Former AECC manager issues statement on Childers' 911 calls

Former AECC manager issues statement on Childers' 911 calls
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Terry Childers, Interim Amarillo City Manager
Terry Childers, Interim Amarillo City Manager

AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) -  The former manager of the Amarillo Emergency Communications Center is speaking out over the recent 911 call controversy.

We've heard from Interim City Manager Terry Childers, now Terry Bavousett is weighing in.

Bavousett released a statement on Wednesday concerning a range of issues and events involving the AECC and disputing remarks made by Childers.

"I cannot let those comments go unchallenged any longer," Bavousett wrote.

He says the main reason he released a statement is to stand up for who he describes as the amazing men and woman that staff the 911 dispatch center.

"Mr. Childers claimed that AECC was reorganized because of other issues and not because of his experience, " Bavousett wrote. "I found that interesting since Mr. Childers has never spoken to me about issues at AECC."

The 911 phone calls resulted in the Amarillo Police and Fire Departments taking control of the call center. After three months as manager, Bavousett was removed from his position. He says in his statement that he now plans to retire from the City on March 9th.

Since the changes, Bavousett claims "The department is currently in chaos. There is confusion and many unanswered questions by employees and the new supervisors because of the immediate nature of the reorganization."

Below is the full statement from Former AECC manager Terry Bavousett:

My name is Terry Bavousett and I am the former Manager of the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center (AECC). I was recently removed from that position following Mr. Childers 911 calls to the dispatch center. I want to begin by saying that I wrote this while I was off-duty on leave at home using my personal computer and this was emailed from home. In other words, I am not writing this on City time using City equipment or City internet. I am not officially representing the City of Amarillo, the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center or employees of the City although most of my employees will agree with what I am about to say. I made the decision to write and send this email after a great deal of consideration. I have worked over 35 years in state and local government. Until now, I have always worked within the organizational system. In this case, I have listened to Mr. Childers deride the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center and my employees. I have greatly appreciated that my name has been kept out of the coverage of this story until now, but I can't in good conscience allow Mr. Childers' comments to go unchallenged any longer. I need to stand up for the amazing men and women that staff the 911 dispatch center that I have been privileged to lead.

I delayed sending this letter until now for several reasons. I wanted to give Mr. Childers, and other City Leaders time to respond appropriately to the recent 911 calls and reorganization of the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center. I also needed time to weigh my decision. Finally, I needed to take steps to protect myself from retaliation. I have done that by giving notice to the City that I am retiring and have submitted the paperwork to retire. I felt that this was a valid concern after attending more than one Department Head meeting and hearing Mr. Childers mention employees by name in other cities that had to "seek other gainful employment" after standing up to him. He has also made comments about firing 7 employees on his first day in Oklahoma City. The comments made in the presence of Division Directors and Department Heads became even more concerning after listening to the Interim City Manager threaten the jobs of my employees in recorded conversations. In my now unofficial off-duty role, I need to speak up for my former employees because no one from the City has done so.

I sent an email to Mr. Childers on Monday (2/29) evening. I told him that I had promised the leadership of the Amarillo Police Department and Amarillo Fire Department that I would fully cooperate with them through the AECC reorganization and that I had sent an email to all AECC employees asking them to do the same. I also told him that I had been excited about him coming to Amarillo since we were both graduates of sister Universities. I told him that I was disappointed that he made a comment about being disappointed that someone from dispatch staff released the audio. I told him that personnel from four City Departments and a vendor that provides technical support have access to the recorder software and that I hoped he would correct his statement if the investigation revealed that the lead came from another department. I continued by telling Mr. Childers that I hoped he wouldn't let much time go by before apologizing to the three AECC employees for creating a hostile work environment for them. I closed by reassuring him that I would continue to support and cooperate with the personnel involved in the reorganization. The email was respectfully written with the hope and intent to achieve a positive response from Mr. Childers.

I received a call from the City Secretary on Tuesday (3/1) morning asking if the three AECC employees and I could come meet with Mr. Childers as soon as possible. Mr. Childers, the City Secretary, the three AECC employees and I met with Childers at 10:00 am yesterday. During the meeting, Mr. Childers did apologize to the three employees. I am not going to quote the comments from three employees after the meeting. Please don't put them in the difficult position of asking for their responses because all three need their jobs and the citizens, responders and their co-workers need them to continue in their jobs. From my perspective, the Interim City Manager used the right words but I'm not convinced it was heart-felt. He did appear to give his full attention to the comments from the three employees. Mr. Childers faced away from me for most of the meeting and I had to ask for an opportunity to speak. When I spoke, he began looking at his phone and refused to look at me through the majority of my comments.

During the meeting, Mr. Childers said that he had put a stop to the investigation of the leak of the 911 call. This was disappointing to me because he won't have to correct his earlier comment about the leak coming from the dispatch staff if that was disproved. I have no idea who leaked the 911 call but I'm not convinced that the leak came from an AECC employee and the investigation would probably reveal that.

Mr. Childers also stated that he is "old school" and believes that communication centers should be under the management of fire and police personnel. I felt that way too when I was transferred to AECC in 2009. Over time, I began to see the wisdom of the consolidated dispatch center that is more efficient effective if properly managed . There has not always been enough police and fire presence at AECC and agree that was an issue. I immediately began working to correct that when named Manager a few months ago in November.

Information about how Terry Childers calls to 911 on February 14, 2016

I notified my Supervisor (Interim Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig-Hopkins) about the 911 calls on Sunday evening, February 14. Hopkins and Amarillo Fire Chief Jeff Greenlee came to my office at 8:20 am, February 15 to discuss what occurred. After playing all three calls, Chief Greenlee said that they (AECC employees) didn't do anything wrong. I told Ms. Hopkins that Mr. Childers should apologize to the employees. It was suggested that Ms. Hopkins should play the audio in private for Mr. Childers. She declined my offer to provide copies of the three calls. Amarillo Police Chief Robert Taylor came to my office later in the day to listen to the calls. He recognized that the calls were handled according to policy defined by APD. Chief Taylor left with audio copies of the three calls involving Mr. Childers.

The calls that Mr. Childers made to 911 were handled according to the protocols set by the Amarillo Police Department. The 2 Calltakers were courteous and persistent to get the information needed for the call. In most cases, we have no immediate way to know the identity of the callers. A call from a "wired" landline is helpful to provide the location and the name of subscriber which is not necessarily the caller. Cell phones provide the phone number, general location and carrier (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and others). Most Calltakers have received calls from people that fraudulently claim to be the President, Governor, Mayor, City Manager or others. A call from a hotel landline is not helpful about who is actually on the call.

Neither of the Calltakers had ever met Mr. Childers and didn't know his voice. The 1st call could have been completed in well under 2 minutes if the caller had been cooperative. Instead, it took 1:15 seconds just to get the callback number confirmed on the initial call.  AECC dispatches calls based upon the priority level of the call. Priorities are established by each department (not AECC) and are based on the type of call and circumstances rather than who is calling and that is exactly the way it should be.

The Calltaker on the 2nd 911 call was unaware of the 1st call when she answered the line. She did her best to get information to help the caller. There are a couple of other important points that you should know. The Supervisor was out of the room in the restroom when Mr. Childers called. She was met in the hallway by an employee. She immediately made a short notification call to an on-duty Sgt. So she could tell the caller that a PD Supervisor had been notified. She called Mr. Childers immediately after the 2nd Calltaker ended the call with Mr. Childers. The Supervisor and Calltakers gave excellent customer service and did nothing wrong. We should never be expected to apologize for treating callers equally and with excellent customer service. I couldn't be more proud of the employees that handled these calls.

Instead of apologizing, the Interim City Manager chose to publicly criticize and reorganize the center. Mr. Childers claimed that AECC was reorganized because of other issues and not because of his experience. I found that interesting since Mr. Childers has never spoken to me about issues at AECC. Until yesterday, Mr. Childers and I have never spoken directly to each other except when he shook my hand and introduced himself at the first Department Head meeting. I learned that I had been named Manager of AECC on the same day that I first met Mr. Childers. He has never met with me or spoken to me about issues or given me complaints to investigate. A new or existing Department Head should be immediately made aware when complaints are received. I learned a long time ago that complaints should not be considered valid until substantiated. Every complaint should be taken seriously, investigated, handled appropriately and a response given back to the complainant. Many complaints are misunderstandings or should be directed to another Department and some complaints are valid. I am at a loss why Mr. Childers never notified me about complaints or why he didn't demand a meeting with a Department Head if he thought there was a problem. That was a serious error on his part that I hope isn't repeated for other Department Heads that work with him. He never offered an opportunity for me to respond before reorganizing the department. I certainly can't read Mr. Childers mind, but I have to wonder if he held onto the complaints to justify reorganizing the Department since in his words, he is "old school".

The majority of police-related complaints are because of lengthy wait times on calls that don't meet the APD definition of High Priority or for directly callers to online or phone reports. That can be corrected by placing more officers on the street which has been a priority of the PD for years. The PD has tried to make it easier on the public by promoting online and phone reports. AECC has been instructed to direct callers to online and phone reports as much as possible and that Officers should not be dispatched in those cases. AECC is the agent of APD on these calls and that sometimes angers callers that want an Officer to respond. The Uniform Sergeants complain when Officers are dispatched on calls that can be an online or phone report.

The Police Chief, Fire Chief and AMR (EMS) Manager can confirm that under my leadership, AECC has objectively investigated complaints. We admit when a problem is found and immediately work to resolve the issue including administering appropriate discipline. We respond back to the complainant and honestly report what we found. A complaint should be taken seriously and investigated, but shouldn't be accepted as a valid complaint until substantiated. It is not unusual to discover that a complaint is unfounded when investigated. I am concerned that Mr. Childers has accepted alleged complaints as fact when that may not be the case. One complaint he mentioned was correct. A Deputy Fire Chief didn't get a page notification on a 2nd alarm fire. This was a notification issue and did not delay the response of units to the fire.  Appropriate action was taken and the issue was resolved. Most recent issues have occurred because of aging infrastructure and older versions of software which was beyond my control as the new Manager. This is a Department-wide issue across the City and is being addressed as part of the Blueprint for Amarillo.

AECC is a very busy dispatch center. The call volume is much higher than it was prior to the creation of the center. AECC handled over 580,000 calls in 2015. This averages out to just under 1,600 calls per day and the numbers increase each year. While we strive to avoid them, mistakes do sometimes occur. One error is too much if it affects you, but the error rate is small considering the number of calls. Employees are counseled and discipline is applied according to City of Amarillo policies when appropriate.

It is a challenge finding qualified applicants but we hire and train new candidates as quickly as possible. The process should not and is not rushed. Every employee has to meet standards in order to complete training. Communication Centers tend to have high turnover rates and we are no exception. We have been working on ways to improve retention. We lose a few employees because the schedule and stress take a toll. We sometimes train employees only to have them go to less busy dispatch centers for more money. I hope that will be addressed in the compensation study currently underway.

I have been the Manager at AECC for only a few months and the department was reorganized before we had the opportunity to achieve the goals we had set based upon meetings with the leaders of the public safety responders. I immediately reached out to Chief Taylor and Chief Greenlee after being selected as the new Manager at AECC and have remained in close contact since. We have established a very good working relationship. The Police Chief and Fire Chief had both told me that we were making very good progress just before the incident with the Interim City Manager.

There is a rumor circulating that I was I was fired from the City of Amarillo which isn't true. On February 22, 2016, I was told that the department was being reorganized and I would no longer be the Department head. During that meeting I was told multiple times that I did nothing wrong and was not being removed for something I did or didn't do. I was offered an Educational Coordinator position in the restructured Department. I reviewed the job description and declined because the position is currently filled with an employee already doing an excellent job. In the last 1 ½ years, this employee quickly resolved issues in a training program. Training is effective and efficient, we are losing less new employees during training and the new employees are performing better when working in the center. I could not in good conscience bump an excellent employee that has been so successful in the position so I was left with the options of resigning, retiring or doing nothing and being fired since my position no longer exists. I am eligible so I made the difficult decision to retire.

I was told that the reorganization would occur effective February 23, 2016. I was told that both Chiefs asked for a phased transition over a period of months rather than the immediate change.

The Chiefs were instructed to implement the reorganization immediately. The Department is currently in chaos. There is confusion and many unanswered questions by employees and the new supervisors because of the immediate nature of the reorganization. Every Department involved in the reorganization would have preferred a phased transition over a period of months. It's hard to believe that this wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to the 911 calls. The decision was made so I am being fully cooperative.

I don't agree with the reorganization for several reasons. The center is already professionally managed. (see the subtopic below) There is common agreement that Amarillo needs more Police Officers and Fire Fighters. The reorganization pulls a total of 8 highly trained and well paid personnel from APD and AFD further increasing the problem of the needs in the fields while reverting to an operation that will be less effective and efficient. The room has been divided between PD and Fire and the current chaos will likely continue.

While I don't agree that the reorganization is a good idea, there is no question that the Interim City Manager had the authority to make the change. I think it is important to make the transition as smooth as possible. I have assured Mr. Childers, the Police Chief and Fire Chief as well as the personnel assigned to AECC that I will be fully cooperative and assist them in any way I can up to and beyond my last day with the City.  I also sent an email to the employees at the center and encouraged them to work with the new management at the center. This is critical to the citizens, responders and employees of AECC.

I realize that this is a lengthy email, but the issues that have occurred are very important and no one from the City has defended the AECC employees or the Department. I am the only person in the position to respond at this point.

I am planning to retire from the City on March 9, 2016 unless I lose the job sooner for sending this email. Please let the Calltakers and Dispatchers of AECC know that you appreciate the amazing job that they do to protect you and the emergency responders in Amarillo. They are licensed professionals and fully committed to doing their jobs to the best of their ability. I have enjoyed working with the team/family more than anything I've done over the past 35 years.

I have included several highlighted sections below with additional background information.

Thank you,

Terry Bavousett

AECC was not managed or staffed by Civilians

I want to clear up a misconception that has been reported. Public Safety Telecommunicators in Texas are required to be licensed and in fact are licensed by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) which is the same agency that licenses law enforcement officers in Texas. Telecommunicators are not sworn like Law Enforcement Officers, but we aren't civilians either. We are Licensed professionals. Several AECC employees have earned additional professional credentials specifically related to managing a public-safety communication center. A Senior Supervisor and I are recognized as Emergency Number Professionals (ENP) by the National Emergency Number Association. One employee successfully completed the Registered Public-Safety Leader (RPL) Program by the Association of Public-Safety Officials (APCO). Another Senior Supervisor and I successfully completed the Communication Center Manager program jointly offered by the International Association of Emergency Dispatch and Fitch & Associates. More employees are working toward professional credentials as well. AECC has employees that have achieved Master, Advanced and Intermediate Telecommunicator Certifications with TCOLE.

APCO, NENA & IAED are the sources of many of the generally accepted standards and practices for Public Safety Dispatch Centers. Implementing Next Generation 9-1-1 including Text to 9-1-1 will require professional guidance and leadership. The leadership of AECC has been working hard with the employees to prepare for the current and future needs of the City. None of the current Police and Fire personnel sent to AECC have managed a Communication Center since 2009 and to my knowledge none have recent credentials or recent training to do so. A lot has changed since 2009 including a major jump in call volume and technology. I don't think the old adage "it's like riding a bicycle" applies here.

AECC Training Program

The training program at AECC greatly exceeds the minimum training standards required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and is longer than the training programs that were in place when the Amarillo Police Department and the Amarillo Fire Department had their own dispatch centers. All AECC Calltakers have successfully completed Emergency Medical Dispatch and Emergency Fire Dispatch training courses and follow protocols developed by the International Association of Emergency Dispatch for medical and fire calls. These protocols are recognized international standards for emergency dispatch centers. AECC uses locally developed law enforcement protocols that were defined and approved by the Amarillo Police Department for police calls. All protocols, policies and guidelines are updated periodically. When an APD or AFD policy changes, AECC is notified and the appropriate change is also made at AECC. Employees are required to successfully complete ongoing continuing education to remain current. AECC personnel often know the APD policies and procedures related to dispatching, online reports and phone reports better than the officers on the streets. This often has to be unraveled and corrected by the APD Service Division.

Public-Safety Departmental Cooperation and Training

All protocols including priorities used at AECC are defined and approved by the Public-Safety responder agencies. The priorities are used to determine how calls are dispatched. An example is that an in-progress assault is dispatched before a burglary that didn't just occur. A large structure fire is dispatched before a theft that just occurred such as a missing briefcase or luggage. While it's frustrating for callers (and AECC employees), it's not unusual for lower priority calls to pend for long times because no Officers are available. Dispatchers will pull Officers from lower priority calls for higher priority calls if no Officers are available to send. Dispatchers will also pull Officers from across town if needed for higher priority calls. AECC employees contact an on-duty APD uniform Sergeant for direction if unsure how to handle unusual calls. Sergeants are able to see active and pending calls and occasionally contact the Dispatcher to change how a call is being handled. Employees have always been allowed to raise the priority of a call if circumstances make it appropriate. Public-Safety personnel are routinely in the center and have never been prohibited from coming to the center as previously reported. There are active Police, Fire & EMS user groups with representation from the Public-Safety Departments & AECC employees. There has been constant communication between all levels of the chain of command (Supervisor through Chief/Manager levels) of the Public-Safety Responder Departments & AECC since I was Assistant Manager and more so since I became Manager. APD, AFD and AECC recently implemented joint training which is a great step.

Background of the Former AECC Manager

I began working in Communications at the Amarillo Police Department in October, 2008. I was one of the employees that transferred to the Amarillo Emergency Communication Center in October, 2009 when the center went live. I became Assistant Manager in 2010, was appointed Interim Manager in August, 2015 and named Manager in November. I came to APD &AECC with a great deal of prior experience. I was a Police Officer in a small town near Lubbock. I resigned 4 years, 10 months later (verifiable by TCOLE) after earning the Intermediate Peace Officer Proficiency Certification and serving as a Training Officer. I have over 30 years of EMS experience. I began as a volunteer EMT and worked as an EMS Consultant and Regional EMS Director with the Texas Department of Health/Texas Department of State Health Services before moving to Austin to become the Texas State EMS Director in 2003. I remain an inactive Licensed Paramedic. I returned to Amarillo after retiring from the state. I wanted to serve in Public-Safety again and went to work at APD in Communications as mentioned above. While working at AECC I attended the Communication Center Manager class (described previously) and Emergency Number Professional credential from NENA. I hold the Advanced Telecommunicator Certification from TCOLE and would have achieved Master Telecommunicator next October. In my career, I have made presentations at local, state and national conferences. The most recent was at a national APCO conference in New Orleans.

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