Flagler Sheriff Deputies Will Respond to Many Medical Calls in Policy Shift Triggered By Death
FlaglerLive | January 24, 2013
In the first significant and visible policy change of Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre’s new administration, deputies will be dispatched to any medical emergency call that may, in the dispatcher’s judgment, involve any criminal mischief or worse, as well as any medical calls where there may be doubt about the cause of the emergency, the sheriff’s office announced today.
The change is a direct result of the hit-and-run death of Françoise Pécqueur in Palm Coast’s C-Section in November 2011, when medical and fire units were dispatched, but cops didn’t get to the scene until six hours after the incident. Pécqueur was struck by a PT Cruiser driven by Jamesine Fischer, the wife of Flagler County School Board member John Fischer. Jamesine goes on trial on a first-degree felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident, with a death, on March 25. The absence of sheriff’s deputies at the scene made the investigation of the case more difficult.
“Clearly that was part of the reasons why we looked at this policy, as one of the first policies,” Undersheriff Rick Staly said. “The sheriff has ordered a review or all the agency policies, and we’re looking at the most critical first.” Former sheriff Don Fleming had 1,300 pages of policies and directives, which the new administration found unwieldy. “We’re in the process of reviewing all of them from vehicle apprehension, use of force, down to how we dispatch, just down to how we collect evidence. But it’s going to take a while to review all of it,” Staly said. The agency is using state and national accreditation systems, including the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), as a guide in the review.
The policy change affecting medical calls will not cost the department more money, Staly, a former director of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office’s 911 center, said. There’s no hard cost because the deputies are already out there, the fuel is already being used, the fuel and so forth,” Staly said. “There’s soft cost, obviously.” He defined those as cases where the call is nothing more than a medical emergency, at which point the deputy at the scene will judge whether his or her presence there is necessary.Inevitably in those cases, deputies will be drawn away from their patrol duties and could delay the response to a new emergency. But, Staly said, “the benefit of making sure that we protect crime scenes, that we render first aid, if we’re the first ones there, it’s more beneficial than taking the risk of having an unreported incident.” In cases where it’s clearly nothing more than a medical emergency, a deputy might still be dispatched if that deputy is in the immediate neighborhood of the call. “Maybe we’ll save a life as a result, and there’s no price tag to that,” Staly said.
The undersheriff noted that in his years in Orange County, a third of the medals of honor awarded went to deputies who arrived at fire scenes before firefighters, and went into burning buildings to retrieve people. The 911 dispatch center Staly oversaw in orange responded to some 650,000 calls annually (six times more than in Flagler County), and had 174 employees.
Flagler’s 911 dispatch center, located at the Emergency Operations Center in Bunnell, is staffed by about 20 employees of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, grouped in two sets of dispatchers—one for fire and rescue, one for deputies. They both have access to the same computer-aided dispatch terminals that enable them to make judgment calls. The policy change is significant, but not radical: sheriff’s deputies are routinely present at major emergencies, and are often the first on scene at auto wrecks or fires. But they are not necessarily, explicitly dispatched to those scenes–as they might be under the new policy. Rather, they rush there as part of their patrolling duties.
The new policy is modeled after one in Arvada, Colo., a city of 106,000 people in central Colorado. “I looked at a number of other policies,” Staly said. “What I liked about the model policy from Arvada is that it was all-encompassing. It looked at what the 911 caller was saying, based on the experience and training of the 911 operator, and it was flexible enough that it would work for our agency.”
Still, don’t expect to see a deputy for a mere sprained ankle or even more dire emergencies that are clearly, exclusively medical—a heart attack, a stroke, a diabetic shock. But a substantial number of calls are for precisely the sort of emergency that unfolded that November evening, when Francoise Pécqueur was struck and died of her injuries: what was initially reported as a “falls accident”—a fall. The dispatch center fields dozens of such calls a day.
The change in policy will affect responses in the county and in Palm Coast—which contracts with the sheriff’s office for policing—but not in Flagler Beach and Bunnell, which have their own police departments. Flagler Beach, however, has a similar approach in place to the one the sheriff’s office is adopting.
“It depends on the situation,” Sgt. Frank Parrish of the Flagler Beach Police Department said, “but nine times out of 10, an officer goes, if nothing else, to assist. We’ve done that all along. Now, I’m not going to say every time, because sometimes our officers are busy.” But head injuries, falls, “any kind of injury that would indicate something other than a basic illness,” then an officers is dispatched, Parrish said. Flagler Beach at full power has 12 road officers, two or three of whom are on duty on any typical shift. Bunnell Police Chief Jeff Hoffman could not immediately be reached.