakland County’s 911 center will accept the texts and then forward them on to us for response. You will note that in the original blog we were told that this system would be available in May 2014–that didn’t happen–just too many problems to sort out. 

Big changes are coming up to the 911 system.  The FCC has mandated that public safety answering points (like us) who answer 911 calls be able to accept texts by October of this year.  This is a big change to us and an even bigger change to the wireless companies like Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile.  The system isn’t set up to be a fail safe way to contact emergency services.  Right now, people try to send us reports on Facebook, Twitter and by text.  We don’t monitor social media in real time so we won’t know what you are saying is happening on the freeway right now.  Our system doesn’t handle that sort of communication.  We are set up to take voice calls and the system nationally works pretty flawlessly–people who call 911 from anywhere get routed by the system to the nearest 911 center which is trained and equipped to respond to the call.  Think about that — sometimes we take it for granted, how big and complex the system is and it can do it for cell phones and for wireline phones.  There isn’t a comparable system yet for texting or receiving photos or videos.

Maybe it isn’t such a big deal if your text doesn’t get through for an hour or a day but if your text is requesting emergency help–like you are under the bed while the burglars search your house, or trapped in a car that slid down a hillside.   Texting is not a failsafe system- it was never intended to be that kind of system.  There are some challenges like:  how can we identify where it is coming from like we can with 911 calls?  Right now we send police to hang up calls in case the caller couldn’t talk to us because of the emergency–how will we do that for a text?  There are a many of these kinds of  concerns and problems yet to be solved.  I know you are asking yourself why is this thing moving so fast then?  It is because those who are deaf or have reduced hearing ability also need to contact us.  There is an older system called TTY/TDD which is a communications device for the deaf or hard of hearing – all PSAPs have one.  It had its day and now we’ve moved on to texting as a solution to this challenge.

But for those of us who are not hearing impaired–DON’T TEXT US.   The Sheriff’s Office has agreed to take all texts for the county during this transitional time beginning in May (from the 4 major carriers) and transfer the text to us. Not a perfect system but we’ll do our best to make it work.

So CALL 911 if you can – text if you can’t.

Here is more information.