Report: ‘Systems failure’ delayed response to Taunton rampage

Kelly Sullivan | WPRI-TV

TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — An independent report blames a “badly out of date” emergency communications system, along with numerous other breakdowns and failures, for the chaotic response to the rampage in Taunton last May.

The report says the current 911 system “presents a clear danger to the citizens of Taunton and its public safety personnel.”

Mayor Thomas Hoye released the findings of the investigation, conducted by Ryan Strategies Group, nearly nine months after the violent spree that started  on Myricks Street and ended at the Silver City Galleria. Two people were murdered and numerous others injured before the suspect was shot dead.

The Target 12 Investigators previously reviewed 911 calls from the night of May 10, and discovered a 20-minute delay before first responders found the first two stabbing victims on Myricks Street, even though crews were on the scene within three minutes.

According to the report, Taunton’s “fragmented,” “flawed” and “obsolete” emergency dispatch and call-taking system resulted in numerous communications failures that night. The report found that first responders “were operating on delayed, incomplete, and sometimes flawed information.”

The report said it was “beyond comprehension” that the city was using two independent CAD systems, or Computer Aided Dispatch, that the authors said should be integrated between police and fire. Even when the CAD system was used, there were errors, the report found. When the call came in for the first two stabbing victims, it was recorded in the CAD as a “pedestrian struck.”

The report also says police were never specifically dispatched to the stabbing at 270 Myricks street after the call came in to the fire department.

The group that conducted the investigated also did a site visit to the fire station that houses the 911 center, and noticed behavior “leading the team to believe that one or both of the firefighter call taker/dispatchers routinely bunk/sleep while on duty.”

Among the reports other findings:

  • Calls into the station from off-duty police officers and firefighters to find out what was going on added to a “communications bottleneck.”
  • There was little to no communication between police and fire department dispatchers that night.
  • Several dispatchers/call-takers were unable to multi-task.
  • Other calls for service were ignored.
  • The fire department’s lowest-ranking firefighters serve as call takers and dispatchers, with the department’s most-junior lieutenant acting as communications director. The report concluded this was “poor policy” and “poor use of fire department resources.”
  • Fire department call takers and dispatchers work different shifts.
  • The police dispatcher also works as the window officer.

The report recommends that Taunton hire a civilian emergency communications director, responsible for keeping the city up to date on technological advancements, trends, and best practices. The other recommendations include:

  • Combining the police and fire dispatch software.
  • Retraining police call-takers
  • Putting both police and fire call-takers at the central fire station.
  • Having fire department dispatchers and call takers work the same schedules.

Mayor Hoye said they are taking the findings and recommendations seriously.

“It is imperative that we change what we can change now,” he said. “And set in motion today the long-term improvements that will put Taunton in line with our neighbors and nationwide best practices.”