NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Startling accusations have been lodged against the Nassau County 911 system.
One of its own operators says employees are not getting the training they need to save lives, and that may have contributed to the death of a Hofstra University student during a hostage standoff, CBS 2’s Amy Dardashtian reported exclusively on Wednesday.
On May 17, the training of the county’s 911 operators came under a microscope. On that night, a gunman took four Hofstra students hostage during a botched robbery. Dalton Smith was holding 21-year-old Andrea Rebello in a headlock when police entered the house.
“He kept saying ‘I’m gonna kill her,’ and then he pointed the gun at the police officer,” an official said during the investigation.
The officer fired, killing the robber and Rebello. Nassau Police Benevolent Association President James Carver said 911 did not communicate to officers that there were hostages.
“My police officer responded to a robbery in progress and he acted in accordance with what the call was given out to him,” Carver said.
Sources from 911 confirmed that the call was labeled a robbery in progress with a weapon but said the operator also communicated there were hostages.
“He’s got a gun pointed at them and there are hostages,” the dispatcher is heard saying on an audio recording.
Jean Ebbert retired last year after 20 years as a Nassau County 911 operator. She said in the Hofstra incident, more than one call type applied.
“We have a call type ‘hostage.’ It’s there, but have I ever been trained on when to use hostage and not use ‘robbery with a weapon?’ No, I’ve never been trained on that,” Ebbert said.
She said for the past decade, Nassau has not provided its operators with the annual training required by the state.
“You’re supposed to have 21 hours of training. There is no 21 hours of training. There’s five minutes of ‘can you sign this?’” Ebbert said.
She’s joined by more than 100 Nassau operators making the same claim in a lawsuit against the county. The lawsuit alleges a massive cover-up, saying the county and the Nassau County Police Department pressured its operators to sign attendance sheets, stating they had received hands-on training.
“You would have to sign it. You have no choice. Otherwise, you’d be disciplined,” Ebbert said.
Lt. Neil O’Mara said there is no reason to be concerned for the safety of the people in Nassau County. O’Mara retired from the 911 bureau last year. For the last decade, he acted as the deputy commanding officer.
“I think the training was definitely sufficient. It worked. They got the job done,” O’Mara said.
He said his operators handled a million calls a year and never received more than 10 complaints.
CSEA union president Jerry Laricchiuta disagreed and said operators want the training that’s paid for by taxpayers.
“That’s what the surcharge on your cellphone is for,” Laricchiuta said.
A monthly surcharge of about $1.20 appears on your phone bill, which funds the state’s 911 services, Dardashtian reported.
CBS 2 reached out to the Nassau County Police Department to inquire about the training but it refused to comment, citing “pending litigation.” The county refused Dardashtian’s requests for an on-camera interview and issued a statement saying: “The county’s position is quite defensible” and “our review reveals that appropriate training is provided to all 911 operators.”
Ebbert said that’s not true.
“You go to work; you want anyone who calls you for help to get the help they need,” Ebbert said.
She said proper training is the difference between life and death.
State law requires the county keep records of its 911 training courses, including the curriculum. CBS 2 requested copies of those records but the county never provided them.
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