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Minneapolis drops controversial 911 answering software

Updated: August 16, 2019 06:17 PM

Minneapolis 911 will soon no longer use a controversial software program dispatchers and the head of the police union previously told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was slowing calls and potentially putting the public in danger.

In an email to staff Thursday, Minneapolis Emergency Communications Director Kathy Hughes wrote, "Over the next few days I will message the plan for transitioning to disable ProQA. This will include training for staff. For now operationally, please continue working in the manner you are. "

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Dispatchers at the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center have been using the ProQA software since July 2017. A city spokesperson said the city has spent about $730,000 on the program and training for employees in that time. 

ProQA prompts dispatchers to ask specific questions, in a specific order, based on different emergency situations. 

In another email to city staffers Thursday, Minneapolis City Coordinator Nuria P. Rivera-Vandermyde wrote, "While there are certainly benefits to a program like ProQA, ultimately, the drawbacks to the system and its lack of integration with CAD have propelled me to not move forward with PROQA any longer."

It's unclear exactly when dispatchers will stop using the software. Dispatchers will receive training, and will return to using their own training and expertise to determine how to handle each 911 call. City leaders also said it's possible the city could buy and use a different computer program to facilitate 911 calls in the future.

"With new software coming on the market every day, it could be that we find a different solution in the future," Rivera-Vandermyde wrote.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with Hughes Friday, who said the change will give dispatchers more flexibility to handle calls on a case by case basis.

"They're not only going to get a better response time, they'll get a better response from the dispatcher they'll be able to talk to them and they won't have to read a script word for word," Hughes said.

In a November 2018 report, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS heard from Carri Sampson-Spande who was a dispatcher in Minneapolis for 24 years. She said she resigned in September 2018 because of ProQA. Sampson-Spande said her two decades of experience often told her to ask different questions, in a different order, than what the software was giving her. And, she worried not following the program would have eventually led to losing her job.

"I felt like I was deciding, do I want to keep my job and be compliant?, Or, do I want to help somebody?, And I don't feel like I should be in that position," she said.

IN-DEPTH: Safety Concerns About New Minneapolis 911 Dispatch Software

Bob Kroll with the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis said the union also has concerns about ProQA. Kroll said he's most alarmed by officers arriving at scenes without knowing suspect descriptions because dispatchers haven't gotten to those questions yet in the line of questioning. 

"People will call and report a car accident without injuries and they are asking if there are any weapons present," Kroll said, as an example of an irrelevant question.

Friday, both Sampson-Spande and Kroll applauded the 911 center's decision to drop ProQA.

"I truly believe people were hurt and possibly died because of this program," Sampson-Spande said.

In May 2019, data presented to the Minneapolis City Council indicated the city's 911 center is failing to meet national standards on how quickly calls should be answered.

At that time, interim director of the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center Christine McPherson said employee turnover was leading to the longer wait times. She also said ProQA contributed to some dispatchers choosing to quit.

Dispatchers taking longer to answer 911 calls in Minneapolis

"Switching technology is a big reason why there will be turnover in agencies," said McPherson. "Every agency around here that's experienced a spike in turnover has been related to some piece of technology that's been implemented."

Hughes said Friday the 911 center is still looking to fill several positions.

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Matt Belanger

Copyright 2019 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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