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Months Before Clinton Officer’s Death, Report Urged Fixes For Missouri’s 911 System

Missouri Department of Public Safety

It’s still unclear what role technology might have played in the "nightmare" scenario that unfolded in Clinton, Missouri, this week, when an officer was killed responding to a disturbance call after 911 dispatchers gave police an incorrect address.

But less than three months ago, a report concluded that Missouri’s emergency phone service urgently needs improvement.

The “Missouri 911 Modernization and Improvement Report,” published on December 31, 2017, by the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the Missouri 911 Service Board, describes Missouri’s system as “disjointed” and “inefficient” statewide.

Among the report’s findings:

  • The 911 service in 28 counties is unable to specifically trace the location of calls made on cell phones.
  • Missouri lacks state funding for 911; it's the only state without taxes on prepaid wireless devices to help fund 911 operations.
  • Half of the state’s public-safety answering points, which handle 911 calls, are understaffed based on industry standards.
  • Missouri’s approximately 185 public-safety answering points lack statewide coordination and operate under varying county systems.

Variations and inconsistencies such as these continue to plague 911 services in many parts of the country, according to Mark Fletcher, an emergency number professional with Avaya Inc, a business communications company based in Santa Clara, California.
“There are so many variables it’s nearly impossible to say this will happen in any situation,” Fletcher said Friday on KCUR’s Up-To-Date.

Fletcher said such inconsistencies can make it difficult to surmise the cause of a failure such as the one in Clinton, where Officer Ryan Morton was killed and two other officers were shot on Tuesday, March 6.

The officers were reportedly provided with an incorrect address when responding to a 911 call.

Henry County, Missouri, where Clinton is located, has some of the highest-level technology 911 service in the state.

Its Phase IIT, or Text-to-911, service provides callers’ latitude and longitude information.

The Henry County Emergency 9-1-1 Center didn’t not return calls from KCUR on Friday.

Alex Smith is a health reporter for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter, @AlexSmithKCUR.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
Kyle Palmer is the editor of the Shawnee Mission Post, a digital news outlet serving Northeast Johnson County, Kansas. He previously served as KCUR's news director and morning newscaster.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
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