( Cincinnati ) - It started with some tears and ended with some shouting.
On Tuesday afternoon, Cincinnati City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee met to talk about issues that may have contributed to the death of 16-year-old Kyle Plush last week. There is a police investigation to determine the exact circumstances of how the teen died after calling 911 twice for help when he was trapped in a van near Seven Hills High School. Tuesday's meeting was to get into overall problems that employees of the Emergency Call Center could attest to.
Mayor John Cranley noted that he's only recently learned of staffing issues at the ECC. "This issue of being down 30% on the workforce [for] two straight years, from May of 2016 to the present day was unknown to us." The mayor says there are legitimate questions of whether city employees are being heard.
Vice Mayor Chris Smitherman said his only interest is making problems known and getting to the bottom of them. Smitherman read an email he received on Tuesday from TriTech, the company that made the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. "This work station was operational at the time of the call, and logs show there was normal operator activity before, during, and after the call. CAD does not control or interact with the audio of the 911 calls and could not affect the quality of the voice in the headset," Smitherman read. Police Chief Eliot Isaac said that statement will be an important part of his department's investigation.
City Councilman PG Sittenfeld teared up as he addressed the people in attendance, who included Kyle Plush's parents, Ron and Jill. "I want to add my personal apology for the ways in which people and this system failed you all as a family," Sittenfeld emoted.
Various people gave testimony. Jennifer King is a computer systems analyst at the dispatch center and she was, herself, a 911 operator previously. She told the committee that one of the biggest issues is city leaders not responding when complaints have come from the ECC. Her comments were echoed by former Assistant Police Chief Dave Bailey, who said "the hallmark of an emergency services system is to find people that can't state their position or their condition." A statement which Vice Mayor Smitherman noted brought nods from people in the audience. Another speaker painted a much more dire picture in terms of morale at the ECC. Elizabeth Christiansen is a former employee. She says it became normal for workers to be screamed at and belittled, describing the ECC as "an environment that fosters disrespect. I lost a lot of respect the day that I tried to bring concerns to my city administration, and was berated for bringing any concerns forth."
Nearly everyone who spoke expressed condolences to Ron and Jill Plush as they sat in the audience, but things ended on a tense note. City Councilman Wendell Young was giving his closing remarks, and when he brought up the idea that the Plushs may look to get money from the city, Ron Plush yelled back "it's not about money!" Another relative yelled back that what Young said was "the most insensitive thing" he had ever heard. The Plush family angrily left after that. Vice Mayor Smitherman commented that it was "painful to see the family leave these chambers in that way."
Chief Eliot Isaac says he hopes to have his department's investigation into what went wrong complete as soon as possible, likely in about ten days.