Broward County

Broward sheriff: County is blocking BSO access to dispatch systems

Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti and county officials are headed to state circuit court to settle their disagreement over who controls a regional police and fire rescue dispatch system for the Broward Sheriff’s Office and 23 Broward cities.

In an emergency motion for preliminary injunction filed Wednesday with Broward Circuit Judge Michele Towbin Singer, an attorney representing the Broward Sheriff’s Office asks Singer to restore to the sheriff administrative control of the dispatch system, which manages 911 calls and includes a computerized repository of confidential criminal information shared by police. Judge Singer has not yet scheduled a hearing.

BSO’s petition alleges that county officials wrongly assumed administrative control of the dispatch systems on Oct. 1, and then blocked access by BSO technical and computer support staff — breaching a 2003 contract with BSO, and giving access to confidential criminal information to non-law enforcement employees.

Christian A. Petersen, an attorney with the law firm Gunster, Yoakley and Stewart, asserts that the county’s actions violate BSO’s agreements with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which require that BSO maintain security control for access to state and national criminal databases.

“FDLE could terminate BSO’s access (and the agencies it serves) to the FCIC database, and the FBI could terminate the entire State of Florida’s access to the NCIC database,’’ Petersen states in a letter to Judge Singer.

County officials counter that BSO has known for years that the change was coming and never objected, and they insist the transfer will not endanger residents in need of emergency response services or compromise the integrity of confidential criminal information.

“There is no impact to public safety at all,’’ said Alphonso Jefferson, an assistant to the county administrator, Bertha Henry. “We really feel that this is a situation, an emergency situation that they [BSO] have created.’’

Lamberti could not be reached for comment Thursday, though BSO’s media relations office said an official statement is forthcoming.

Petersen’s letter states that in addition to wrongly blocking BSO’s access to the communications system, the county is interfering with the sheriff’s ability to ensure public safety and enforce the law.

According to the emergency motion, BSO employed technicians who were easily accessible to dispatchers and public safety officers in the field, and who could resolve problems such as resetting passwords in minutes.

But last week, the petition alleges, county officials locked out BSO’s access and began routing calls for support through the main county help desk — causing delays in emergency response.

“This delay is unacceptable,’’ the motion states, “and puts law enforcement and fire rescue safety personnel lives at risk.’’

Internal Affairs investigations also have been hindered, Petersen wrote, because BSO investigators no longer have access to pull logs of individual activity from the communications systems.

Jefferson, the assistant to the county administrator, denied that the county locked out BSO access to the systems.

“They have always had access to the systems that they need to do their operational functions,’’ he said.

BSO has managed the dispatch system for 20 years, but Jefferson said that responsiblity transfered to Broward after local voters in 2002 approved the change as part of a charter amendment. The amendment called for the creation of a communications system to facilitate “closest unit” response to an emergency.

Jefferson said the 21 computer experts who manage the dispatch system are the same people who have performed the job for years.

“Their functions have not changed,’’ he said. “Their reporting structure has changed.’’

But BSO’s emergency motion contains a signed affidavit from James Coffee, an information security officer for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who states that the county is not authorized to provide criminal justice information to a law enforcement agency such as the sheriff’s office.

In order to abide by FBI and FDLE regulations, Coffee states, the county must execute a management agreement with BSO to operate the dispatch system — and he is not aware of one that exists.

Jefferson said county officials have been trying to get BSO to sign a management agreement for a year or more, but the sheriff has declined.

Even if such an agreement were to exist, though, Coffee said BSO would still need to control the network’s security systems in order to comply with FBI and FDLE requirements, or else risk losing access to their criminal databases.

The databases contain information such as criminal record histories, the identities of fugitives, stolen property listings, missing persons and suspected terrorists. Local police can search the databases during a traffic stop to determine if a car is stolen or if the driver is wanted by law enforcement.