From 911 call to response, sheriff says getting help takes too long

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It’s being blamed as one of the reasons behind the slow law enforcement response during the mass shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Bay Area law enforcement say it could happen here, too.

The sheriff of Pinellas County says 911 calls have to go through too many channels before someone is dispatched and he wants something done.

“You could hear the gunshots in the background,” the sheriff said during a play-by-play presentation of the Parkland shooting where 17 were killed.

Gunshots can be heard as the first 911 caller says, “Hello, we are at Stoneman Douglas High School. Someone’s shooting.”

That person’s call had to be transferred to another call center.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the Parkland Commission, says it took one minute and 28 seconds for an officer to be dispatched. The entire shooting was over within four minutes.

“From the time that first girl calls for help, from where you hear those gunshots going off, until someone dispatches the help, and that’s not acceptable,” Gualtieri pointed out.

911 call centers in most of Florida, including Pinellas County, operate similarly.

If you were to make a 911, for example, from Gibbs High School in St. Pete, the call would be answered at the 911 center in Largo. It would then have to be transferred to St. Pete Police, at which point you would have to tell your story to a second person, who then dispatches officers.

“It causes a huge delay when you have this call transfer process,” Gualtieri said.

The Florida Legislature just passed Senate Bill 536 which requires all dispatch centers in a county to improve communications, but it stops short of consolidation, which is what Sheriff Gualtieri is pushing for.

“It is moving in the right direction. I think the law is extremely important,” he said.

The bill heads to Gov. DeSantis’ desk for his signature; a small step the sheriff hopes will get someone help faster.