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Three veteran dispatchers have been fired and a fourth in training was suspended following the death of a police officer.

Background

On November 22, 2014 the Consolidated Dispatch Agency received a report of a building fire on Caracus Court. Leon County Sheriff’s Deputies, Tallahassee Police, and Tallahassee Fire all responded to the call. Upon arrival of the first deputy the suspect, now identified as 53 year old Wade Holley, ambushed and killed him. The second deputy and additional responding officers engaged Holley in a 12 minute long gun battle before shooting and killing the suspect. Holley also shot at fire fighters responding to the area forcing them to retreat until the scene was made safe.

Deputy Christopher Smith, a 47 year old 25 year veteran of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, died as a result of the injuries from the gun battle. Deputy Smith was married and a father of two.

A subsequent investigation has revealed that Wade Holley had a long history with law enforcement, and openly expressed anti-governmental views and aggression towards the police. The sheriff’s office had added a warning to Holley’s address about his behavior advising officers to use caution. Dispatchers working the day of the shooting did not advise the officers responding to the fire of the history with Holley. Due to their failure to acknowledge the warnings and advise the officers 3 dispatchers were terminated and a fourth on training was suspended.

Our Thoughts

First, we express our condolences to the family, friends, and co-workers of Deputy Smith. We also express our condolences to the dispatchers working at the time of his death. Experiencing a line of duty death, whether from police, fire, or EMS, is every dispatcher’s worst nightmare.

Without knowing all the details it is difficult to truly pass judgement on what happened. It does seem reasonable to think that officer safety warnings may not be applicable to a building fire. However, our policy and procedures must be followed regardless.

In the end we have to remember that our number one priority is responder safety. We work in a society where the unexpected is normal, where once in a career calls are happening more often, and where some people truly want to hurt our responders. Although there is such thing as providing too much information to units in the field, we must remain attentive to our responsibility for safety. Would knowing the history at this address have changed the response or tactics the officers used? We may never know, but should all keep this incident in our minds.