A thorough review Monday of Luzerne County 911’s computerized database refutes a claim made by Hazleton’s police chief that callers could not get through last week to report a man was shot, the interim 911 director said.
The database logs all calls made to the center — including those not picked up by a phone operator — and there were no missed calls in the half-hour period before the July 5 shooting, interim 911 Executive Director Fred Rosencrans said.
On Friday, Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea blasted the county emergency dispatch agency, saying the victim remained bleeding on the street after the 1:40 a.m. shooting because people at the scene couldn’t get an answer at 911 until 2 a.m.
“I am saying with certainty it didn’t happen the way it was portrayed,” Rosencrans said.
Rosencrans said he had already checked three phone numbers supplied by DeAndrea of people who said they had called the center that morning and determined no calls were made from those numbers.
He ran a report Monday of all calls before the shooting until 2 a.m. to see if any calls were missed from other phone numbers.
The system tracks missed calls because 911 operators are required to call back those numbers to determine if assistance is needed, he said.
“Our system shows every phone number that comes in, and I informed the police chief we had zero unanswered calls within a half-hour of this incident,” Rosencrans said.
DeAndrea could not be reached for comment Monday.
Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said police will check the phone records of people who said they had tried to call 911, including one person who switched to a different phone believing the original phone might have been the problem.
“We will give the benefit of doubt and investigate further. Depending on the results, we will ask for a meeting with the county,” Yannuzzi said.
Yannuzzi said he does not fault the police chief for publicly raising the issue because people at the scene had insisted they were unable to get through to 911
“They were irritated, and I don’t think they had any reason to lie,” he said.
The mayor said he wants to work with county officials to document and rectify concerns. Returning to in-house dispatching is not an option for the cash-strapped city, he said.
Change made in 2011
Yannuzzi said he initiated the city’s October 2011 switch from in-house dispatching to county 911 to free up desk officers to respond to more calls. Hazleton was the last hold-out of the 76 municipalities in joining the county system.
Rosencrans said he spoke to DeAndrea after the shooting and asked him to review the call records before publicly “drawing conclusions.” DeAndrea’s critical post-shooting statements were Rosencrans’ first notification the chief had concerns about the service supplied by 911, he said.
“I’m accessible. He has my cellphone number. I’m available for a meeting anytime,” Rosencrans said.
He said he has nothing to hide and would be “the first one” seeking corrective action if the county was at fault.
“If we did have an instances where callers couldn’t get through for 25 minutes, I’d have a serious problem with that,” Rosencrans said.
The county had 10 dispatchers on staff during the third shift the morning of the shooting. Records show they processed 97 calls between midnight and 3:15 a.m., he said.
“That’s not extremely busy over a three-hour period,” Rosencrans said.
OT used to cover shifts
Rosencrans acknowledged the 911 center is short-staffed but said the center does not operate below minimum staffing levels of 12 dispatchers on the first and second shifts and 10 on the third shift — even if it means employees are mandated to work for overtime pay.
The center’s budget allows 58 dispatchers, he said. The center is down to 52, though another employee submitted a resignation Monday. Several employees also are out on leave.
Most of the dispatchers who resigned left for higher-paying jobs with the state police, Rosencrans said. County 911 dispatchers — technically called telecommunicators — start at $25,500. The union contract governing 911 dispatchers expires the end of this year.
Rosencrans expects to hire six new dispatchers by July 22 and said he will continue filling open positions as needed.
“We’re holding our own. We’re a 24-7 operation and have a critical service we have to provide,” he said.
The unnamed 29-year-old shooting victim was transported to a hospital and was recovering from surgery, though his condition was not available Monday. Police identified Hazleton resident Juan Carlos Paulino, 26, as the alleged shooter.