Denver 911 dispatch center software glitch might put lives at risk

DENVER — It’s the most stressful job you could ever have.

“911 What’s your emergency?”

The phone never stops ringing and 911 call takers answer all of them.

We interviewed several current and former employees of Denver’s 911 Center to find out what happened the night of Kristine Kirk‘s murder. She was on the phone with 911 for several minutes before her husband allegedly shot and killed her in their southeast Denver home. Police officers arrived at the house too late to help her.

“You don’t just get any person off the street to come in and do it,” said one person.

That particular current or former employee tells us it’s a call taker’s job to answer the phone and transmit that information via a computer system to a dispatcher.

We’ve learned that the computer system wasn’t working properly, impeding the work of dispatchers trying to get information to police.

“Domestic violence in progress … RP versus her husband,” was the first radio dispatch made on April 14, the night police say Richard Kirk shot his wife Kris, killing her.

The call escalated over 14 minutes but police were never made aware there was an emergency. Police arrived at the home, without lights and sirens, as Kirk allegedly shot and killed his wife.

Sources say the dispatcher at Denver’s 911 Center is partly at fault, but we’ve learned there was a software problem, too.

Fourteen days earlier, on April 1, sources tell us Denver’s 911 Center implemented a new software update changing the way dispatchers were alerted about those call takers’ notes.

And at least some employees say the new software update didn’t work.

“The notifications no longer pop up – it’s just a simple box that pops up at the top of the screen,” said one employee. We are not identifying anyone interviewed for this story because they are afraid of retribution.

“At least a handful of people are complaining about the new system,” one said.

Dispatchers say those complaints refer to a tiny red light called a “note icon” on their call screens, which dispatchers complained  didn’t alert them to alert police.  When police didn’t receive the proper information, they couldn’t determine the appropriate level of response.

Using open records laws we obtained the dispatcher notes logging  their complaints about the system in the 14 days between the software update and the Kirk murder.

During that time we found eleven separate complaints about the note icon filed by employees.

This one, eight days before the murder: “New calls that come into queue do not have new note icon.”

And these,  four days before this murder,  five separate complaints including this one: “Note icon is not showing when new notes have been added.”

And two days before the murder the problem was still not fixed.

We found three complaints including this one, “You don’t see a new note icon show up when new comments are being added.”

This is the complete list of complaints both before and after the murder:

Read the Denver 911 Dispatcher Notes for April

Brian Fontes runs the nonprofit National Emergency Number Association which provides standards and training for 911 centers nationwide.

He says if the dispatch software doesn’t work … It can cost lives. “That rich information can provide more efficient more direct and more effective responses to emergency situations,” Fontes said.

The 911 center’s director Carl Simpson refused to be interviewed though employees say he and his managers knew about the problems.

“It’s something that needs to be fixed because Carl (Simpson) and (his manager, Ernie) are the ultimate deciders on which system we use,” one employee said.

Our review of records shows the complaints about notification issues continued for two weeks after the Kirk murder with a total of 12 more complaints.

The city of Denver declined to answer our question whether or not the system is currently working.