ALBANY, Ga. -- Two former 911 operators have termination hearings today with the city of Albany after allegations that at least one of the two was providing law enforcement information to criminal suspects.
On Sept. 7, both Jeanita Fulmore and LaToya Smith were fired from their jobs with the 911 communications center pending hearings before City Manager Alfred Lott.
The District Attorney's office has been notified, city officials say, but no formal investigation has been undertaken. City employees under investigation are typically placed on paid leave until they are cleared, charged or indicted.
In both cases, termination letters from the city state the two women admitted unauthorized checks of individuals through the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) data base.
Smith admitted the unauthorized use of the system in an interview Aug. 9, her letter stated. Fulmore's letter, however, goes into more detail and alleges that she abetted individuals who authorities were investigating.
The letter cites an unidentified female suspect who in late July, while being questioned regarding the armed robbery at Dollar General where a police officer shot a suspect, told detectives at the Albany Police Department that Fulmore alerted and informed individuals of their status in the GCIC system.
The woman said Fulmore would provide individuals with information on whether arrest warrants had been issued for them and that it was known that a person could call Fulmore to get that type of information.
When hired, 911 center employees sign awareness statements that state it is illegal to access the GCIC system without proper authorization.
911 operators undergo extensive background checks, screenings and training before taking the job, Assistant City Manager Wes Smith said, which includes becoming certified through the Peace Officers Standards and Training Council or POST.
The District Attorney's office is reviewing the incidents but has not launched a formal investigation, officials say.
Law enforcement officials say that there is a growing national trend where gangs or other organized crime elements are deliberately working to infiltrate local government -- such as jails, law enforcement and 911 centers --- in an effort to keep an upper hand on investigators.
Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul that the tactic is such a real threat that he's changed the hiring procedure at the Sheriff's office to include questions on polygraph tests asking if the candidate for a job has any known ties to organized crime or street gangs.
"Yea we're concerned, we've been addressing those issues. We've run internal investigations on staff members and gotten rid of a few who weren't gang members but had ties to gang members on the outside that were too comfortable for me," Sproul said.
Sproul said that, with accessibility of the Georgia Crime Information Computer Database and Criminal Justice Information System, 911 dispatchers especially have great levels of access to information that could be a game-changer in terms of who has the upper hand in the ongoing fight against organized crime.
"Can you imagine a 911 dispatcher being involved in a gang and the intelligence information that goes out through them everyday and just the access that they have to intelligence and then they're able to disseminate that out to a gang? That's a big concern," he said.
One doesn't have to imagine much.
In 2008, Shaquana Shade, a 911 operator, was charged with making false statements in connection with what prosecutors argued was a gang-related shooting at Carver Pool. She was charged with making false statements and hindering an investigation as investigators say that she tried to prevent them from locating one of the men believed to have been involved in the shooting.
The District Attorney's office dropped the charges against her after she agreed to relinquish her state certification for 911.
Col. John Ostrander, the head of the Dougherty County Jail, said there is a real and viable threat posed by organized crime obtaining inside information from law enforcement and that, from the jail perspective, keeping those with known ties and associations to the criminal element out of jail work is vital.
"If they have someone on the inside that had knowledge of our transport routine to and from court, there are numerous security concerns and threats associated with that scenario alone," Ostrander said. "It's imperative that we be as diligent as possible to keep those with any connection to someone involved in a gang away from law enforcement."